AAFP announces new cat friendly practice initiative

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) is rolling out a new initiative designed to get more cats into veterinary clinics.

Announcing the initiative at the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) Jan. 16, 2012 in Orlando, Fla., the AAFP touted its new Cat Friendly Practice Program as a way to increase the level of healthcare felines receive while helping veterinarians to grow their practices.

According to the AAFP, the Cat Friendly Practice program is one of the first coordinated efforts in the United States to standardize characteristics of a "cat friendly" practice and to provide practices tools for succeeding with the program.

CATalyst Council, a national collaborative initiative, introduced a similar test program last year called the Cat Friendly Practice Makeover. CATalyst Council says its initiative will collaborate with the AAFP to use some of the same materials and tools from the CATalyst program.

Practices participating in the program need to meet a checklist of criteria and be evaluated for approval as a Cat Friendly Practice. There are two levels of standards: Silver and Gold. The silver standard is for practices that meet the essential standard criteria, while the gold standard is for practices that incorporate the optimum level of cat friendly criteria.

According to data from the AAFP, cats average about 50 percent fewer veterinary visits per year than dogs, despite the fact that the number of owned cats has surpassed the number of owned dogs in the United States. The association cites anxiety over bringing cats to the veterinarian and lack of owner education about feline wellness as contributing factors to the lack of feline veterinary visits.

"This is an opportunity to reassess and plan," said Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, 2011 president of the AAFP. "We need to engage cat owners as a crucial part of the care team."

In order to become a member of the Cat Friendly Practice initiative, all a practice needs to do is to have one AAFP member. Practices that earn the Cat Friendly Practice designation do not need to be feline-exclusive practices.

In surveying its members, the AAFP found that 82 percent of its members believe the program will be beneficial, while 80 percent think the tools the program provides will be helpful to their practice.

"The program is entirely online, which makes it completely self-paced and independent," Colleran said.

The Cat Friendly Practice initiative is modeled after the Cat Friendly Clinic program in the United Kingdom. Andrew Sparkes, DVM, co-founder of the U.K. program, said the clinics that participated in the U.K. initiative saw a massive difference.

"Vets have one opportunity to get it right," Sparkes said. "We have to ask, ‘what is the impression clients walk away with after they leave the clinic?’ For many clinics, cats are treated the same way dogs are treated. That’s an opportunity that has been lost."

After a practice becomes designated as a Cat Friendly Practice, it will receive a marketing tool kit with resources to help market their new status locally.

The second phase of the new AAFP program will include a national consumer awareness campaign designed to educate and encourage cat owners about the benefits of taking cats to a Cat Friendly Practice.
Read more about the Cat Friendly Practice program.