Though dogs are known as “man’s best friend,” cats are the most popular pet in America. But because cats can seem self-sufficient and tend to mask their pain, they don’t get as much veterinary care as dogs – about half as much in fact – even though cats also need regular preventative care at all ages. To help veterinarians and pet owners address this issue and develop lifelong health care plans for cats, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) joined forces to create the AAFP-AAHA Feline Life Stage Guidelines. This article includes highlights from the report.
Preventative Care Through Wellness Exams
Preventative veterinary care can improve your cat’s quality of life, detect illness earlier and, as a result, reduce the long-term expenses involved in keeping Tabby healthy. For this reason, semi-annual wellness exams throughout your cat’s life are recommended by veterinarians, with more frequent exams for elderly cats or those with medical or behavioral conditions. These wellness exams are crucial because sick cats often show no sign of disease and their health can change quickly – the sooner a health problem is caught, the better chance there is that your cat will be feeling healthy and frisky again.
Feline Life Stages
Discussions and treatment at your cat’s wellness exams will vary somewhat over the years, so age designations help focus attention on the physical and behavioral changes that occur at different stages. For example, environmental needs change with life stage; play is a priority for kittens and young cats, while easy access to a comfortable resting spot is more important to elderly cats. At all ages, your veterinarian will want to know about your cat’s nutrition, dental care, whether it ever goes outdoors, daily enrichment activities, and behavior to best tailor a wellness plan for your cat. There’s a lot more that goes into these visits than just vaccinations!
Feline life stages include:
- Kitten (birth to 6 months). Kittens have a high play drive, so toys can help prevent biting during play. Ask your veterinarian about socialization techniques to get them accustomed to handling, car transport, and encounters with children or other animals.
- Junior (7 months to 2 years). Inter-cat aggression, eliminating outside the litter box, urine or marking may develop at this stage.
- Prime (3 to 6 years) and Mature (7 to 10 years). Your cat may begin to play less, so it’s important to make sure they still get enough exercise to avoid weight gain.
- Senior (11 to 14 years) and Geriatric (15 years and older). Older cats showing signs of behavioral changes like vocalization or changes in litter box usage should always be evaluated for an underlying medical condition.
Getting to Your Veterinarian in a Feline-Friendly Manner
It’s important to do all you can to make the drive to the veterinary clinic as stress-free as possible. To reduce the anxiety of the car ride, you can start early with kittens to get them used to their carrier by keeping it out and accessible at home. Create a positive association with the carrier by making it a comfortable resting, feeding or play location, and place familiar clothing from a favorite person in it regularly and just before transport. It’s also wise to get cats used to the car – pair car trips with positive experiences. It can be helpful to withhold food before travel to prevent motion sickness and increase their interest in treats at the clinic. Finally, draping a blanket over the carrier during the car ride can help cats feel safe.
At any stage in a cat’s life, it’s important for owners to keep an eye on any behavioral changes and discuss them with your veterinarian between wellness exams. You know your cat best, and by quickly identifying any potential health issues, you’ll be helping your cat live a happy and healthy life at every age.