AAFP celebrates 10 years of Cat Friendly Practice Program, releases new guidelines

By Katie Burns
Published: 19 December 2022


The American Association of Feline Practitioners established the Cat Friendly Practice Program in 2012 to elevate care for cats by enhancing the environment and experience of a veterinary visit to reduce the stress for the cat, cat caregiver, and veterinary team.

The AAFP has been celebrating the 10th anniversary of the CFP Program this year and recently released new cat-friendly guidelines, which were endorsed by the AVMA on Nov. 11.

On Nov. 2, the AAFP and International Society of Feline Medicine launched the 2022 AAFP/ISFM Cat Friendly Veterinary Interaction Guidelines: Approach and Handling Techniques and the 2022 ISFM/AAFP Cat Friendly Veterinary Environment Guidelines.

Cat Friendly Practice logo

Dr. Michelle Meyer, 2021-22 AAFP president, announced the guidelines during her address at the AAFP’s annual conference, Oct. 27-30 in Pittsburgh.

“These guidelines are pivotal,” said Dr. Meyer, who practices at Serenity Animal Hospital in Sterling Heights, Michigan. “They are not only essential for anyone who works with cats, but they also provide every veterinary professional with a foundation to really understand who cats are and other reasons why they behave and react like they do in the veterinary setting.”

As of early November, about 850 practices were designated as being cat friendly through the CFP Program, which is an AAFP member benefit, and about 350 practices were working on their applications. According to the AAFP, earning the CFP designation demonstrates that a practice has committed to provide the highest standards of care for cats and assures cat caregivers that a practice has taken extra time and effort to consider each cat’s experience and care.

The 2021 CFP survey (PDF) found the program benefits cats, cat caregivers, and veterinary teams. Respondents cited the top benefits as less stress for feline patients, a higher client satisfaction rate with the veterinary visit, a dedicated display of care for feline patients, and improved client retention and frequency of visits.

Individual team members can enroll in the Cat Friendly Certificate Program, with AAFP members receiving a discount. The certificate program aims to build knowledge, skills, and best in-clinic practices for feline care on the basis of the individual’s role within a practice. As of early November, more than 13,000 individuals had registered for the program, and nearly 8,000 had earned a certificate.

The new cat-friendly guidelines from the AAFP and ISFM were authored by experts in feline medicine and behavior, who undertook a literature review and drew on experience gained from the AAFP Cat Friendly Practice Program as well as the ISFM Cat Friendly Clinic program, which was also established in 2012.

A veterinary team member approaches a cat in its carrier with a soft hand, including curved fingers. (Courtesy of Ellen Carozza)

Dr. Ilona Rodan, co-chair of the task force that prepared the guidelines on cat-friendly interactions, and Dr. Sarah Heath, another member of the task force, delivered a presentation on the topic at the AAFP conference. Dr. Rodan spoke about why practices should incorporate this approach.

“The No. 1 reason to do so is the welfare of the cat,” said Dr. Rodan, owner of Cat Behavior Solutions out of Wisconsin. “We are responsible for the welfare of our patients, as veterinarians, as veterinary technicians, or whatever your position in the practice, and what that means is we’re taking care of not only the physical but also the mental health of the cat, which is equally important to physical health.”

Dr. Heath, clinical lead at Behavioural Referrals Veterinary Practice in Chester, England, has developed new terminology for cats’ underlying emotions and behavioral responses. Dr. Heath does not refer to negative or positive emotions, for example, but refers rather to protective emotions and engaging emotions. Her terminology and the Heath Model of emotional health are used throughout the cat-friendly guidelines.

The guidelines on cat-friendly interactions and the guidelines on cat-friendly environments together cover all aspects of a cat’s veterinary experience, including the trip to the practice and interactions with veterinary team members, as well as the clinical environment.

Some of the key areas covered include the following:

  • Implementing cat-friendly interactions and minimal handling that allow the cat to have a sense of control and choice.
  • Educating cat caregivers about how to reduce distress when traveling to the veterinary practice, including carrier training.
  • Creating an experience that considers the cat’s natural behaviors and altering the approach to suit each individual cat.
  • Creating an environment that considers and implements ways to reduce fear and anxiety and that promotes emotions and behaviors that cats find comforting.
  • Ensuring the entire veterinary team understands species-specific behavior and individual differences.
  • Understanding how to identify the cat’s emotional state and the subsequent behavioral response—and what to do in each situation.

As of press time, both sets of guidelines had been endorsed by more than two dozen veterinary organizations throughout the world.

The new guidelines and supplemental resources are available in the guidelines section of the AAFP website. Details about the AAFP Cat Friendly Practice Program and the AAFP Cat Friendly Certificate Program are available in the section of the AAFP website about these recognition programs.


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