The Cat-Friendly Movement
Since its launch in 2012, The Cat-Friendly Practice® (CFP) Program has enhanced the industry’s understanding of cat care.
Ten years ago, the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) wanted to share ideas about novel approaches to cat care. A formal program was created, and the ISFM partnered with the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) to offer it in North and South America.
Thus the Cat-Friendly Practice® (CFP) Program began and has grown over the last ten years to a global initiative. In 2022, the AAFP is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, “what has become a strong movement within the veterinary industry,” the organization said.
It listed several milestones related to the program:
- Since the launch, the AAFP has developed a cat caregiver website that is powered by feline veterinarians to provide credible and trustworthy information on a variety of feline topics. The website also has a search feature where caregivers can locate a Cat-Friendly Practice® or Cat-Friendly Veterinarian/Veterinary Professional near them. catfriendly.com
- Many courses, lectures, and conferences cover Cat-Friendly topics. “Cat Friendly” has become a common term, and many veterinary professionals are now much more aware of the needs of cats.
- The AAFP recognized a need to provide education and recognize those individuals who are eager to endeavor to become Cat Friendly, but perhaps their practice isn’t ready to complete the Program. In 2020, the AAFP launched a Cat-Friendly Certificate Program which provides three levels of certificates for veterinarians, veterinary professionals, and veterinary advocates. The Certificate Program has allowed the veterinary community to gain knowledge to enhance their understanding of cats, fulfill feline patient needs, and build confidence in working with cats. It also demonstrates your personal commitment to feline health and helps practices develop talent and feline knowledge in order to enhance feline patient care. Cat-Friendly Practices® (CFP) are also using the Certificate Program as a way to train and onboard new staff, and other practices use it as a first step in the process of becoming a CFP in order to start to integrate new knowledge and techniques. To date, there are over 12,000 registered for the Certificate Program, and over 7,000 Certificates have been earned.
- On top of glowing CFP survey results, there is now data to show many benefits of becoming a Cat-Friendly Practice®. CFPs have a significant financial reduction in their workers’ compensation claims, in particular, because these practices emphasize reducing stress, fear-anxiety, and frustration during the veterinary experience and create a calmer environment that directly correlates with overall employee safety and satisfaction. See full article: catvets.com/public/PDFs/CatFriendlyPractice/articles/cfp-program-reduces-risk-of-injury.pdf. Additionally, designated Cat-Friendly Practices® had a greater percentage of feline patients, higher percentage or revenue from feline patients, higher frequency of visits per feline patient, and more as compared to those that were not Cat Friendly. New data will also be released at the AAFP Conference and published next year.
Feline health care over the last decade
The AAFP said it has been promoting the message that “cats are not small dogs” for many years, and over that time, feline care has greatly improved. “However, there is still a long way to go.”
The AAFP has created the Feline Practice Guidelines on a range of topics from pain, hyperthyroidism, anesthesia, senior care, vaccination, FIP, and more (catvets.com/guidelines).
Additionally, the AAFP said it has grown over the years due to a desire by veterinary professionals to provide better care for cats. The AAFP provides feline-specific education through an annual conference, spring eConferece, and live/on-demand webinars. This has led to the AAFP advocating for feline-specific CE and partnering with other veterinary conferences. All of this has helped to create more awareness for feline education, which many veterinary professionals don’t receive in school.
Additionally, since the launch of Cat-Friendly Practice®, much more emphasis has been to focus on reducing stress during visits, understanding behavior, and creating a better experience. “For cats, these three things are an essential part of a veterinary professional’s success, as it allows you to provide better care for your feline patients,” the AAFP said.
Some of the conditions and illnesses which are the most worrisome are the ones that are not being identified or treated. This includes pain identification and not being able to know how to allow each cat to feel safe and provide feline interactions and handling to reduce the impact of fear and other protective (negative) emotions.
The AAFP and ISFM will be launching two new guidelines in November: “2022 AAFP/ISFM Cat-Friendly Veterinary Interaction Guidelines: Approach and Handling Techniques” and “2022 ISFM/AAFP Cat-Friendly Veterinary Environment Guidelines.” Both guidelines will become the foundation for feline care, the AAFP said.
A Cat-Friendly approach from the veterinary team allows for successful examination, improving team satisfaction and cat caregiver confidence in the veterinary team. The importance of understanding and responding to the current emotional state of the cat is key for successful interactions and enables every visit to be tailored to the individual. There are also comprehensive recommendations about how the veterinary practice environment can be altered to minimize feline patient distress available at catvets.com/interactions and catvets.com/environment.
“This is a difficult question and not one that can be answered briefly,” said Dr. Michelle Meyer when asked about the leading conditions and illnesses veterinarians must be vigilant in diagnosing and treating among cat patients. “First, I would say anything that is zoonotic (contagious from animals to humans), including but not limited to toxoplasmosis, roundworms, hookworms, or other intestinal parasitic diseases, and infectious blood-borne pathogens (such as Bartonella). I would also be concerned about anything contagious to other cats in the household.”
Secondly, diseases/conditions that may result in sudden death (cardiac diseases such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy), cancer, feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis, etc.
Thirdly, diseases/conditions where the cat seems mostly “normal” to the caregiver but actually the cat is suffering in pain (osteoarthritis and cancer are some examples) or losing weight (some of the causes for weight loss are treatable if caught early).
“Lastly, cats are notorious for hiding disease, and I worry about them having a disease or condition that is not being treated,” she said. “Often this could be because the caregiver cannot get their cat to the veterinarian, or the veterinarian cannot comprehensively examine the cat.”
Additionally, some of the conditions and illnesses that are very worrisome are the ones that are not being identified or treated, Dr. Meyer said. This includes the veterinarian not being able to comprehensively examine a cat due to not using Cat-Friendly interactions and handling techniques.
“This is detrimental to the cat as they are not able to have a full examination, and often in situations like this, the caregiver may not return as frequently as they need to because it was an unpleasant experience for everyone. Veterinary professionals need to allow each cat to feel safe and provide feline interactions and handling to reduce the impact of fear and other protective (negative) emotions so they are able to properly evaluate the cat, including a pain assessment.”
Great Cat Care
The AAFP said the following are some of the best practices used by leading general practitioners who offer great care for felines:
- Implementing Cat-Friendly interactions and minimal handling that allows the cat to have a sense of control and choice (and training every team member on how to do this)
- Educating cat caregivers about how to reduce distress with getting to the veterinary practice (including carrier training). Stressor stacking can affect the entire veterinary experience, so starting a positive experience at home is key
- Creating an experience that considers the cat’s natural behaviors and altering an approach to each cat
- Creating an environment that considers and implements ways to reduce fear-anxiety and promotes positive emotions and behaviors that cats find comforting
- Ensuring the entire veterinary team understands species-specific behavior and individual differences (and how this affects the entire veterinary visit/experience)
- Understanding how to identify the cat’s emotional state and the subsequent behavioral response (and what to do in each situation)
Veterinary professionals can learn more about each of these in the ‘2022 AAFP/ISFM Cat-Friendly Veterinary Interaction Guidelines: Approach and Handling Techniques’ and ‘2022 ISFM/AAFP Cat-Friendly Veterinary Environment Guidelines.’ Visit catvets.com/interactions and catvets.com/environment.