The CATalyst: Cat Friendly Practices vs. Dr. Google

Steve Dale, CAT FANCY writer and syndicated newspaper pet columnist, provides regular cat news roundups.

The veterinary profession has held up a mirror to itself to determine how to improve services and care for all pets — cats in particular.

Pets can’t stay healthy if they’re not being seen, and for various reasons visits to the veterinarian have declined.

For cat health, the situation is ridiculous. No one is exactly sure how many cats go under the radar, pretty much never seen by a veterinarian. We know that overall, cats see a veterinarian about half as often as dogs. We also know that veterinarians can’t diagnose or treat problems in pets they don’t see. No surprise, as a result, some preventable conditions and diseases are on the rise.

So, who’s at fault? Well, it’s a complex issue.

It turns out most cat owners don’t understand the importance of preventive care in the first place.

Pet owners are seeking competitive opinions … from the Internet. It’s one thing to seek out general advice from credible website like the AVMA or pretty much any site which ends with .edu. Still, even the best websites or bloggers don’t know your pets; bloggers can’t hear your cat’s heart with a stethoscope or run blood work.

What’s worse, some bloggers are overly generous when it comes to doling out (mis)information. Increasingly, people are listening; it is free advice, and in the gloom and doom economy that definitely plays a role. Also, some veterinarians effectively push clients away with sticker shock.

Many dog owners take out a leash and collar and the dog puts his head though it, wags his and is good to go. Take out the cat carrier, and cats often run to the next country. Simply getting kitty the clinic is often such an ordeal, it’s easier not to bother.

Also, cats excellently mask illness; even experienced owners may not perceive their cat isn’t feeling great. That brings me full circle: the very reason why preventive care is so important is to catch illness early, which in the end saves clients money and save cats’ lives.

A new promotion called Cat Friendly Practices was launched at Jan. 16 press conference at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla. Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, said we’re doing a lot for cats, but not enough. The program mimics one the United Kingdom designed to more efficiently match veterinary practices with cats’ needs, as well as what cat owners want.

Dr. Ilona Rodan, chair of the Cat Friendly Practice program added, “When I started out with my feline practice, I quickly recognized that cat and cat owners need more than what we’re giving them.”

Certified to be feline friendlier worked across the pond, contends. Dr. Andy Sparkes, co-founder of Cat Friendly Clinics in the U.K. “In 2006, we began this massive scheme and it’s made a difference. With cats, veterinarians have one chance to get it right. If the experience is very stressful to the cat and the owner, they may not be coming back anytime soon.”

Veterinarians will receive lots of tools for participating in the Cat Friendly Practice program. Ideally, this will enhance a vet visit for both cats and people. Practices will be required to join the AAFP (if they are already not a member) and then implement general criteria to enhance “cat friendliness.”

The AAFP will set two standards for cat friendliness: Gold and Silver. Cat friendly practices will tout their status with a decal on their door, and on their website, so clients are aware of the special efforts made for cats.

Cat Friendly Practices is a brilliant idea on so many levels. Re-adjusting focus, participating practices will be required to at least attempt to communicate the importance of preventive care throughout various feline life stages and to pay attention to feline clients in ways they not otherwise had done.

Today, some veterinarians and technicians continue to “manhandle” cats in clinics, unaware of the alternatives. Cat Friendly practices will make this mistreatment history. Practices can market their feline efficiencies, hopefully attracting new clients – who will benefit with improved health.

In order to reach that Gold standard, many facilities will have to improve upon their status quo, and dogs might benefit as well. For example, to reach Cat Friendly Practice elite Gold Standard, radiographs (X-rays) must be used routinely to diagnose dental disease, same as in people.

AAFP membership is affordable. If your veterinarian doesn’t participate in this program, I’d ask why. Even practices that already appear cat friendly may learn a thing or two, and many practices have much to learn.

Ultimately, though, it’s those of us with cats who must take responsibility for seeing the veterinarian, as excuses to not visit a veterinarian diminish.

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