Inside AAHA August 2023

Lynn Happel, DVM, AAHA board member, talks about the challenges of staffing and recruitment. The Community gives advice on being a new veterinary assistant.

View from the Board

Catering to Cats

In this issue we are talking all things feline. So many things have changed with feline medicine and handling since I graduated 20 years ago. I thought I would share some feline-friendly strategies my practice has employed to help improve the patient and client experience.

I expanded the footprint of my practice in 2017. Due to some easements, we created a separate lobby and exam rooms for feline patients. I was an early skeptic of some of the Fear Free recommendations. I wasn’t convinced there would be any impact to feline patient stress. But, I was extraordinarily pleased to observe patients that previously required towels and muzzles were now strolling around the exam room rubbing their faces along the cabinets and jumping up into the widened windowsills.

To add upon the feline experience, we put Feliway diffusers in each room, a face scratch pad on the cabinet corner and fleece blankets on the exam tables. We offer “cat-cuterie” plates of Friskies, Churu, spray cheese and Temptations. How much fun to vaccinate a kitten voraciously eating some Churu rather than securing a limb while the kitten wiggles in the assistant’s arms! All veterinary assistants and veterinary nurses are trained in low-stress feline handling as part of onboarding.

Moving on to our treatment area, we have a separate feline ward with a Feliway diffuser, fabric covers over the kennel fronts, and cardboard hidey boxes. Our four treatment tables are designated dog or cat to keep dogs out of line of site. We have established kitty stress behavior thresholds where we “call it” and come back another day on gabapentin. Ah, previsit gabapentin, how our veterinary lives have improved since this little trick surfaced.

And how feline medicine has advanced: Nonadjuvanted vaccines, 0.5 mL vaccines, kitty-specific nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, four-day transdermal buprenorphine, the University of Montreal/Zoetis Feline Grimace Scale, and a 30-day monoclonal antibody therapy for osteoarthritis in our feline friends. We tailor our feline history questions to help understand what owners are experiencing at home and using it as an opportunity to discuss what is normal and not normal feline behavior. We have so many more tools at our disposal to help pet owners give their kitties their best life.

Lastly, having a knowledgeable and passionate staff member who is a go-to for cat handling, cat care, and cat enrichment really helps drive the feline-friendly experience.

There are several cat owners out there who don’t seek veterinary care because their cat “hates the vet” or is “fine.” We can start with improving the feline experience so those who do bring their cat to the vet can spread the word on what a positive and essential experience veterinary visits can be.

Lynn Happel, DVM, is a director on the AAHA board. Happel graduated from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2003. In 2010 she decided to open her own practice, and Eastown Veterinary Clinic was born June 1, 2011. Happel’s special interest within the field of veterinary medicine is veterinary dentistry.



This month in AAHA’s Publicity Toolbox . . .

Here are the downloadable social media images available for AAHA-accredited members at this month:August Publicity Toolbox Images

  • August 1: DOGust First—Happy birthday to all shelter dogs
  • August 6–12: International Assistance Dog Week
  • August 8: International Cat Day
  • August 17: Black Cat Appreciation Day
  • August 22: Take Your Cat to the Vet Day



Q: “Any Tips for an Upcoming Veterinary Assistant?”

Hi everyone! I am almost done with my veterinary assistant certification, and I just got a job as a veterinary assistant! I am also continuing my education to become a veterinary technician! I’m very excited to begin my dream job working with animals and bettering their health and well-being and would love to hear any advice you have for someone just getting started.

A: Congrats! I think the best advice I was given was to stay humble and it’s okay to tell clients that you don’t have an answer—but you can get one for them. Everyone has a different level of knowledge and experience so there is no shame in utilizing the resources you have.

A: Congratulations and best of luck to you! Don’t forget that client education should play a big part of your goal of bettering the health and well-being of your patients.

A: Continue to be a part of your ongoing success. Ask questions. Never assume. Ask questions and always ask what you can do to help or how to help prepare for the next patient. Always be doing something: learning, cleaning, helping, etc. And don’t forget to ask questions 🙂 Best of luck!


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Parodies and Periodontal Disease—Why You Shouldn’t Miss Brook Niemiec’s Sessions at AAHA Con 2023

There are rock star specialists—and then there’s Brook Niemiec, DVM, DAVDC. Not only is he board-certified in veterinary dentistry in both the American and European Veterinary Dental Colleges, along with being a fellow in the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry, but he’s also the director of the San Diego Veterinary Dental Training Center and co-founder of the veterinary dental telemedicine website Plainly speaking, the man knows his way around a pet’s mouth.

And this September at AAHA Con (, Niemiec will be sharing his knowledge (and his musical talents) with attendees in three sessions that are sure to shake up your approach to and understanding of veterinary dentistry.

“The number one thing that people are always shocked about is that we do almost no surgical extractions in our practice,” Niemiec said. In human literature, closed extractions have been proven to be less painful and have fewer complications than the traditional first step used in veterinary dentistry, which is to make a big flap and drill all the bone away, he said. “We have published several articles,” he said, “and are working on some more to prove the value of minimally invasive surgery techniques.”

But whether dental surgery is common within your practice or not, Niemiec believes there’s something for everyone in his session—especially since, as he says, “much of what people have been taught about dentistry in the past is incorrect, [so] everyone will benefit from the most recent research.”

