Q&A with a keynote: Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, DABVP (Feline)

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Feline expert sat down with dvm360® to discuss her career and what to expect during keynote address

On the first day of our dvm360® Fetch Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, renowned cat expert Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, DABVP (Feline), will deliver a keynote lecture entitled “A Tail of Two Kitties: Recognizing Chronic Pain from The Cat's Perspective and Yours.” The interactive talk will delve into how to collaborate with pet owners to help identity chronic pain in their feline friends.

Along with being a proud cat parent, Colleran is a worldwide veterinary conference speaker, consultant, author, and a board-certified feline specialist. She has successfully developed and managed 2 feline medicine practices, including one in Portland, Oregon, that was revolutionary as it was the first of its kind in the area, and is the medical director of her current practice, the Chico Hospital for Cats in Chico, California. Colleran chairs the Cat Friendly Practice for the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and has served on the AAFP board for several years, including as president in 2011 and treasurer from 2007-2009. What’s more, she serves on the American Veterinary Medical Association welfare committee, and as a volunteer for other veterinary organizations.

Colleran achieved her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1990, and a Master of Science in Animals in Public Policy at the same institution in 1996, graduating with honors.

What ignited your passion for feline medicine?

I had a really bad boss when I first got out of my internship and went into private practice. And I got fired from my first job because while I believed that relationships with clients were important, [my boss] thought it was more important for me to “sell” the practice by praising it and its owners to clients. And so, I ended up going back to get my Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy, because I thought I made a big mistake, becoming a veterinarian. And I fell in love with cats, because I did my master’s thesis on the California mountain lion. And, boy, the rest was history. I just came back absolutely convinced that I needed to spend the rest of my life advocating for cats.

What's your favorite part about working with cat patients?

Oh, they're fascinating. I mean, they are millions of years old. Their ancestors are the same for all the cats. So, lions and cheetahs and ocelots—all of them came from one single species. There is this DNA across species that makes cats just so interesting to study. Now, do I have cats? Yes. But I am not a crazy cat lady. I love my boys, but I also find the science and the medicine just amazing.

What inspired you to give your keynote talk?

Well, that's a little bit of a subversive motivation. I think that a lot of people go to these [lectures], and they don't elect to do a lot of feline medicine, maybe because they don't think they see enough cats or because they're just not as interested. In this setting, we're going to have a lot of fun, there's going to be really good interactions, and there's food. And there's nothing else going on [during the keynote], right? So, my subversive motivation is there's nothing else going on, so we're going to get people in the room who might not have elected to go see a feline lecture. It's a method in my repertoire to try to get people to really be as fascinated by cats as I am.

What do you hope attendees take away from the keynote address?

Mostly more about how to understand the differences between cats and dogs and people, and how they manifest pain differently. Because they are so different than social creatures, dogs and people are really social. And cats are social in a very different way. And they are also a predator species and a prey species. So, if you're right in the middle of that structure, you have to be really careful about the emotions that you express and if you express weakness. We now know a lot about how cats manifest pain, and what I'm hoping is that we can expand the way we think about the physical exam and cats to incorporate some of the new techniques that we have for gathering information.

What's something interesting about feeling chronic pain that most pet parents don't know?

Well, they don't know how cats manifest [pain] because they don't see it. So, they tell me the classic response to “I think your cat has pain” is “Oh, no, doc, he's just slower now because he's getting old.” Right? Because that's what cats do. They slow down, they move less to accommodate and compensate for pain. They sleep more, they maybe socialize less, but they don't limp, basically. We need to really get people to understand how cats tell us that they're in pain.

The other part of it is, we need to make sure that people are willing to send us more information. You know how cats act when they're at the veterinary setting, right? They just freeze up like a loaf of bread. And so, we need to gather information differently [by] helping pet parents understand what kind of information is helpful to us and how to gather it.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

There have been so many, I just think that this is an amazing profession full of people with unique talents and skills. My career has evolved, I went from being an associate to a practice owner, and now I'm mostly teaching and writing. All those things have been both inspirational and satisfying. So, I really can't pick a single moment, but I am thrilled about the fact that there is now a cure for FIP [Feline Infectious Peritonitis] and we have some wonderful ways to manage pain in cats that we never had before.

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