Young Adult Cats
Cats should not be punished. Yelling at or startling the cat, spraying the cat with water, or other physical forms of punishment only serve to scare the cat and may lead to cats running away or responding aggressively. Cats should never be subjected to shock collars. Withholding resources, such as food, is likewise never appropriate. Punishment impairs the human–animal bond. Instead, desirable behaviors should be rewarded— see the AAFP Position Statement on positive reinforcement.67
Young adult cats do not require as frequent routine medical care as kittens, so it is integral to educate the client about why regular healthcare examinations remain so important. Routine examinations can help identify behavioral changes or medical concerns that may affect a cat’s health long before they become significant, painful, or more costly to treat. Clients should be educated about the subtle changes in behavior and day-to-day life of the cat that may possibly be significant. Encouraging owners to routinely record behaviors in a journal and/or with photos and video will provide a basis for documenting any such changes. Simply asking the client, “Is your cat happy?” may help them think about their cat’s welfare.
Urine marking is most often displayed by intact male cats, although one study reported that about 10% of sterilized cats marked their territory with urine.54 The onset of this behavior can coincide with sexual maturity. Both males and females may urine spray.
Cats may discontinue litter box use for a variety of reasons including the litter substrate offered, litter box cleaning and environmental hygiene, litter box style (e.g., covered, electronic), litter box size, location preferences, illness, or stress in the home, including conflict between housemate cats. Although individual preferences can vary, of the available litter types, most adult cats prefer clumping litter, and most cats prefer plain unscented litters.55 Some cats may find scented litters significantly aversive.56 Cats have shown a tendency to prefer larger litter boxes.57,58
The reduction in social play combined with the dispersal effect (when free-living offspring leave the family unit at about 1–2 years of age) means that intercat aggression may develop at this stage of life. Conflict may occur when a new cat is introduced. Alternatively, a housemate cat may become the target of aggression following a stressful event (e.g., returning home from a veterinary visit) or owing to redirected aggression triggered by a cat outside the home.
Controversy exists over whether cats should be kept indoors only or in an indoor/outdoor environment (see the “Lifestyle Choices” section). These debates reflect geographical and cultural differences as well as individual owner preferences.60–65 The focus should be on providing an appropriate, stimulating, and safe environment for the cat.38 All cats should be microchipped for permanent identification.
Declining play activity increases susceptibility to weight gain. In one study, three 10- to 15-minute exercise sessions per day led to a loss of approximately 1% of body weight in 1 month with no food intake restrictions.66
Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., CareCredit, Dechra Veterinary Products, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc., Merck Animal Health, and Zoetis Petcare supported the development of the 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines and resources through an educational grant to AAHA.