New healthcare guidelines for cats at every stage of life

In the United States, cats are more popular than dogs yet they receive less than half the veterinary care provided to their canine counterparts.
Feb 01, 2010

In the United States, cats are more popular than dogs yet they receive less than half the veterinary care provided to their canine counterparts.1 This deficiency is likely driven by many factors, including the myth of feline self-sufficiency, inconsistent messaging from the veterinary community regarding feline health and welfare, the remarkable ability of cats to mask signs of illness, the perceived value of cats in our society, and perhaps something as fundamental as the difficulty in getting Fluffy into the carrier.

This shortcoming in feline healthcare was one focus of the inaugural meeting of the CATalyst Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to elevating the status of the cat. At that meeting, the CATalyst Council served as a true catalyst, engaging the AAFP and AAHA to undertake the development of the Feline Life Stage Guidelines.

Drs. Ilona Rodan and Amy Hoyumpa Vogt co-chaired the eight-member panel that created these guidelines. The Feline Life Stage Guidelines is a document that breaks down the life of the cat into different age classifications (kitten, junior, prime, mature, senior, geriatric) and makes medical and behavioral recommendations based on each life stage. It is a tool veterinarians and veterinary support staff can use to communicate effectively with their clients about what their cats need during various stages of life.

I think two features, in particular, stand out in these guidelines. The first is Table 1: Wellness Visit Discussion and Action Items. This table covers the items that should be considered during the wellness visit based on a cat’s life stage. The table is a handy reference every veterinary practice can use to help develop protocols. It can also be used as a checklist to make sure veterinarians and team members are considering age-relevant issues.

The second feature I think will be very popular is Table 3: Web Resources for Feline Health Care. This table identifies both veterinarian- and client-friendly Web sites and represents a vast resource of feline health and welfare information.

And while I think the Feline Life Stage Guidelines is a useful tool and good starting point, it was evident to me as I served on the panel that it is not only the public that has invested less in the care of cats, but also the veterinary profession. There was a lack of evidence-based feline research to support or refute many of the recommendations. In my opinion, these guidelines are a call to action for the veterinary community:  More funding and focus on feline research are needed to create a greater knowledge base. Ultimately, knowledge will facilitate change.

I encourage everyone on the veterinary healthcare team to review the Feline Life Stage Guidelines and to initiate a discussion in your practice on how you deliver feline health care. I think the future is bright for cats. As their popularity as pets continues to increase and the veterinary profession delivers a consistent healthcare message to pet owners, the public will respond with the provision of optimal healthcare for their feline companions.

1.  Flanigan J, Shepherd A, Majchrzak S, et al. US pet ownership & demographics sourcebook. Schaumburg, Ill. American Veterinary Medical Association, 2007: 1–3.

Veterinary Medicine Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Jacqueline C. Nelison, DVM, DACVB, owns the Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland, Ore.