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.


Behavior and environment

Behavior and environmental topics for discussion at each life stage are outlined.

Cats of all ages need the following:

  • Resources throughout the home—In addition to food, water, and litter boxes, the guidelines suggest scratching posts, hiding places, and elevated resting spots. The more cats in the household, the more resources are needed.
  • Appropriate materials for elimination—Most cats prefer unscented clumping litter, larger boxes (about 1.5 times the length of the cat from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail), and clean litter boxes in quiet, accessible locations.8

Litter box rejection can result from a variety of causes including box size, litter type, box cleanliness, box style, and external environmental threats unrelated to the litter box.

  • Environmental enrichment—This is important for all cats, especially indoor cats. Boredom can be stressful in cats and may be associated with the development of obesity, while instability can lead to a variety of sickness behaviors (a group of nonspecific clinical and behavioral signs that include variable combinations of vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia or decreased food and water intake, fever, lethargy, somnolence, enhanced painlike behaviors, and decreased general activity, body-care activities, and social interactions.).9 The environment can be enlarged safely with outdoor enclosures or supervised outdoor activity (e.g. walking the cat on a harness and leash or in a stroller).
  • Playtime—Opportunities for play also are important and may reflect a cat's hunting preferences, which include birds and small animals (e.g. feather toys, pieces of dry food, fur or plush toys).

Additional information on resources and environmental enrichment for indoor cats is available at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine website The Indoor Pet Initiative at http://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats.

Kitten. The primary socialization period of cats to people is from 3 to 9 weeks of age. If kittens associate positive experiences with exposure to people during this age, they will be more willing to approach people and be held by people later on in life. Kittens should be handled gently and positively. Expose kittens as early as possible to any stimuli or handling techniques they may encounter during their lifetimes (e.g. children, dogs, nail trims, tooth brushing, car rides). Always reward positive behaviors with food or other appropriate rewards; never punish a kitten, as it may elicit defensive aggression. Kittens have a strong drive to play. Intercat social play peaks at about 12 weeks of age, after which object play becomes more common. So providing toys is a good way to allow kittens to safely practice predatory behavior and may help avoid play biting.

Junior. Relationships between cats in a household may change when a cat reaches 1 to 2 years of age (the age at which free-living offspring leave the family unit) and may lead to intercat aggression. In addition, most intact cats and about 10% of sterilized cats mark territory with urine, and onset of marking can coincide with sexual maturity.

Adult and mature. Cats tend to gain weight as they get older because their play activity levels drop. A recent study showed that playing with cats 10 to 15 minutes three times a day helped cats lose 1% of their body weight in one month without restricting their food intake.10

Senior and geriatric. Behavior changes in senior cats are common (e.g. vocalization, changes in litter box usage) and usually indicate an underlying medical problem.

Parasite control

Controlling parasites both on the animal and in the environment is important during all life stages. All cats, including indoor cats, are at risk for roundworms, hookworms, and heartworms and should receive preventives against these.11-13 Fecal testing is needed despite the use of preventives. Because prenatal infection does not occur in kittens, biweekly roundworm treatment can begin at 3 weeks of age; kittens can start receiving a monthly general endoparasite preventive when they are 8 to 9 weeks old. Links to websites with additional details are provided in the guidelines.


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