The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the American Animal Hospital Association released the Feline Life Stage Guidelines, a 12-page document designed to promote important information regarding wellness care for cats. The guidelines have been developed in response to statistics that show that while cats outnumber dogs as pets, they receive significantly less veterinary care. Studies have also shown that many cat owners are unaware of their cats’ medical needs, citing an inability to recognize signs of illness or injury.
The guidelines address wellness exams, recommending annual visits for healthy cats under 7 years of age, and twice yearly visits for cats 7 or older. They address a lenghty list of items that should be covered in an annual or bi-annual exam, including looking at behavior and environment, medical and surgical history, elimination, nutrition and weight management, dental health, parasite control, diagnostic testing, and vaccinations.
The guidelines also address how to overcome barriers to veterinary visits. Many pet owners perceive cats as being self-sufficient because they hide any discomfort, pain or illness so well. There can also be a lot of stress associated with getting kitty to the vet – many pet parents don’t want to be the “bad guy” by putting their cat in a carrier and taking him to the vet’s. Recommendations include ways to reduce the stress of transport, making cat and cat parent comfortable at the clinic, and keeping the clinic environment as calm and stress free as possible. (For more on how to tell whether a vet clinic knows how to accommodate cats’ unique needs, read Is Your Vet Cat-Friendly.)
There is only one area where the guidelines fall short, and that’s nutrition. I would have liked to have seen a firmer stand on what constitutes good nutrition for cats. With statements such as “both canned and dry foods have been found to support health during all life stages”, “satisfactory diets for cats contain all the required nutrients in proper balance, are palatable and digestible, and are free of spoilage and contaminants. The specific source of nutrients in feline diets is irrelevant when these criteria are satisfied” do not make me feel comfortable that there has been much progress when it comes to educating veterinarians about nutrition. The guidelines cite evidence-based studies for the effects of feeding canned vs. dry food (including contribution to dental health) and state that based on the available data, specific recommendations in favor of any of these practices cannot be made. I supsect that most of these studies have been funded by major pet food manufacturers. Thankfully, many veterinarians are starting to see evidence that their feline patients who are fed grain-free, canned diets or raw diets have fewer degenerative health issues, maintain their weight, have healthier teeth and gums and fewer allergies and intestinal problems, and are recommending these diets to their patients.
However, aside from the section about nutrition, the Feline Lifestage Guidelines are an important step towards getting cats the care they deserve. Ultimately, cats and their parents will benefit from these guidelines.