AAHA, AAFP Plan Feline Health Guidelines

February 8, 2008

The American Animal Hospital Assn. and the American Assn. of Feline Practitioners have agreed to jointly develop lifestage-based healthcare guidelines for cats.

The American Animal Hospital Assn. and the American Assn. of Feline Practitioners have agreed to jointly develop lifestage-based healthcare guidelines for cats for veterinarians by  next January, pending the approvals of their respective boards.

The decision to jointly develop the guidelines was made at and prompted by the CATalyst Summit, a gathering of more than 40 veterinarians and representatives from animal health companies and welfare organizations designed to improve the lives of cats.

The summit, jointly sponsored by AAFP and Pfizer Animal Health, aimed to address the declining number of veterinary visits for cats—occurring despite an increase in the overall population of cats.

The 2007 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook indicated that nearly 40 percent of cat-owning households received no veterinary care  for the cat  in 2006, more than twice the rate of dog-owning households, and cats average less than one visit to the veterinarian per year.

AAHA  President-elect Anna Worth, VMD, and AAFP  President Valerie Creighton, DVM, announced the tentative agreement after the group determined a significant need for such guidelines. They would be modeled after similar human health guidelines that recommend certain screening procedures at certain ages.

The feline guidelines would also address certain behavior issues, notably inappropriate elimination, that lead to a significant number of cat relinquishments.

Participants also came to a consensus on other steps to take for cats, including working toward educating veterinarians on creating cat-friendly practices and a potential consumer awareness campaign championing cats.

These elements  would address concerns that cat owners may avoid bringing in their cats to veterinarians due to logistical difficulties (including the often challenging  act of simply transporting cats) and anxiety at the practice.

Efforts to elevate the status of cats in the eyes of the general public, and possibly veterinary professionals, stem from a concern that cats are treated as second-class citizens and of less value compared to dogs.

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Other  program  components would include research (for example, into why cat owners are not  taking their cats  to veterinarians), and continued collaboration efforts on behalf of cats.

Summit organizers based the meeting on four pillars: improving healthcare for cats, increasing responsible pet ownership, enhancing the status of cats, and enriching their lives.

More immediately, the group plans to select a steering committee to direct efforts on these goals. Summit chair and past AAFP president Jane Brunt, DVM, expects to continue to be very involved in the project, as will Dan Kramer, senior marketing manager at Pfizer.

Later during the meeting, Hill’s Pet Nutrition agreed to fund the translation of the guidelines into lay language for cat owners. Syndicated columnist and radio host Steve Dale will  head a team of writers translating the guidelines,  with author Amy Shojai, founder of the Cat Writers Assn., agreeing to help.

Although details haven’t been worked out, distribution of the guidelines would somehow raise funds for the Winn Feline Foundation, of which Dale is a board member.

Karen Gavzer of KG Marketing & Training Inc. moderated the meeting, and Lea-Ann Germinder of Germinder & Associates Inc. is managing the initiative on behalf of Pfizer and the AAFP.

Among other organizations and companies represented at the summit:

Indeed, the memory of the late Jim Richards, DVM, who had been director of the Cornell unit, was evoked frequently as a catalyst for the summit.

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