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Benefits in Curriculum

Assessment of the Educational Benefits of a Feral Cat Management Program in the Professional Veterinary Curriculum

Dawn M. Fradkin and Margaret R. Slater, DVM, PhD
Departments of Veterinary Anatomy and Public Health and Small Animal Medicine and Surgery
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843-4458

Abstract Presentation
Merck Research Fellowship Conference
University of California, Davis
Saturday, August 12, 2000

The issues of pet overpopulation should be of utmost importance in the veterinary profession. Estimates of the number of stray and feral cats in the United States range from 10 million to over 50 million, with 5 to 7 million cats euthanized in animal shelters annually. As veterinarians, we must educate our clients on matters of responsible pet ownership, and facilitate humane animal population control. A thorough knowledge of feral cat behavior, control, and management is essential if we are to counsel our clients on matters of pet overpopulation control and management.

Since August of 1998, the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University and the Aggie Feral Cat Alliance of Texas (AFCAT) have humanely trapped and neutered feral cats on campus. This TNR (trap/neuter/return) program identifies and adopts out socialized adult cats and kittens, and unadoptable/unsocialized adult cats are returned to their trap site after neutering and released. Returned cats are maintained in managed colonies where they are fed and supervised by caregivers on a regular basis. AFCAT volunteers trap and oversee management of cats on University property, and, with the assistance of private funding, the College of Veterinary Medicine subsidizes feral cat gonadectomies and routine healthcare as part of the 4th year educational experience. Our study was designed to evaluate the educational benefits of the inclusion of the feral cat management program into the 4th year curriculum by examining the attitudes and practices of individuals related to feral cat management and pet overpopulation following graduation.

A survey with 36 questions, 118 possible responses, and a comment section was sent to graduates from the TAMU Veterinary class of 1999. An identical survey was sent to the Veterinary class of 1999 at the University of Tennessee, which is located in a similar climate, but has no feral cat management in the curriculum or on the campus. The overall response rate was 71%, with a 73% response from TAMU (90/124) and a 68% response from UTN (38/56). No statistically significant differences in response rate, age, gender, practice type or location were found between the two classes. One Canadian territory and 28 U.S. states were represented.

Approximately 90% of respondents work in practices where feral cats may be treated, 68% in small animal practice and 22% in small/large animal mixed practice. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) report that they see feral cats in practice. Experience with feral cats as described by 77% of respondents includes client-owned (31%), AFCAT program (19%), other TNR participation (23%), animal shelter/control (8%), other (7%). Given the high potential and actual demand for veterinary treatment of feral cats, it is evident that veterinary students require training in this area.

Summary statistics were analyzed by frequency distribution, continuous data was analyzed using Wilcoxon rank-sum tests and categorical data was analyzed using Chi Square association tests for heterogeneity or independence. Statistically significant differences [p < 0.05] are indicated by asterix (*).

Question Stat. Significance TAMU UTN
Have heard of TNR before * 96% 74%
Have experience w/ feral cats * 83% 63%
Aware of feral colonies in area 39% 35%
Aware of TNR program in area 24% 22%
See feral cats in practice 64% 64%
Would participate in TNR program 76% 71%
Would promote TNR program 47% 34%
Would offer discounted feral cat services 45% 45%
Would offer volunteer feral cat services 40% 45%
Would donate supplies to treat feral cats 15% 13%
Do not support TNR management programs 7% 13%
Not willing to treat ferals at all 7% 8%
Not willing to participate in community TNR 16% 16%
Reservations about TNR due to risk to owned pets 23% 37%
Reservations about TNR due to liability * 18% 40%
Reservations about TNR due to risk of self injury * 37% 63%
Lack equipment to promote/participate in TNR * 4% 21%
Lack training to promote/participate in TNR * 4% 29%
Participated in feral cat lab before graduation * 50% 3%
# of surgeries performed before graduation was adequate * 59% 34%

The mean number of student surgeries performed at each school was not statistically different; however, descriptive evaluation indicated a large disparity in the range of surgeries per student at UTN (1-400 vs. 7-125 at TAMU). Further investigation revealed that this disparity was due to variable participation in Remote Area Medical field trips offered at UTN. Additional surgeries created by a TNR program at UTN could enhance the student surgical experience. Currently only 34% of UTN graduates feel that the number of surgeries they performed prior to graduation was adequate, compared to 59% at Texas A&M.

Interestingly, a similar percentage of UTN graduates see feral cats in practice compared to Texas graduates, further indicating that inclusion of a feral cat management program in the UTN veterinary curriculum could be beneficial. Texas A&M students who participated in (or were exposed to) feral cat TNR were less likely to have reservations about TNR, had better awareness of feral cat management practices, had more experience with feral cats, and were more comfortable with the amount of surgical training they received.

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