Because he did his residency in a private specialty/general practice, he considers himself a general practitioner at heart, and therefore, he said, “I tend to teach in a very general practitioner/technician accessible manner, so that they can understand exactly what I mean without the big words.”

And, he adds, you should probably be prepared to be inspired. “I’m often called the televangelist of vet dentistry,” he said.

Something for Everyone in Any Practice

While the importance of learning about minimally invasive extraction techniques can’t be overstated, that’s far from Niemiec’s sole focus. He’ll also be addressing some common misconceptions in veterinary dentistry, like the idea the pets will stop eating because of oral disease. “Animals will eat through almost any oral pain,” he said.

And it’s crucial that all members of the veterinary team understand not only the significant consequences of periodontal disease, he said, but also the true cause. Recognizing this will not only allow technicians and veterinarians to perform better professional care, he said, but will also enable them to select appropriate dental homecare for their patients.

Working in a different specialty? Niemiec hope you’ll still pull up a chair. “Even other specialists will benefit from the knowledge of what periodontal disease causes locally and systemically,” he said. Plus, he added, “The buzzwords and client communication techniques will aid all members of the practice team in communicating with clients better.” Every member of the practice will benefit from the knowledge they’ll gain about pain and infection from dental disease, and that will improve compliance with dental recommendations. That compliance won’t only improve the patient’s health, but also practice income, he said.

When One Guitar Just Won’t Cut It

Those who have seen Niemiec speak in recent years or have followed him on social media know that his teachings aren’t the only draw—attendees will also have a front row seat to a couple of fun, toothy takes on well-known songs. And for AAHA Con, he’ll be bringing not just one but two guitars to better accompany his musical parodies that reinforce the key points of his sessions, such as:

  • Oral pathology: “It’s Your Job to Relieve This Pain” (to the tune of The Police’s “King of Pain”)
  • Periodontal disease: “You’ve Gotta Clean Those Low Places” (to the tune of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places”)
  • Extractions: “Bye-bye Little Tooth That Has Died” (to Don McLean’s “American Pie”)
  • Radiology: “99-70-45” (to Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny”)

Be sure to catch Niemiec’s concert—erm, session—and many others at AAHA Con, taking place September 20–23 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego, where you’ll have the opportunity to take your knowledge to the next level with over 80 hours of medical and nonmedical continuing education.

Kristen Green Seymour, AAHA Copywriter


Notice of Slate of Nominations

AAHA Board of Directors

The following board positions need to be filled upon the completion of AAHA’s conference, AAHA Con 2023, in San Diego, California, on September 20–23, 2023: vice president, and two directors.

The Leadership Identification and Nominating Committee submitted the following nominations:

  • Vice President—Parva Bezrutczyk, DVM
  • Director—Robert Lawrie, MRCVS
  • Director—Gregory Carastro, LVT, CVBL

Eligibility/Additional Nominations

The president, president-elect, and vice president must each be a licensed veterinarian who has been an accredited practice team member for no less than three consecutive years at least six months prior to taking office. The president-elect must have been a board member for at least one year before taking office.

Directors must have been an accredited practice team member for at least three years prior to the election.

Note: The nomination period has passed; this information is provided for informational purposes; no further nominations will be accepted.

AAHA Cat Resources Roundup

Free Guidelines, Calculators, Tools, CE, and More


Feline Guidelines

2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines

Including quick reference tables:

  • Feline Life Stages
  • Life Stage Checklists
  • Diseases and Conditions that Require Additional Focus During Examination
  • Recommended Diagnostics Based on Life Stage

2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines

Including quick reference tables:

  • Feline Vaccination Table
  • Types of Feline Vaccines and Their Attributes
  • Core Vaccines for Pet Cats
  • Core Vaccines for Shelter-Housed Cats
  • Non-Core Vaccines for Pet Cats
  • Not Generally Recommended Vaccines for Pet Cats
  • Risk Assessment Variables
  • Uses of In-Clinic Serology Testing

Cats Also Appear in…

2023 AAHA Selected Endocrinopathies of Dogs and Cats Guidelines

2023 AAHA Senior Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

2021 AAHA Nutrition and Weight Management Guidelines

2019 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

2018 AAHA Diabetes Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

Get full transcripts and resources at

Continuing Education

These sessions are RACE-approved for one (1.0) credit hour for veterinarians and veterinary technicians via noninteractive-distance delivery.

A Lifelong Friendship Between Cats, Their People, and Your Practice: Leveraging the 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines

Creating Individualized Feline Vaccine Protocols: Key Points from the 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines


Feline Lifestyle Assessment Form

Provide this printable form to cat owners prior to the start of a veterinary visit to improve the efficiency and accuracy of your history-taking.

Lifestyle-Based Feline Vaccine Calculator

This tool is designed to stimulate conversation between veterinary teams and pet owners, as you work together to create individualized vaccine protocol for feline patients.

Also Available from the AAHA Store

Start shopping at

Also Available from AAHA Learning

AAHA Nutrition Guidelines Certificate Course

Learn the skills you need to handle both the clinical and the nonclinical aspects of nutrition.

AAHA Anesthesia Safety and Monitoring Guidelines Certificate

Boost the quality of anesthetic care and gain the knowledge you need to build trust with pet owners.

AAHA Pain Management Guidelines Certificate Course

Coordinate your team’s approach to personalized, multimodal pain management for every patient.

Get full transcripts and resources at



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