Creating cat-friendly practices, homes, and shelters

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The American Association of Feline Practitioners is trying to make the world a friendlier and healthier place for cats.

The AAFP now has designated more than a thousand practices as cat friendly through its Cat Friendly Practice program. At press time, the association was about to launch an educational website for cat owners. The 2016 annual conference offered a track on shelter medicine for the first time.

Many sessions were full at the 2016 annual conference of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, Nov. 3-6 in Washington, D.C. (Photos courtesy of AAFP)

As of Dec. 5, the AAFP had 3,959 members, consisting of 3,802 veterinarians and 157 veterinary technicians and practice managers. The association has been growing by leaps and bounds along with the CFP program, launched in early 2012 as a benefit of membership.

The annual conference, Nov. 3-6 in Washington, D.C., attracted 1,214 attendees. While the focus was on feline behavior and respiratory diseases, the newly offered shelter track proved to be popular.

Friendly to felines

Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, CFP co-chair, said the CFP program is still pretty young. She said, “We’ve really made tremendous strides in terms of getting people to think about how cats are treated in the veterinary setting and making changes to their practices to accommodate the fact that cats are now the most popular companion animal in North America.

“So people are starting to recognize that if we really do change the way in which we interact with cats and cat owners that we can really change the experience, and, therefore, maybe provide better health care.”

Understanding feline behavior, feline-friendly handling, and reducing stress associated with the visit are core components of the CFP program. The program encompasses the entire well-being of cats, cat caregivers, and the practice team.

In a 2015 survey of practices that had earned the CFP designation, 98 percent of practice respondents were satisfied with achieving the CFP designation. Reasons included less stress for feline patients, higher satisfaction among clients, that the designation demonstrated how much the practice cares about feline patients, that the practice team learned new things about cats, and improved retention of clients.

Almost 80 percent of practice respondents said visits increased because they earned the CFP designation. More than two-thirds thought they gained new patients as a result.

As of Dec. 5, the AAFP had designated 1,050 practices as cat-friendly, and more than 500 practices were in the process of earning the designation.

The CFP program has changed since its beginnings, Dr. Colleran said. Coordinators have refined the process so participants can go online and systematically go through steps for improvements to a practice. Among newer resources is a photo gallery where participants can see solutions to challenges such as space limitations.

In 2015, the program added an advisory council of more than 60 people who are in close contact with cat owners, such as veterinarians, bloggers, and representatives of corporate sponsors.

The AAFP conference included two feline-friendly handling labs.

The new website for cat owners ties into the CFP program. The site provides information in a fun and appealing way, Dr. Colleran said, and the content has been curated by feline practitioners and other experts.

The website covers cat care at home, keeping cats healthy, common diseases, and how to be a cat-friendly caregiver. One section provides answers to frequently asked questions about why a cat does this or that. The site also features a toy box with games and other interactive content to help caregivers learn more about cats.

Annual conference

The AAFP annual conference drew 994 veterinary professionals and 220 exhibitors and guests.

Dr. Colleen Currigan, a member of the AAFP Conference Planning Task Force, said the conference task force focused on feline behavior and respiratory diseases because both are problems that veterinarians face on a daily basis in general and referral practice.

“Respiratory disease is a very dynamic area in feline medicine. There are new diagnostics and therapeutics,” she said. “Our knowledge of feline behavior is continuing to grow and evolve. Recognizing both normal and abnormal behavior in cats is important for veterinarians as well as for cat caregivers because that knowledge empowers all of us to have a positive effect on feline welfare in general as well as an impact on an individual cat’s physical and mental well-being.”

On the first day of the conference, a combined track offered talks on natural feline behavior, feline emotions, environmental needs, and elimination issues.

Dr. Brenda Griffin, who teaches shelter medicine at the University of Florida and the University of Georgia, presented the shelter track on the second day. She spoke about cat behavior in the shelter, housing, enrichment, differentiating feral from tame cats, and preventing relinquishment.

Dr. Currigan said, “Shelters are a critical part of the puzzle in improving the health and welfare of cats, and that’s the core of our AAFP mission. So we felt it was worth it to add in a shelter track, and I think it was very well-received.”

The AAFP partnered with the Association of Shelter Veterinarians to present the shelter track. Dr. Currigan said the AAFP Conference Planning Task Force is considering having the shelter track again at the upcoming meeting in the fall of 2017.

The conference also featured poster sessions for the first time, with seven research posters at the entrance to the exhibit hall. Dr. Currigan said posters more than likely will be part of upcoming conferences.

Related JAVMA content:

Young leader becomes AAFP president (Jan. 15, 2017)

Raising the bar in feline medicine (Dec. 1, 2015)