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Designing kitten wellness programs (Proceedings)

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Aug 01, 2008

Kittens make up a significant proportion of the patient population in both general small animal and feline specialty practices. The need for frequent visits during the first months of life is an opportunity to lay the foundation for a long and healthy relationship between the pet owner and hospital staff. The entire health care team must focus on kitten wellness in order to provide optimal medical care and foster client bonding.

A comprehensive kitten wellness program is more than physical examinations, vaccinations and deworming, although these remain very important components. Your kitten wellness program will be more effective and more rewarding if other components are added, such as:

  • Risk assessment based on lifestyle and breed
  • Wellness testing (routine laboratory tests, genetic tests where applicable)
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) testing
  • Parasite screening and prevention, prevention of zoonotic diseases
  • Dietary management for life stages
  • Behavior counseling (including litter box management, scratching posts), kitten socialization, environmental enrichment
  • Appropriate supplies and toys
  • In-home safety (cat-proofing), and safe outdoor experiences (harness, enclosures, etc)
  • Dental care
  • Microchipping
  • Grooming: nail trimming, brushing
  • Benefits of spay and neuter; early age altering

A kitten wellness series can range from two to four visits, depending on the age of the kitten and the design of your program. In covering all the important issues, there is too much information for a pet owner to digest in one visit, especially for new cat owners. It is helpful to break up the information into modules, covering the information in one module at each visit. Start with the most pressing wellness issues at the first visit, and prioritize the rest according to that kitten's individual schedule of wellness visits. In this manner, a tailored wellness plan can be made for each kitten at the first visit and documented in the medical record so that no important points are missed at subsequent visits.

Veterinary technicians are invaluable for introducing kitten wellness concepts and information to pet owners. Each kitten wellness visit should be 30 minutes in length, and the time can be divided between technician and veterinarian. The first wellness visit should begin with a kitten history form that covers information relevant to risk assessment, such as:
  • Where the kitten was obtained
  • What vaccinations the kitten may already have received (with documentation)
  • What deworming the kitten may already have received (with documentation)
  • What diet the kitten is being fed, is the kitten eating well
  • Has the kitten been tested for FeLV and FIV (with documentation)
  • Does the owner have other cats at home, do any have access to outdoors
  • Has the new kitten been isolated
  • Will the new kitten have access to outdoors
  • Has the kitten been well since obtained (with emphasis on upper respiratory tract disease signs, diarrhea, external parasites)
  • Have there been any housesoiling problems
  • If a pedigreed cat, are there plans to breed the kitten
  • If a pedigreed cat, has it been tested for relevant genetic diseases

Designing a packet or folder of kitten wellness materials that is given to the owner at the first visit is an effective way of making sure the owner receives all the important information. However, it is not enough simply to hand the reading material to the owner – it is more effective if the owner brings the packet at each visit, and the veterinarian and/or veterinary technician reviews specific pieces of material relevant to that visit.

Every member of the health care team, including all the veterinarians, must follow a standard, comprehensive kitten wellness program in order to deliver a consistent message of high quality care to pet owners. Consistency from doctor to doctor helps improve compliance, and avoids owner confusion about the best wellness care for the pet. All clinic staff should be familiar with and understand the importance of the components of the kitten wellness program. It may be necessary to schedule meetings once or twice a year with the entire clinic staff to maintain focus on the wellness program and introduce any new components.