Feline practitioners handle complexities of cats

AAFP's fall conference and other offerings address cats' health and welfare
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Providing medical care for cats can be tricky even when they are in the best of health. Managing complex diseases in cats, therefore, can be a challenge for veterinarians and owners.

Complex disease management was the topic of the fall conference of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, Oct. 30-Nov. 2 in Denver. The meeting attracted nearly 500 attendees to discuss topics in feline medicine ranging from concurrent disease to pain management to caretaker burnout.

Veterinarian reviewing a radiograph
The fall conference of the American Association of Feline Practitioners covered subjects related to complex disease management in cats such as concurrent cardiac and extracardiac disease.

The AAFP, with just over 2,000 members, also is working year-round to improve the health and welfare of cats through information and outreach.

Feline health

"The AAFP will be the source of the tools and resources our members need to provide optimal care for cats," said Dr. Lorraine K. Jarboe, incoming AAFP president.

Dr. Jarboe believes that all veterinarians who treat cats, not just feline-exclusive practitioners, should be AAFP members because the association is a clearinghouse for information about feline health.

The AAFP publishes the monthly Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery and monthly eMews electronic newsletter, Dr. Jarboe noted. The association provides numerous guidelines on feline health care, recently updating its guidelines on senior care. This month, the AAFP and American Animal Hospital Association are releasing new feline life-stage guidelines (see article).

In addition to two annual conferences, the AAFP sponsors continuing education at other national conferences. Beginning in 2011, Dr. Jarboe said, the association will hold only one annual conference but will expand continuing education offerings at other conferences. Also in 2011, the AAFP will meet in conjunction with members of the European Society of Feline Medicine in Boston.

The AAFP Web site at www.catvets.com provides guidelines, position statements, and other resources for veterinarians. For cat owners, the site offers guides and a "Find a Feline Practitioner" tool. The guides for cat owners cover wellness care, nursing care, signs of health problems, and medical conditions.

Dr. Jarboe said the AAFP continues reaching out to cat owners as a member of the CATalyst Council, a coalition of organizations that came together in 2008 to respond to a decline in veterinary visits for cats. The council's "It's All About the Cat!" campaign is raising public awareness of feline health and welfare issues.

Feline welfare

In recent years, the AAFP has taken a lead in promoting feline welfare as well as feline health. In November 2009, the association issued four new position statements on welfare issues.

The statement on "Respectful Handling of Cats to Prevent Fear and Pain" starts by noting that: "To create pleasant veterinary visits and keep cats calm, the veterinary team must understand normal cat behavior, body postures associated with fear in cats, how cats learn, training cats to carriers, and respectful and effective patient handling." The document goes on to provide guidelines in these areas.

The AAFP position statement on "Welfare of Shelter Cats" sets out goals for shelter environments. The document offers minimum welfare recommendations and guidance on capacity, intake, and euthanasia.

In the other new statements, the AAFP came out against the ownership of nondomestic felids by individuals and against the deliberate breeding of nondomestic cats with domestic cats to produce hybrid cats. In both statements, the association cites concerns about public safety and feline welfare.

Forthcoming is a statement on "Ethical Considerations and End of Life Issues in Geriatric Feline Medicine." Dr. Jarboe said the AAFP also might issue position statements regarding enhancement of the indoor environment for cats, transport of cats, positive reinforcement for behavior modifications, early spay/neuter, and the welfare of cats in emergencies and disasters.

AAFP conference

The AAFP's fall conference focused on complex disease management as an issue that impacts cats, owners, and veterinarians.

"I chose the topic and the subtopics because they are the type of situations that we face day to day in practice that bring us stress and worry and gray hair," said Dr. Laura L. Monahan, 2009 program chair, after the meeting. "A lot of times, geriatric cats have multiple disease processes going on."

The first day of the AAFP conference included sessions covering concurrent renal and cardiac disease, concurrent extracardiac and cardiac disease, and pain management. The second day's sessions addressed subjects ranging from nutritional support and polypharmacy issues to compassion fatigue.

Dr. Monahan said she tried to weave the discussion of compassion fatigue throughout the conference. She said treating critically ill cats can lead to caretaker burnout among owners, veterinary staff, and veterinarians.

"Caretaker burnout starts a long time before euthanasia," Dr. Monahan said.

Dr. Monahan has seen clients look overwhelmed when she explains a complex treatment plan, so she brings up the topic of caretaker burnout early so her clients feel they can talk to her about difficulties following a regimen.

The second and third day of the AAFP conference featured updates on common diseases in cats and diseases that veterinarians may fail to recognize in cats, such as unusual endocrinopathies.

Other highlights of the conference were a joint seminar with the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, a day of programming for veterinary technicians on critical-care nursing, and a Halloween party.