2019 Canine Life Stage Guidelines

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The guidelines are an update and extension of the 2012 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines. A noteworthy change from the earlier guidelines is the division of the dog’s lifespan into five stages (puppy, young adult, mature adult, senior, and end of life) instead of the previous six. This simplified grouping is consistent with how pet owners generally perceive their dog’s maturation and aging process and provides a readily understood basis for an evolving, lifelong healthcare strategy. The guidelines provide the following recommendations for managing 10 health-related factors at each of the first four canine life stages: 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. (J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 2019; 55:267–290. DOI 10.5326/JAAHA-MS-6999)


The purpose of these guidelines is to provide a comprehensive structure for both practice teams and pet owners that supports individualized recommendations which promote healthy longevity throughout a dog’s different life stages. Specific objectives of the guidelines include

  • Broadening the focus on the individualized approach to the veterinary visit.
  • Emphasizing preventive healthcare strategies and recommendations based on age, size, lifestyle, and breed of the dog.
  • Providing a framework and outline on focused areas of healthcare that are important during the maturation pathway at each canine life stage.
  • Providing resources and relevant information for practice teams to enable them to develop an individualized preventive healthcare plan for each dog.
  • Providing information and communication strategies to “make compliance easy” by facilitating adherence to recommendations that protect canine and human health.

Organizing a canine patient’s lifespan into distinct life stages is a way of recognizing that a dog’s physiology evolves as he matures, requiring different approaches to healthcare as the animal progresses from puppy to senior pet. The patient’s life stage becomes a clinical tool that guides the clinician’s risk assessment and preventive healthcare and treatment strategies. Equally important, the life stages described in these guidelines also represent a useful framework for explaining individualized pet healthcare to the pet owner. For example, a pet owner who understands why a puppy has different dietary, vaccination, behavioral, or dental care needs compared with an adult dog is more likely to comply with the practice team’s recommendations at each life stage.

These guidelines complement earlier canine life stage guidelines1 published in 2012, as well as the more recently released, AAHA/IAAHPC End-of-Life (EOL) Care Guidelines published in 2016. The EOL Guidelines recommended that the terminal stage of a patient’s life should be considered a distinct life stage because of the unique patient and client considerations required during EOL. These guidelines will not discuss the EOL, but because of the importance of the EOL stage, we encourage practice team members to become thoroughly knowledgeable with the EOL guidelines, too.2

Although the 2012 guidelines can be considered a companion reference to the newer guidelines, an important distinction between the two is the task force’s decision to reduce the number of canine life stages (pre-EOL) from six to four.

Note: All subsequent discussion of the number of the life stage categories will focus on and refer to the four life stages preceding EOL. The physiologic basis for six canine life stages remains valid. However, categorizing the dog’s lifespan into four segments makes clinical protocols easier to implement and, very importantly, simplifies the pet healthcare dialog between the practice team and its pet owners. Everyone in the practice, including technicians and support staff, should have an understanding of how a dog’s life stage forms the basis for patient-specific healthcare recommendations. Thus, there is a dual rationale for the four life stage approach to managing the canine patient, simplifying implementation of and adherence to clinical protocols and facilitating client communication, which is the key to compliance.

The life stage guidelines represent a framework for the clinician but are not intended to be all inclusive. This website contains useful supporting information and resources for using life stages to guide preventive healthcare and treatment protocols for the canine patient.

These guidelines were subjected to a formal peer-review process.

Correspondence: [email protected]

BCS (body condition score); EOL (end of life); MCS (muscle condition score); USMI (urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence)

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.


These guidelines were prepared by a Task Force of experts convened by the American Animal Hospital Association and were subjected to a formal peer-review process. This document is intended as a guideline only, not an AAHA standard of care. These guidelines and recommendations should not be construed as dictating an exclusive protocol, course of treatment, or procedure. Variations in practice may be warranted based on the needs of the individual patient, resources, and limitations unique to each individual practice setting. Evidence-based support for specific recommendations has been cited whenever possible and appropriate. Other recommendations are based on practical clinical experience and a consensus of expert opinion. Further research is needed to document some of these recommendations. Because each case is different, veterinarians must base their decisions on the best available scientific evidence in conjunction with their own knowledge and experience. Note: When selecting products, veterinarians have a choice among those formulated for humans and those developed and approved by veterinary use. Manufacturers of veterinary-specific products spend resources to have their products reviewed and approved by the FDA for canine or feline use. These products are specifically designed and formulated for dogs and cats and have benefits for their use; they are not human generic products. AAHA suggests that veterinary professionals make every effort to use veterinary FDA-approved products and base their inventory-purchasing decisions on what product is most beneficial to the patient.