2012 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines

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Guidelines are offered to guide the veterinary practitioner in designing a comprehensive, individualized wellness plan for each stage of a dog’s life. Life stages are defined by both age and breed characteristics for practical purposes. Each patient visit should use an individualized approach to patient handling, preventive care, and early disease detection. Environment, behavior, nutrition, parasite control, vaccinations, dental care, zoonotic disease control, safety, and reproductive health should be addressed.


In December 2010, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) added prevention of disease to the veterinary oath. With the companion animal bond being stronger than ever, this is a perfect time for a “guideline umbrella” for optimal wellness and preventive care for dogs at all life stages.

It is more important than ever to emphasize the value of routine wellness care. Whenever possible, encourage clients to select a primary care veterinary practice and to choose a primary care veterinarian for each of their pets. By doing so, a strong relationship can be formed between the veterinarian and the client. Familiarity with the patient, the client and the family unit, and their specific needs allows the veterinary team to guide pet owners in optimal preventive care and disease prevention starting at the puppy stage. With the growing use of veterinary specialists, the primary care veterinarian’s role becomes increasingly more important to facilitate, coordinate, and manage overall care. A comprehensive approach promotes and enhances the human–animal bond. It includes individualized life stage and breed-specific wellness plans, and encompasses all aspects of providing excellent preventive healthcare for dogs.

These guidelines were developed by a panel of experts to help the practicing veterinarian create a comprehensive, individualized wellness plan for each stage of a dog’s life. This document is intended as a guideline only. Evidence-based support for specific recommendations is cited whenever possible and appropriate.