What does it really mean to be a Cat Friendly Veterinary Professional? – Part Two

8 April 2024

 International Cat Care’s Cat Friendly Principles for Veterinary Professionals Part 2. People-focused principles

Dr Ellen Marcinkiewicz (BVSc. MRCVS), Communications Manager at International Cat Care

Pioneering cat welfare charity International Cat Care (iCatCare) and its veterinary division, the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM), have developed the ‘Cat Friendly Principles’ a series of thoughts and behaviours that underpin the charity’s work and the foundations of its groundbreaking Cat Friendly Clinic programme, which aim to guide and inspire all those working to improve the lives of cats everywhere. There are seven principles in total – three dedicated to the cat, and four to the people working with cats to champion their welfare.

Part 2 of this series will explore the last four ‘people-focused’ Cat Friendly Principles and their significance for veterinary professionals. The seven principles are of equal importance and should all be embraced by veterinary professionals in order to be truly ‘cat friendly’. To learn more about the ‘cat-focused’ principles, please refer to Part 1 of this article series.

  1. Be solution driven for cats – Find evidence-based, pragmatic and sustainable solutions for cats

Veterinary professionals committed to practising evidence-based medicine can apply this skill set to make well-considered decisions that best promote cat welfare – both on an individual patient level and for the wider cat population. With considerable research available on feline husbandry, preventative healthcare, medical and surgical treatments, as well as behaviour and welfare science, we now have access to more information than ever on how to deliver the best veterinary care for cats.

But does this always mean providing the most advanced standard of care? Though we are responsible for making a diagnosis, in most cases the ongoing care and treatment will be carried out at home by the owner or caregiver. Practising contextualised care means creating a partnership between the caregiver and the veterinary team, working together for the best quality of life for the patient.1 Considerations such as their ability to administer medication or treatment, resources (such as finances and time), and the cat’s individual temperament must be carefully balanced to achieve compliance while maintaining good animal welfare.

Strategies veterinary professionals can adopt to be solution driven for cats include:

  • Making informed, well-considered decisions, no matter how complex or difficult the situation. This includes taking into account the individual cat’s temperament, as well as the owner or caregiver’s capacity to administer care, and the possible emotional impact of a treatment plan on the human-animal bond.
  • Seeking evidence to support pragmatic and realistic decisions, both on an individual and population level, which will lead to improved cat welfare outcomes. For example, in parts of the world where veterinary care is limited, focusing on effective population management through neutering may be more of a cat welfare priority than providing preventative healthcare.
  • Identifying and addressing the underlying cause of an issue, rather than only treating the clinical signs, helps to develop effective and sustainable solutions that benefit both cats and their owners long-term (eg, adapting the home environment to reduce stress for a cat suffering from idiopathic cystitis).
  • Protecting the physical and mental health of veterinary staff and all those working with cats. Animal health and welfare interventions can only be effective if the people involved can sustainably maintain the level of work long-term (eg, by providing mental health support and flexible working options).
  • Measuring the impact of any cat welfare interventions or activities to allow for assessment of success.

Though creating cat friendly solutions is key to improving welfare outcomes, successful communication is critical to ensure everyone involved understands the importance of the interventions and is working together to put the principles into practice.

  1. Communicate for cats – Communicate considerately and share knowledge generously for the sake of cats

Over one-third of cats in the UK (around 4.3 million) don’t visit the clinic for an annual health check, with 25% of their owners citing stress to them and/or their cat as the key reason.2 This reduces the chances of early detection of possible health issues, where intervention might be more effective and/or pain management required, as well as opportunities for cats to receive preventative healthcare – all of which can all lead to compromised welfare states for our feline patients.

Creating a cat friendly experience helps to overcome this particular barrier to accessing veterinary care but requires clear understanding and communication of the Cat Friendly Principles across the entire practice team, including reception and management staff. Effective communication on the benefits of a cat friendly approach is also essential to overcoming owner resistance to health interventions, from regular veterinary visits to optimisation of the cat’s home environment.

The five pillars of a healthy feline environment from the AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines.

Ways veterinary professionals can communicate for cats include:

  • Communicating professionally, respectfully and considerately with all who impact cat welfare, from within the veterinary team to cat owners and caregivers, animal welfare organisations and the general public.
  • Performing regular staff updates and cat friendly training sessions, ensuring this is also part of the induction process for all new team members. Regular communication on the same topics can help reinforce learning and improve impact.
  • Tailoring your communication style, language, approach and methods of delivery to best suit your intended audience. From how you share information with individual clients (eg, minimising technical jargon, providing leaflets or educational resources) to interactions with your team, effective communication is critical for improved compliance and outcomes for feline patients.
  • Actively promoting the cat friendly nature of your clinic (including Cat Friendly Clinic status where relevant) in your communications, such as posting on social media and your website, or using waiting room leaflets or posters to highlight preventative healthcare information and advice to improve both the physical and mental wellbeing of cats (eg, puzzle feeding to help prevent obesity and provide an outlet for natural hunting behaviour).
  • Communicating openly about successful cat welfare collaborations with other organisations and individuals for the benefit of the veterinary profession and cats everywhere.

