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April 15, 2021

AAHA, AAFP update Feline Life Stage Guidelines

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Understanding a cat’s life stage and lifestyle greatly impacts health care strategies, according to the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

On March 2, the associations announced updated recommendations in the 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines. The associations convened a task force of experts in feline medicine to define distinct feline life stages and provide a framework for individualized health care plans for cats.

“The task force wanted to make thoughtful updates to build on the history of feline care while adding nuances for the lifestyles of today’s cats, which includes new types of exposure now that owners are taking their cats hiking in backpacks and walking on leashes,” said Dr. Heather Loenser, AAHA chief medical officer.

Cover: AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines

The guidelines were published in the March/April issue of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association and the March issue of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. The new guidelines are an update and extension of the guidelines published in 2010.

The 2021 guidelines divide the cat’s lifespan into four age-related stages, as well as an end-of-life stage that is covered by other guidelines. The age-related stages are these: kitten, from birth up to 1 year old; young adult, 1-6 years old; mature adult, 7-10 years old; and senior, 10 years old and up. A comprehensive table covers items for the veterinary team to perform or discuss during each age-related life stage.

According to the guidelines summary, the task force “offers evidence-guided recommendations for eight clinical aspects of feline medicine that should be managed in relation to a cat’s life stage: behavior and environmental needs; elimination; nutrition and weight management; oral health; parasite control; vaccination; zoonoses and human safety; and diagnostic. Additionally, important topics include feline-friendly handling practices, overcoming barriers to examination visits, environmental enrichment, understanding feline behavior, practice team training, and client education.”

Dr. Loenser said, “The Feline Lifestyle Assessment Form is a great example of a useful tool that came out of the guidelines to shape the conversations that veterinary teams are having with cat owners.” Asking the right questions about lifestyle informs the vaccination protocol, for example. The lifestyle assessment form goes over a cat’s basic information, interactions with other animals and people, access to the outdoor environment, home environment and home care, litter box habits, and routine and behavior.

Among the supplemental client resources accompanying the guidelines are the new “Your Cat’s Life Stages” brochure. The brochure covers items for cat owners to focus on during each life stage through observations at home and discussions with a veterinarian.

The 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines are online at the AAHA and AAFP websites. Resources for cat owners are available at the Cat Friendly Homes website.