Have you implemented the AAFP-AAHA Feline Life Stage Guidelines? - Veterinary Medicine
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Have you implemented the AAFP-AAHA Feline Life Stage Guidelines?
Pointers for cat owners permeate this handy resource and help ensure that all your feline patients are receiving the best care.



The guidelines begin by emphasizing the need for the whole healthcare team to provide a consistent message to owners about the importance of regular preventive care for all cats throughout their lives.

A minimum of annual wellness examinations and consultations are recommended for apparently healthy adult cats and semiannually for cats 7 years of age and older. However, semiannual wellness examinations for cats of all ages are often preferred because changes in health status may occur rapidly. Plus, like other animals, ill cats often show no early signs of disease. More frequent evaluation allows earlier detection of illness, including "silent" diseases such as obesity and dental disease, and, thus, earlier intervention.

While some may express concern at this recommended frequency of wellness examinations, the frequency is roughly comparable to recommendations for people. Given relative life expectancies of about 12 to 14 years for cats and 75 to 80 years for people, each year of an adult cat's life might be comparable to about four to six years of an adult human's life. If this is reasonable, then recommending two examinations each year for cats might be analogous to recommending an examination every two to three years for an adult human, which is within currently promulgated guidelines in the United States.6

Another benefit of semiannual examinations is the opportunity to interact with owners more frequently about changes in their cats' behavior and attitude and talk to owners about preventive care—which may allow us to identify illness sooner, improve quality of life, and reduce long-term costs related to their cats' healthcare.

The guidelines suggest how to take a more effective history, including the use of open-ended questioning, reflective listening, and empathic statements7 ; perform a comprehensive physical examination; and collect a minimum database. The panel acknowledges that age and frequency of laboratory tests depend on many factors; for example, the incidence of many diseases increases with age.

The guidelines also provide more specific recommendations in nutrition and weight management, behavior and environmental topics for discussion, parasite control, retrovirus testing, vaccination, and dental care.

Nutrition and weight management

Diet basics. A cat's needs in terms of energy and other nutrients change based on age, activity level, and whether or not it is spayed or neutered. Each cat's food intake will need to be individualized to sustain proper body and muscle condition scores. Canned and dry foods are appropriate for cats of all ages, and a label guarantee that the food has undergone feeding trials demonstrates that the food is suitable.

Some concern has been voiced about carbohydrates in dry food being a factor in obesity or diabetes, but current evidence does not support this concern. As for homemade diets, be sure to emphasize the importance of providing balanced nutrition and the risks of preparing and feeding raw food, and refer curious clients to appropriate internet resources (the guidelines provide a table).

Feeding regimens. Cats can be fed free choice or provided meals at certain times of the day. Providing food balls or puzzles or placing food in small containers scattered throughout an area is a good way to ensure cats don't eat too fast and to enhance cats' physical and mental activity as well. Cat owners should promote water intake by providing bowls, dripping faucets, or fountains. Canned food can also provide increased water. Be sure food and water are kept in a quiet area, particularly if a cat is nervous or fearful.

Obesity most commonly occurs as cats reach middle age. Clients can help avoid weight issues by providing environmental enrichment (see below) and promoting activity in their cats.


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