AAHA and AAFP release updated feline life stage guidelines

AAHA and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) convened a task force of experts in feline medicine with the goal of updating the existing 2010 guidelines and define distinct feline life stages to provide a framework for individualized healthcare plans.

The result is the 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines.

NEWStat talked to task force member Hazel Carney, DVM, MS, DABVP (Feline), a veterinarian at AAHA-accredited WestVet Emergency and Specialty Center in Garden City, Idaho, to find out what’s new.

A lot, as it turns out.

In addition to a much stronger emphasis on the integration of behavior and medicine, Carney said the biggest change is defining end of life as a separate stage, “because it can occur at any age. Originally, [end-of-life] discussions were kind of snuck into various age and disease discussions.”

The updated feline life stages are:

  • Kitten (birth to 1 year)
  • Young adult (1–6 years)
  • Mature adult (7–10 years)
  • Senior (greater than 10 years)
  • End of life

“We also know so much more about feline end of life than we did in 2010,” Carney said, “and we have a better ability to guide owners in making decisions that comfort them and the cat [during] that difficult time.”

Carney said our understanding of feline quality of life has also increased “significantly” in the past decade, and that includes the development of new tools to measure it, such as the muscular pain skeletal index, and cognitive dysfunction testing questions to help people look at that aspect of aging in cats. “And we incorporate those tools in the guidelines.”

The guidelines also include quick-reference tables to aid veterinary professionals in developing evolving care plans that grow with patients as they age, as well as supplemental client resources such as the Your Cat’s Life Stages brochure and feline life stage chart, which are useful educational tools to set clients up for success in managing their cat’s wellbeing.

For the veterinary team, the feline lifestyle assessment form helps gather deeper histories for each cat, making it easier to customize their physical examination and to identify specific questions and discussions based on the client’s feedback.

“The guidelines will help the entire staff practice better feline medicine,” Carney said.

Carney said the goal of the task force was to help create life-long relationships between the cat, their person, and their veterinary team: “And with these new guidelines, I think we’ve given them the tools to accomplish that.”

The 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines are also available for download on the AAFP website.

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.

Photo credit: © Naked King/iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty images


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