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8 things you need to know about AAHA’s Canine Life Stage Guidelines

Every dog owner thinks that their dog is special. And, guess what? We’re all right. Each dog is special and should be treated as an individual. Not only is your dog special to you, but she is special to your veterinarian as well. The veterinary team considers your dog’s life stage, breed, and various lifestyle factors so they can create a healthcare plan customized to meet your dog’s unique needs, and the 2019 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines can be used as a guide. Here are eight facts you need to know about the 2019 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines.

Fact #1: Your dog will travel through four distinct life stages before reaching her final days.

  1. Puppy
    Birth → 6–9 months of age (end of rapid growth)
  2. Young adult
    6–9 months of age → 3–4 years of age (completion of physical and social maturation)
  3. Mature adult
    3–4 years of age → Beginning of last 25% of estimated lifespan (breed- and size-dependent)
  4. Senior
     Last 25% of estimated lifespan → End of life

A dog’s life stage involves more than her age, since different dog breeds age at different rates. To discover your dog’s current life stage, and to learn what should be covered in every wellness visit with your veterinarian, AAHA is currently developing a Canine Life Stage Calculator. Check back here in the coming months for the link to this exciting new tool.

Fact #2: Visiting the veterinarian every 6–12 months is key to your dog’s health, regardless of age.

Puppies will visit the veterinarian more often than their adult counterparts, as the veterinary team completes personalized vaccine protocols, prepares them to be spayed or neutered, sets a foundation for appropriate behavior and exercise, and monitors for congenital health problems.

Young adults should receive continuing preventive care, including appropriate protection against fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal parasites. The veterinary team will address any behavior concerns and monitor their growth and development, including setting an appropriate body condition score (BCS) to help you keep your canine pal at a healthy weight so she will be less likely to develop osteoarthritis, breathing problems, and other future health problems exacerbated by increased body weight.

Veterinary visits for mature adult dogs will focus on maintaining good health through regular screening and testing, as well as monitoring weight, muscle condition, and mobility.

When a dog enters her senior years, the veterinary team will work to identify any issues that may contribute to a decline in her health or quality of life through regular blood work and other health screenings, and they’ll recommend adjustments in activity level and nutrition as needed.

Fact #3: The decision about when to spay or neuter your dog is no longer black and white.

Emerging data suggests that pet owners and veterinarians should weigh the risks and benefits of spaying or neutering a dog between 5 and 6 months for small-breed female dogs, before 6 months for small male dogs, or after growth stops (9 to 15 months) for large-breed male and female dogs.

Fact #4: Your dog’s surroundings may need to be altered as she ages.

Ensure rambunctious young dogs don’t have access to potentially toxic items (and your favorite pair of shoes), and provide a crate with comfortable bedding and a favorite toy. Use pet gates and other items to keep puppies in the areas of your home where you know they’re safe.

Senior dogs may struggle with mobility, so be sure to provide ramps or pet stairs when your dog struggles jumping to his favorite sleeping spots or getting into the car, add carpeting or another form of traction to slick hardwood or tile floors, and put a dog bed on the main floor of your home if your pet struggles to take the stairs to your bedroom.

Fact #5: Some diseases can be spread from your dog to your human family.

Parasites like roundworms, fleas, and ticks not only spread diseases to your canine companion—they also spread diseases to the people in your home. Protect your dog and your human family members—especially the young, old, and immunocompromised—from these diseases by ensuring your dog receives regular parasite preventives. Also, avoid feeding your dog raw meat, which can spread harmful bacteria throughout your home.

Fact #6: Behavior problems lead to relinquishment and euthanasia of dogs.

One of the top reasons dogs are relinquished to shelters is behavior problems. Stay in close communication with your veterinarian during all life stages if you notice problem behaviors, like aggression or fear, in your dog.

Fact #7: Dogs should be vaccinated based on lifestyle.

While there are some core vaccines that every dog should receive, like rabies and distemper, others are given based on a dog’s lifestyle. Your veterinarian will discuss your dog’s risk factors to determine if she should receive noncore vaccines against canine influenza, bordetella, leptospirosis, or Lyme disease.

Fact #8: A dog’s oral health affects her overall health.

By 3 years of age, most dogs have some level of dental disease, which can lead to chronic pain and infection. During every stage of your dog’s life, your veterinarian will evaluate her oral health and will recommend regular at-home dental care as well as periodic professional dental cleanings.

Learn more about the 2019 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines—visit aaha.org/caninelifestage.