National report — After the revelation that cats are brought to veterinarians half as often as dogs, the veterinary community scrambled to
discover the reasons for the species split and overcome barriers to more frequent feline veterinary visits.
Now the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have jointly
developed and released the Feline Life Stage Guidelines, a 12-page document designed to help practitioners help their client
compliance with feline healthcare recommendations.
Past AAFP president Ilona Rodan, DVM, Dipl. ABVP (feline), was co-chair of the committee that produced the new guidelines.
Rodan says she and the other committee doctors set out to ground the guidelines in evidence-based research. She hopes the
document helps create more consistency from practice to practice.
"If a hospital down the street recommends more vaccines than I do, our credibility as a profession suffers," Rodan says. "If
the practice down the street doesn't recommend dental cleanings for cats, but I can see that a cat needs dental work, that
can affect client compliance."
When it comes to feline health, major issues addressed include frequency of wellness exams, basic components of regular exams,
diagnostic tests, vaccinations, parasite prevention and dental care, nutrition and overcoming barriers to veterinary visits.
Frequency of exams
The Feline Life Stage Guidelines recommend annual visits for healthy cats under 7 years of age, and twice-yearly visits for
cats 7 or older. The guidelines straddle the line between some organizations' mandated twice-yearly visits for all cats, and
other organizations' mandated minimum of yearly visits. Ultimately, the committee acknowledged that more research is needed
"to identify the optimal examination schedule to maximize the health and longevity of the cat," the document states.
Parts of a regular exam
The Life Stage Guidelines provide a lengthy list of items to discuss with cat owners at visits. The diagnostic action items
are for visits for kittens up to 6 months of age, juniors up to 2 years, adults up to 6 years, mature cats up to 10 years,
seniors up to 14 years, and geriatric cats of 15 years or older. The guidelines look at behavior and environment, medical
and surgical history, elimination, nutrition and weight management, oral health, parasite control, vaccination and diagnostic
The growing problem of obesity in pets isn't ignored by the guidelines, but neither are there extreme pronouncements on nutrition,
Rodan says. The guidelines acknowledge that both canned and dry food have been found to support health during all life stages.
Because of the scarcity of available data, the guidelines don't offer recommendations regarding use of dietary supplements,
low carbohydrate vs. lower calorie and high-fiber diets, variety vs. consistency, or canned vs. dry foods.
The guidelines instead focus on such weight-management tools as portion control and environmental enrichment to increase exercise.
"Current evidence suggests that housing and activity are more significant predictors of health," the guidelines say.
The mentality that cats must be indoors-only has been moderated somewhat, Rodan adds. "If cats are indoors and outdoors, we
just need to find a way to make it a much safer environment," she says.
The guidelines recommend leashed walking or cat-proof enclosures, while acknowledging that outdoor activity still increases
the risk of infectious disease, trauma and possible predation on wildlife.