Summer 2010 Magazine

Cat Chat

Feline Life Stages

By Nancy Marano

A light went out in our household a few weeks ago. Rocky, our youngest cat, died at age 11. We adopted Rocky from Animal Humane New Mexico (AHANM) when he was only a few weeks old. He had a rough start because it was the year an outbreak of panleukopenia devastated AHANM and 80+ cats died or were euthanized because of it.

Our veterinarian kept Rocky in the hospital for several days of treatment. He didn't gave Rocky a 50-50% chance of surviving but this tiny cat was a fighter. When we brought him home, we took turns holding him and rocking him while he shivered and struggled against this deadly disease. I told him if he beat this scourge, we'd name him Rocky after Rocky Balboa in the movie. Eventually he turned the corner and we knew he would be fine. And he was for the rest of his life until a month ago.

We noticed his fur didn't look as shiny as before and it appeared to be thinner than the usual plush velvet that covered his body. He went off by himself a little more than usual but we didn't think much of it at the time. Then he had some projectile vomiting which alerted us that something was going wrong. He got past that and then his appetite waned. The veterinary ER diagnosed him as having fluid in his chest and abdomen and a mass in his pancreas. The mass was cancer. Rocky came home on medication. Then he stopped eating and drinking and we knew he was telling us his time with us was finished.

Our veterinarian eased Rocky out of this world on a sunny, Saturday morning. We knew we did what Rocky wanted but the loss is great for the humans and animals in our household. Sammy, our cat, and Maggie, our dog, still search for him and wonder why he didn't come home. His ashes are home now and will remain with us and all our other animals who preceded him.

We still see him in his favorite places or catch a glimpse of his beautiful sable fur disappearing around a door or under the bed. This calm, stoic cat will be part of our lives forever. He added humor and love to our family. His quiet determination usually allowed him to win the day and carry out his agenda no matter what any of us had in mind. Wherever his spirit is now, we know he is watching and waiting for the right time to make his wishes known, snuggle in a warm bed or talk to the birds.


Cats are the nation's number one pet. 82 million cats live in U.S. homes compared with 72 million dogs according to the latest statistics on pet ownership. But cats don't receive the same health care dogs do. On average dogs visit the veterinarian 1.5 times per year while cats see the veterinarian 0.7 times. That's less than once a year. What does this mean for your cat?

It means your cat is not getting the care he needs and deserves and it means people's ideas about cats need re-adjustment.

Why do people think cats should see the veterinarian less often than dogs?

Incredible as it may sound surveys tell us people actually express the belief that cats don't need medical care. This misconception probably stems from the fact that illness is difficult to detect in cats because they are masters at hiding symptoms and people believe cats are self-sufficient.

The CATalyst Council is a nonprofit dedicated to changing the perception of cats as aloof creatures and elevating their status as pets so people understand they need medical care. (For more on the CATylist Council see "Are Cats Second Class Pets?).

One of the outcomes of the CATalyst Council meetings was a partnership between the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the American Animal Health Association (AAHA). This partnership developed the Feline Life Stage Guidelines providing recommendations to insure cats receive proper health care throughout the various stages of their lives. The Guidelines also give practical suggestions and tools to improve veterinary visits and enhance client-veterinarian interaction.

The main reasons for creating the Life Stage Guidelines were to:

  • Enhance the health, welfare and longevity of cats
  • Provide available resources to help establish a comprehensive care plan for each cat taking into consideration the stage of the cat's life.
  • Facilitate communication among pet owners, veterinarians and support staff on feline wellness issues. Good communication helps the owner stick with a wellness plan and improve the quality of life for their cat.
  • Create a database of feline test results to track any abnormalities and plan treatment before the problem becomes too extensive.

The Guidelines now divide a cat's life span into six stages:

Life stage Cat age Human equivalent
Kitten 0-6 months 0-10 years
Junior 7 months - 2 years 12-24 years
Prime 3-6 years 28-40 years
Mature 7-10 years 44-56 years
Senior 11-14 years 60-72 years
Geriatric 15-25 years 78-116 years

Various discussion points and action items help veterinarians conduct wellness exams on their feline patients and communicate information on cat health to their clients.

The goal is to use wellness health care to keep cats healthier longer and catch problems earlier. This also reduces the cost of health care for cats by finding potential problems before they become life threatening or costly.

The main reasons people give for not taking their cat to the veterinarian, besides not knowing that it is necessary, are that the visit is too stressful for the cat and it is too difficult to transport the cat to the office.

There are things a cat owner can do to help ease the stress of veterinary visits and the difficulty of transporting the cat. Some ideas you might try to reduce the fear of travel are:

  • Socialize kittens to the carrier and to traveling
  • Keep the carrier accessible in your home and make it a pleasant spot for your cat to play, nap or eat.
  • If your cat is amenable, take him in the car for short trips with pleasant associations such as a treat at the end or some play time.
  • Withholding food prior to car travel may prevent a cat's motion sickness.
  • Use a calming pheromone spray or a piece of clothing from a favorite person in the carrier on a regular basis and prior to transport.
  • Put a towel/blanket over the carrier in the car to give your cat privacy and safety.

The Guidelines also recommend the veterinarian collect a minimum database of test results appropriate to the cat's life stage with each wellness visit. This allows the veterinarian to notice changes in the cat's health which might provide early detection of any physical problems. It also provides baseline data that is helpful as the cat ages.

Rocky did have regular wellness exams, even though he protested on the trip to the vet and wanted to get back in his carrier as quickly as possible. Those exams couldn't prevent him from getting something that was incurable but they did enhance his quality of life and keep him from suffering from something that was treatable. Without the exams and care at the beginning of his life we would never have been able to share 11 years with him.

My message to all cat people, whether you have a kitten or an older cat, is to set up an appointment with your veterinarian, discuss the Feline Life Stage Guidelines with him/her and start your cat on a regimen of wellness visits. Follow the veterinarian's guidance to give your cat a long and healthy life.

(You can view a copy of the Guidelines here.)

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who is owned by a cat named Sammy and a Westie named Maggie May. She is a member of the Cat Writer's Association and the Dog Writers Association of America.

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