A patient’s life stage is one of the most relevant aspects of clinical practice because it guides risk assessment, a preventive healthcare plan, and appropriate treatment. A canine patient’s life stage also forms the basis for an ongoing dialog with the pet owner about a lifetime healthcare strategy for their pet. This is a critical aspect of the life stage concept because effective client communication is the key factor in pet owner compliance with the practice team’s recommendations. Determining the patient’s life stage is, in fact, the foundation of an individualized approach to healthcare. Because of the dog’s relatively short life span, the transition from one life stage to the next can occur within a short period of time. Thus, a life stage assessment should be performed at each exam visit.

The guidelines recommend that the following 10 health-related factors be evaluated at each life stage for a canine patient: lifestyle effect on the patient’s safety, zoonotic and human safety risk, behavior, nutrition, parasite control, vaccination, dental health, reproduction, breed-specific conditions, and a baseline diagnostic profile. These healthcare considerations are best addressed using a collaborative approach to the patient’s healthcare, one that involves the entire practice team and the pet owner. These stakeholders should collectively agree on an individualized healthcare plan that continually assesses the patient’s health status at each of four life stages (preceding EOL) in the context of regular preventive healthcare visits.

The AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines task force gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Mark Dana of Kanara Consulting Group, LLC in the preparation of the guidelines.

The 2019 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines are supported by generous educational grants from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., CareCredit, Elanco Animal Health, Hill’s ® Pet Nutrition, Inc., IDEXX Laboratories, Inc., Merck Animal Health and Zoetis Petcare.