What are Cat-Friendly Guidelines?

Published on April 15, 2020 by Charlie Buehler

Working with a kitten.

Vet techs working in a small animal practice spend a significant amount of time educating pet owners. Their guidance is particularly important for cat owners. Not only do cats have unique healthcare needs, but owners are also more likely to skip much needed veterinary care. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) found that 40 percent of cat owners find veterinary visits stressful for both themselves and their cats.

This has led to changes in the way practices address cat health. The implication for veterinary technicians is two-fold: the need for enacting Cat Friendly Guidelines in order to increase the overall frequency of visits and the responsibility of increasing client education to help owners keep their cat healthy in-between visits.

What are Cat-Friendly Guidelines?

The Cat Friendly Practice is a joint initiative by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the International Society for Feline Medicine (ISFM) to make veterinary visits easier for cat owners and less stressful for cats. It encompasses a wide range of recommendations throughout a practice including client education and communication, hospitalization and kenneling recommendations, specific and appropriately sized surgical instrumentation, diagnostic techniques, appropriate handling and restraint techniques, waiting area guidelines and much more.

The guidelines also address ways to keep a cat healthy through assessing needs based on life stages. Wellness recommendations are individualized based on age range. In previous decades, there were three primary designations for life stage care: Kitten, Adult and Senior. The new guidelines increase the number to six: Kitten, Junior, Prime, Mature, Senior, and Geriatric. This ensures cats will have access to the very best healthcare no matter how their needs change as they age.

Preventative Medicine: Keeping a Cat Healthy

The goal of preventative medicine is to prevent life-threatening disease. For cats, this includes more than just problems with illness, injury and body systems. Behavior is also an important part of a prevention program. Approximately 27 percent of cats are surrendered to animal shelters because of aggression. Many more are lost due to inappropriate elimination in the house, damaging household furniture and a lack of permanent identification for cats that wander outdoors. Frequently, there is an underlying health issue causing these behavioral problems.

Preventative healthcare at any age begins with a wellness exam. The goal is to access the health of the cat independent of the owner’s perception of how well the cat is doing. This is because cats are masters of hiding symptoms of illness and owners may not be aware of a potential problem. During the exam, the veterinary technician and veterinarian look at the overall appearance, gait, body condition, signs of pain or discomfort, enlarged lymph nodes, abnormalities of the eyes and ears, body temperature, pulse, and the quality of respiration.

Although cat health is assessed independently by the healthcare team, the owner’s input is also important. Observations on behavior, both normal and abnormal, at home and information on care provided in the home will guide wellness recommendations and treatment. Vaccination history, whether the cat is spayed or neutered, diet, any history of vomiting or diarrhea, the presence of coughing or sneezing and overall living conditions are a few examples of questions the owner is asked to help identify any unmet needs before a problem occurs.

Wellness Starts on the Inside

A healthy cat has distinct nutritional needs that differ considerably from other species. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they can’t survive long term without meat. Unlike dogs, they don’t need very many carbohydrates in the form of starch and vegetables. They have higher protein requirements, as well as a need for more of the amino acids including taurine, cysteine, arginine, and methionine.

The ideal nutrient profile for an individual cat depends on many factors. Age is one critical factor, with kittens requiring the highest amount of protein and digestible energy. As a cat ages, vital organs such as the kidney and liver begin to work less efficiently, and they aren’t as active. The risk for obesity goes up and therefore, the nutritional recommendations change over time. Other factors include how much exercise a cat gets and whether they live indoors or outside.

Diet is a major contributor to a range of health conditions. Consuming poor quality, nutritionally unbalanced food can cause urinary obstructions, obesity, diabetes, and allergies. It is also implicated in several types of behavioral problems. Urinating in the home, gorging food and vomiting, aggression towards other cats in the household and destructive behavior can all relate to feeding practices.

Vaccinations for Cats

The most current guidelines, according to the American Animal Hospital Association, call for an individualized approach to vaccines based on a risk versus benefit model. Core vaccinations for every cat include feline calicivirus, panleukopenia and herpes virus type 1. These diseases are prevalent in the unvaccinated cat population and pose the lowest risk of adverse effects. Rabies vaccinations, although believed to be the main culprit behind the occurrence of vaccine-related cancer, is also still a core recommendation.

