2019 Canine Life Stage Guidelines

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Bark to Basics: Defining Canine Care at Every Life Stage

The AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines help veterinary professionals understand and manage the five stages of a dog’s lifespan. These guidelines offer invaluable insights into the specific needs and considerations at each developmental phase, from puppyhood to the senior years. Look to these guidelines for strategies to support optimal health and wellbeing in dogs throughout their lives.

Key Points from the Canine Life Stage Guidelines:


  • Emphasis on proper nutrition tailored to support rapid growth and development
  • Vaccination protocols to protect against common diseases
  • Socialization techniques to promote positive behaviors and reduce anxiety

Young Adult:

  • Transition to adult diet while monitoring growth rate
  • Continued vaccination and preventive care
  • Training reinforcement for obedience and manners
  • Focus on maintaining ideal body condition and preventing obesity
  • Regular dental care to prevent periodontal disease
  • Screening for early signs of chronic conditions such as arthritis

Mature Adult (7-10 years):

  • Adjustments in diet and exercise to accommodate changes in metabolism
  • Monitoring for age-related health issues such as cognitive decline
  • Regular veterinary visits to address emerging health concerns

Senior (10+ years):

  • Specialized diets to support aging organs and joint health
  • Increased frequency of wellness exams and diagnostic screenings
  • Palliative care considerations for managing chronic conditions and maintaining quality of life

All Ages

  • Thorough physical exam should include the 5 vital assessments: TPR, pain, and nutritional assessment (which includes body weight, BCS/MCS)
  • Transportation advice – safety (restraint), motion sickness, anxiety
  • Boarding/grooming advice
  • Consult about any current medications and supplements, nutraceuticals, herbs
  • Frequency visit recommendations
  • Provide or recommend appropriate client education online resources

These guidelines serve as a roadmap for veterinarians to navigate the unique challenges and opportunities presented by each stage of a dog’s life. Help your canine patients be the best they can be at every age with the AAHA Canine Life Stage 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.

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.

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