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7 things you need to know about AAHA’s Feline Life Stage Guidelines

Cats are the most popular pet in North America. More than 94 million cats live in US homes, but because they are so good at hiding pain and illness (and because it can be stressful to transport them in a carrier), felines receive about half of the veterinary care that dogs do. A 2013 study even found that more than half of the cats in the US hadn’t been to an animal hospital in the past year, even for necessary checkups.

This has caused great concern in the veterinary community. Preventive care can increase a cat’s quality of life, help medical professionals detect illness earlier, and ultimately save money for pet owners on long-term veterinary care expenses. By developing wellness exams that take into account feline behavior, nutrition, and disease prevention based on life stage or age group, your veterinarian can help your cat live the longest, healthiest life possible.

That’s why AAHA partnered with the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) to create the AAFP/AAHA Feline Life Stage Guidelines.

What you need to know

  1. There are six feline life stages. While every cat is different, there are six general age groups that incorporate typical behavioral and physical changes: kitten, junior, prime, mature, senior, and geriatric.
  2. Understanding feline life stages helps promote health and happiness at home. For instance, kittens have a high play drive, so toys can provide an outlet for normal predatory play and prevent biting. Declining play activity in middle age makes cats susceptible to weight gain, so adding three 10– to 15-minute exercise sessions per day can help them lose approximately 1% of body weight in one month without dieting. Senior and geriatric cats who exhibit behavioral changes, such as urinating outside the litter box or vocalizing, may suffer from an underlying medical issue, not a bad “cattitude.”
  3. Semiannual exams are ideal for most cats. Changes in health status can occur in a short period of time, and ill cats often show no signs of disease. Seeing the veterinarian every six months allows for earlier intervention to get your cat back on the road to good health.
  4. There are important health considerations at all ages. Dental care, parasite prevention, appropriate vaccines, and weight management are key elements for keeping your cat as healthy as possible for all “nine lives.” Regular checkups will help keep everything on track.
  5. Overcome the “carrier barrier.” Your veterinarian can share tips to help accustom your cat to her carrier, from creating positive associations as a kitten to always keeping it accessible in the home, accompanied by treats, play, an article of clothing that smells like a favorite person, and even synthetic feline pheromones. Covering the carrier with a blanket during transport, and practicing with short, pleasant car rides before it’s time to go to the animal hospital is also beneficial.
  6. Indoor-only cats still need veterinary care and microchips. While some owners believe indoor-only cats aren’t susceptible to disease, they are actually at risk for parasites, injury, and even rabies (bats can seem like fun “toys,” after all). Cats can also be escape artists when the front door opens, so a collar with an ID tag and a microchip with current contact information is key to helping you reunite with your pet in case she goes missing.
  7. There’s no such thing as too much communication. Your veterinary team wants to know all about your cat’s behavior and can help strategize ways to make visits to the animal hospital less stressful for everyone involved. They can also share tips for providing mental stimulation and enrichment and answer any questions you might have about changes in your cat’s behavior. By engaging with your veterinarian, you will be the best possible advocate for your cat.

What to ask your veterinarian about your cat’s life stage

  • What do I need to know about my cat’s current life stage?
  • How can I help my cat maintain a healthy weight?
  • What should I consider when deciding if my cat should live indoors or indoors and outdoors?
  • Do I need to microchip my cat if she lives indoors?
  • How can I provide mental enrichment at home?
  • I get stressed even thinking about trying to get my cat into the carrier for a car ride. What can I do?
  • What tips do you have for getting my cat to use the litter box?
  • When would you like me to schedule the next visit?

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