Have you implemented AAFP/AAHA Feline Life Stage Wellness Guidelines? (Proceedings)


Have you implemented AAFP/AAHA Feline Life Stage Wellness Guidelines? (Proceedings)

Cats currently are the most popular pet in America, and are considered a family member by many cat owners. Despite these facts, cats do not receive the veterinary care they need; in 2006, only 64% of cats (compared with 83% of dogs) visited a veterinarian (1). Reasons include the misconception that cats "can take care of themselves"; signs of illness are difficult to detect since cats are masters at hiding illness and pain; and the stress and fear associated with the carrier, car, and veterinary visit. Cat owners site other reasons: they did not know the care necessary, the veterinarian did not recommend it, and that the need or benefit was not well explained. (2) In light of this troubling information, the CATalyst Council, a national initiative to champion the cat, identified the need for Feline Wellness Guidelines to improve client communication and education of the benefits of regular veterinary care, and how to facilitate getting the cat to the veterinarian are essential to improve feline health care. The goals of the AAFP-AAHA Feline Life Stage Guidelines (available here: http://www.aahanet.org/PublicDocuments/FelineLifeStageGuidelines.pdf) are to provide 1) Optimal healthcare recommendations for cats throughout their different life stages, and 2) Practical suggestions and tools to facilitate improved veterinary visits and to enhance the client-veterinarian clinical encounter.

The life stages were chosen to focus attention on the physical and behavioral changes that occur during the lifespan (e.g., congenital defects in kittens; obesity prevention in for junior cats). These stages are: kittens (up through 6 mo of age); junior (7 mo through 2 yr); adult (3 through 6 yr); mature (7 through10 years); senior (11 through 14 years); or geriatric (15+ years) (3,4). It is important to remember that individual animals and body systems age at different rates, and that any individual can have a condition not common to that life stage.

The wellness visit


Effective history-taking includes the use of open-ended questioning (e.g., "How has [cat's name] been doing since the last visit?") (5), combined with a template or checklist to ensure specific topics are covered during the history.

General education

Client education for cats of any age should include recognizing early and subtle signs of pain or illness, importance of prevention and early detection of disease, health-care financial planning, disaster preparedness, estate planning, and microchipping.

Physical examination

A minimum of annual examinations and consultations are recommended for apparently healthy adult cats, and semi-annually for cats 7 and older. Semi-annual wellness exams for cats of all ages often are recommended by veterinarians and veterinary organizations because changes in health status may occur in a short period of time; ill cats often show no signs of disease; earlier detection of illness, including "silent" disease, such as obesity and dental disease, allows for earlier intervention. In addition, semi-annual exams allow for more frequent communication with the owner regarding behavioral and attitudinal changes, and education about preventive healthcare.

Panel members concluded that preventive veterinary care can improve quality of life, detect illness earlier and, reduce the long term expenses associated with a cat's health care, and that further research is needed to identify the optimal examination schedule to maximize the health and longevity of the cat.

Minimum data base

A minimum database (MDB) allows for early detection of disease, a baseline for interpretation of data from subsequent visits, and trends in laboratory parameters that may be of concern. Specific recommendations about age and frequency of laboratory testing depend on many factors. One consideration is that the incidence of many diseases increases with age.