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Finding Fulfillment in Feline Practice: An Interview With Elizabeth Colleran

Finding Fulfillment in Feline Practice: An Interview With Elizabeth Colleran


At the 2013 NAVC Conference, the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study’s latest findings, which focused on feline care in veterinary practice, were presented by Bayer’s Animal Health Division in partnership with the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and Brakke Consulting. The AAFP’s representative (and past president), Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, kindly provided insight into her passion for the feline species and the AAFP’s Cat Friendly Practice program.

Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, MS, Diplomate ABVP (Feline Practice), is the owner of Chico Hospital for Cats (California) and Cat Hospital of Portland (Oregon). She is past president of the AAFP and spokesperson for its Cat Friendly Practice program, speaking to veterinary practices and organizations about creating a Cat Friendly Practice within companion animal establishments. Dr. Colleran received her DVM from Tufts University and completed an internal medicine internship.

What led you to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, and to specialize in feline practice?

I worked for years in sales and marketing for IBM. It was challenging but, ultimately, unfulfilling for a lifelong career. However, veterinary medicine was the perfect fit.

In 1996, I wrote my thesis on the California mountain lion and was hooked on the feline species—a fascinating and unique group. Their anatomy, behavior repertoire, ecologic niche, social structures, and even the way they move is exhilarating. The medicine is demanding and complex. We have so much more to learn! It is a very exciting field.

As past president and 17-year member of the AAFP, what trends, positive and/or negative, have you seen in feline medicine during this time?

The positive trends include the fact that more and more veterinarians are learning how to interact successfully with cats. There is also increasing growth in new research; the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery is a terrific resource and one of the most highly cited journals in the veterinary field.

Feline-focused education is appearing at meetings all around the world. The AAFP is collaborating with the International Society of Feline Medicine, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, and other influential organizations to improve the care of cats. Partnerships like this are making feline medicine stronger.

The data from the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study/Feline Findings outlines the challenges. Going to the veterinarian is stressful for most cats and, subsequently, their owners. Lack of owner education about feline health and the value of wellness care, combined with a clinic atmosphere that is not conducive to cats, further decreases a cat owner’s motivation to pursue veterinary care. However, now that we know why we are seeing fewer cats, with AAFP’s Cat Friendly Practice initiative, we can do something about it.

What are some of the most common mistakes veterinary professionals make when caring for feline patients?

Most mistakes are related to what isn’t being done in the practice. Veterinary team members need to:

  • Slow down and connect with clients to form trusting relationships, which are the foundation of good medicine.
  • Understand how cats react to certain stimuli and remove stressors from their clinic experiences.
  • View the veterinary appointment as starting with the first phone call, and critically, the 30 minutes before the appointment, when the cat’s experience begins with the carrier, car, and owner’s level of stress.

What changes can practitioners implement in their clinics to better cater to cats?

Practitioners should recognize that if clients have less than positive experiences in the veterinary setting with their cats, they are unlikely to return. If we ensure the experience of cats and their owners is satisfying, we will see more cats; improve welfare, community, and family health; and save lives. By critically examining our practice environment and assessing our strengths and weaknesses, we can make vital veterinary care available to many more cats. Cat Friendly Practice provides the tools, guidance, and information that will help make this happen.

Tell us more about the AAFP’s Cat Friendly Practice initiative.

The AAFP created the Cat Friendly Practice (CFP) program to help veterinary practices create an environment that values the needs of feline patients and has the tools to provide the highest quality care.

The program’s self-assessment checklist guides the practice in incorporating essential criteria by using educational resources provided through the program. Many of the techniques contained in the checklist are readily achievable and focus on approach, organization, and creativity. The most important step is to recognize that these adaptations need to be made in order to provide higher quality of care to cats.

As veterinarians, we know we need to address the decline in feline visits and make changes in our practices, but many don’t know where to start. The CFP program is a comprehensive package that provides ongoing guidance on making these changes and creating a feline friendly practice. Tools, such as new marketing tips and educational resources, will continually be provided to your practice.

We are working with several veterinarians in specialty, emergency, university, mobile, and animal shelter facilities to accommodate their unique environment and allow them to work within the CFP framework and principals.

Can you describe your approach to veterinary medicine in one sentence?

The foundation of good veterinary medicine is the trusting relationship formed and nurtured with the client, which requires compassion, communication, reliability, and attention to detail.

Visit catvets.com for further information on becoming a Cat Friendly Practice. For further information on the study findings, see this issue’s Today’s Veterinary News column.