AAFP pens behavior guides for DVMs, staff, clients

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ITHACA, N.Y. — Behavior ranks as veterinary medicine's most inconspicuous specialty, often overlooked at academic and professional levels. No affliction treated is devoid of a behavior mechanism.

ITHACA, N.Y. — Behavior ranks as veterinary medicine's most inconspicuous specialty, often overlooked at academic and professional levels. No affliction treated is devoid of a behavior mechanism.

Vaccine advisory panel reconvenes

That's according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), which recently released the profession's first guidelines addressing feline behavior. The 43-page report is scheduled this month for circulation to AAFP members and slated for publication in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The three-year effort by AAFP's Feline Behavior Guidelines Panel recognizes the role of animal behavior plays in veterinary medicine, says Dr. Ilona Rodan, behavior guidelines co-chair of Madison, Wis. All the panelists who created the guidelines are board-certified in either veterinary behavior or feline practice.

"Preventing behavior problems is the most important factor to stop euthanasia and relinquishment," Rodan says. "Veterinarians, for the most part, are not taught behavior extensively in school. This is a guide to understanding normal cat behavior and how to recognize behavior that needs to be corrected."

Guideline panelists

The ability to recognize changes in the normal behavior of cats enables DVMs to treat physical and psychological conditions, the guidelines say.

Although increased awareness advancements in the field have been made, behavior remains a dominant cause of euthanasia and relinquishment in pet cats. Rodan reports that upwards of 75 percent of all feline relinquishments are in some way related to behavior problems. Veterinarians can enable owners to strengthen the human-animal bond when behavior problems are prevented or treated aggressively, she says. AAFP wants owners to turn to their veterinarian for help rather than resorting to relinquishment or euthanasia.

"More than 75 articles and books were read by panelists in effort to gather additional information," Rodan says. "Euthanasia based on relinquishment kills more cats than kidney disease or cancer."

Inside the guidelines

Veterinarians lose approximately 15 percent of their client base annually due to unresolved behavior problems, the guidelines say. The following guidelines are designed to help private practitioners implement behavior assistance in their practices by providing:

  • Information and client handouts to help DVMs and clients understand normal feline social and physical behavior and ways to prevent aggression, eliminating outside of the litter box and scratching,

  • Questions to incorporate into medical histories at every veterinary visit to aid in prevention and early detection of behavior and medical problems,

  • Education for staff members so they can teach clients,

  • Information on what can be done at veterinary practices to prevent behavior problems and provide pre-adoption information,

  • Kitten classes to prevent boredom while training and educating the pet,

  • Ways to enrich the home environment,

  • A treatment plan in cases where behavior problems already occur — often without the aid of medication.

"They've really tied together a lot of meaningful information," says Dr. Jim Richards, AAFP president and director of The Cornell Feline Health Center. "Hopefully the guidelines prove to be helpful in reducing euthanasia and relinquishment due to behavior problems."

AAFP member Dr. Bill Folger says every kind of behavior issue is addressed in the guidelines.

"It's fascinating; I can't believe they put it together as quickly and professionally as they did," he says. "They're the most extensive guidelines that have ever been produced."

The association received financial support from Hill's Pet Nutrition.

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