Working together for the greater benefit of improving animal welfare leads us to principle six:

  1. Collaborate for cats – Work together, locally, internationally and with people from different backgrounds, always supporting and valuing each other

To provide the best care and advice to support both the physical health and mental wellbeing of our feline patients, we need to collaborate with other professional groups that influence cat welfare, such as clinical animal behaviourists, homing organisations and TNR charities. As veterinary professionals, we have extensive knowledge and skills to share with these groups, who, in turn, provide their own unique perspectives and cat welfare expertise. The result? A more well-rounded approach to veterinary care, both on an individual patient and cat population level.

Veterinary professionals should also be aware of the incredible impact they have on educating the next generation, both within the profession and externally in these key stakeholder groups, to improve knowledge and grow cat friendly culture.

Ways veterinary professionals can commit to collaborating for cats include:

  • Working with a range of different stakeholders to bring greater perspectives and insight on cat welfare (eg, developing a relationship with a local clinical animal behaviourist for referral and insight when managing problem behaviour cases).
  • Understanding that different socioeconomic, geographical or cultural influences can inform decision-making and effective communication. Showing respect and developing a mutual understanding (even if you hold different views) could be the difference between your treatment plan’s success or failure.
  • Providing veterinary input on issues in all areas that may impact cat welfare, such as humane population management, government policy, housing authorities and zoonotic diseases.
  • Sharing educational resources, research, and solutions to problems with other veterinary groups and relevant organisations outside your local or national area (eg, homing organisations, TNR groups).
  1. Evolve for cats – Be innovative, remain curious and keep learning for cats

As a profession, we continuously grow our catalogue of scientific evidence, adapting our approach in order to practice veterinary medicine to the best standards possible. But alongside our clinical medicine knowledge, we should continue to cultivate and develop our cat friendly credentials, including the art of understanding feline behaviour and promoting good welfare. To constantly evolve for cats, veterinary professionals should regularly reflect on their current practice, asking themselves: What works now for this particular cat? What can we do better? and What do we need to do next?

Though this might seem overwhelming on top of an already physically and emotionally challenging workload, taking the time to research and improve our expertise can provide more effective solutions in the long run, both for the cats under your care and for your team.

Ways veterinary professionals can continue evolving for cats:

  • Committing to stay up to date with the latest feline research, remembering that learning can come from different sources and should encompass a variety of disciplines – it doesn’t always have to take place in a formal academic setting (eg, case discussions with your colleagues or using veterinary groups or forums). ISFM Membership is a great way to engage with a community of like-minded colleagues and offers a wide range of CPD from leading feline experts. International peer-reviewed journals, Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS) and its sister journal, JFMS Open Reports, are now also available online open access for practitioners worldwide.
  • Monitoring your progress and long-term outcomes to determine the effectiveness of cat friendly interventions and help guide decision-making. For example, in a 2023 study, Cat Friendly Practices (Cat Friendly Practices programme is run in North and South America by the American Association of Feline Practitioners who licence the programme from iCatCare) performed diagnostic testing at 12% more clinic visits, compared to clinics without Cat Friendly accreditation.3
  • Sustaining positive messaging and efforts to encourage continual improvement of understanding can help change negative attitudes towards cats in the wider community.

By applying the Cat Friendly Principles within your day-to-day work, evolution will occur organically, with the inevitable knock-on effect of motivating and inspiring yourself and others to commit to championing cat welfare within the veterinary profession.

For more information on putting the Cat Friendly Principles into practice, please refer to:

JFMS Cat Friendly Special Issue

2022 AAFP/ISFM Cat Friendly Veterinary Interaction Guidelines: Approach and Handling Techniques

2022 ISFM/AAFP Cat Friendly Veterinary Environment Guidelines

AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines


  1. Maximising welfare benefits by contextualising case management, September 2022, Available from: https://knowledge.rcvs.org.uk/about-us/news-and-events/features/maximising-welfare-benefits-by-contextualising-case-management/
  2. Cats Protection. Cats Report 2023, September 2023, Available from: https://www.cats.org.uk/about-cp/cats-report
  3. St Denis K, et al. Cat Friendly Practice Improves feline visits, resulting in increased laboratory testing and increased diagnosis of certain common feline conditions. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2023;25(11). doi:1177/1098612X231204199