This is largely because the disease is common among certain types of wild animals, is lethal and poses a significant human health risk. Some rabies vaccine manufacturers offer a type that provides protection for three years, which minimizes how often the shot needs to be administered. However, rabies vaccinations are regulated by individual states. States with a higher prevalence of rabies still require vaccinations every year, even if a cat receives the three-year version, in order to protect the public.

Beyond the core recommendations, the need for other vaccinations is determined by each cat’s risk for contracting the disease. Feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, feline infectious peritonitis, chlamydia and Bordetella (contagious cough) are among the options. Before feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus and feline infectious peritonitis vaccines are administered, most cats are given a one-time in-house diagnostic blood test first. Once negative results are confirmed, vaccines can then be given on an annual basis.

Outdoor Cat Wellness

Counseling clients on flea and tick prevention is important for animal wellness. Not only does it contribute to the control of tapeworms, there are also several diseases that cats acquire from ticks. Feline infectious anemia (FIA) is one example where the ticks can transmit deadly organisms to cats. Caused by a rickettsia bacterium known as hemobortonella, FIA lives in red blood cells. It causes fever, anemia and jaundice. Untreated, it is highly fatal.

Other serious, life-threatening diseases include Lyme disease, babesiosis, and cytoxzoonosis. Some of these conditions are treated more successfully than others but, in all cases, prevention is far better than a cure. There are many good monthly flea and tick preventatives formulated for cats. However, veterinary technicians exercise great care in educating owners on their choices in preventatives.

Cats are hypersensitive to some insecticides. In particular, the organophosphate and carbomate class are especially toxic. Known as cholinesterase inhibitors, symptoms are usually neurological in nature. Cats may walk like they are drunk, stagger, shake and have seizures. Sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea, will also appear. Although many of these products will contain warning labels stating not for use on cats, some don’t.

Sometimes well-meaning cat owners will pick up an inexpensive over-the counter-product that winds up being toxic. Recommendations for cat-safe flea and tick products should always be backed by choosing products made by reputable companies with adequate research. Many major pharmaceutical companies have a veterinary division with a team of specialists on hand to answer questions regarding product efficacy and safety. Some of the best flea and tick preventives come from these organizations.

Dental Care and Cats

Dental care begins early in a cat’s life by ensuring teeth are erupting normally and providing plenty of opportunities for cats to chew. Home care involves encouraging owners to brush their cat’s teeth in between veterinary visits. The annual wellness exam is the key time to make recommendations on oral hygiene. Adult cats are prone to tooth resorption, a condition where the tooth disintegrates from the inside out. Later in life, the risk of developing dental disease increases. Ultimately, untreated dental problems can have a negative effect on the heart, liver and kidneys.

Subtle Signs of Illness and Pain

One of the quirky cat behaviors that often gets a cat into trouble is the tendency to hide illness and pain. Some feline experts theorize this is a remnant left over from the days before domestication. In the wild, cats may have disguised weakness to avoid becoming prey. This may make it difficult for owners to recognize a health problem until it is much further along in the disease process. For this reason, a veterinary technician needs to be very skilled in decoding cats’ secretive behaviors.

Healthy cats demonstrate a wide range of behaviors, all of which could be considered normal for a particular personality. However, any significant changes in a specific cat’s behavior could be a warning sign of a serious issue. Some of the behaviors that can be difficult to interpret include hiding, urinating outside the litter box, sleeping a lot, vocalizations or aggression when being petted.

Changes in the amount of food or water a cat consumes could stem from many different causes. Things to rule out would be metabolic or endocrine disorders, malabsorption syndromes, urinary tract disorders, and decreased renal functions. The same applies to episodes of inappropriate urination.

Hiding, vocalizing and owner directed aggression can be indicators that a cat is in pain. This can be caused by an unknown injury, osteoarthritis or other skeletal conditions. Once these behaviors are identified as abnormal for a particular cat, diagnostic testing can help narrow the list of possible diagnoses.

Keeping cats healthy involves a great deal of input from veterinary technicians. Early detection of disease reduces the surprise expense of treating a more serious condition. From reducing the stress of visits to ensuring healthcare needs are met, a preventative approach to veterinary medicine improves a cat’s quality of life.

Did learning how to keep your cat healthy interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an Associate Degree in Veterinary Technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.

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