Age matters for feline healthcare
Each life stage for a cat brings different issues, points of focus, and developmental concerns.
Dividing a cat’s life into different stages is important to care providers and cat owners because each stage requires vastly different considerations. The 2021 American Animal Hospital/American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAHA/AAFP) Guidelines simplified the feline life into 5 stages. These stages are kitten (birth to 1 year), young adult (1-6 years), mature adult (7-10 years), senior (>10 years), and an end-of-life stage that can come at any point in the cat’s life.1
The previous guidelines, released in 2010, included a sixth life stage. The recent revision eliminates the stage labeled “geriatric”.2
Each life stage for a cat brings different issues, points of focus, and developmental concerns. For example, a physical examination of a kitten might focus more on areas such as birth defects. In contrast, a senior cat’s examination would address things such as thyroid and kidney gland function.
Since different life stages suggest different approaches, the recommended diagnostic tests go hand in hand with the cat’s life stage. Veterinarians will order retroviral testing more commonly done at in younger cats, and the guideline recommends complete blood count and T4 levels more often in cats at later stages of life.
Although vaccinations follow specific protocols, the life stage must be considered. For example, the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) vaccination is considered a core vaccine in kittens but becomes risk-based once the cat is older. For more detail about vaccinations in cats, readers should consult the 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines.
Factors associated with younger life stages also have a significant impact on how cats will behave once they reach the later stages. How a cat is treated at a young age is 1 example. The first few months of the cat’s life is when they make connections that can last a lifetime.
Further, stress-reducing techniques and a gentle touch will lead to the feline at an older age being more accepting of being handled.
With cats, life stage classification is critical. The different stages of life impact a cat’s diet, handling, litter box, exercise, medications, medical issues, focuses of treatment, vaccinations, and more. People who own cats need to be aware of their felines’ life stages so they understand the maturation and aging process. The experts who developed these guidelines hope that they will create incentive for regular healthcare visits and promote patient‑specific veterinary approaches.
Ryan Moriarty is a 2022 PharmD candidate at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
- Quimby J, Gowland S, Carney HC, DePorter T, Plummer P, Westropp J. 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines [published correction appears in J Feline Med Surg. 2021 Aug;23(8):NP3]. J Feline Med Surg. 2021;23(3):211-233. doi:10.1177/1098612X21993657
- Hoyumpa Vogt A, Rodan I, Brown M, et al. AAFP-AAHA: feline life stage guidelines. J Feline Med Surg. 2010;12(1):43-54. doi:10.1016/j.jfms.2009.12.006