Senior Cat Care
This month is Senior Pet Month and we are celebrating the aging, furry members of the family! This article will deal specifically with the older cat.
Cats are living longer lives with the improvement in housing, health care and nutrition. Life expectancy is generally 14 to 16 years of age, with some kitties celebrating birthdays into their 20’s.
It’s a special time in the life of our feline friends and their need for more attentive care from their owners is greater than in their youth. Regular veterinary check-ups, at least every 6-12 months, will help optimize the quality of their lives and likely extend their lifespans. Early detection of health and behavior concerns allows for treatments and diet changes to be utilized to their full advantage for the patients. It is common for veterinarians to advise additional tests beyond the physical exam to be more thorough in the assessment of wellness vs. disease.
There are a number of things as a caregiver for a senior cat that you can watch for and thus help your veterinarian determine if there are any concerns with your pet. The following are some of the changes that may indicate a significant health concern:
- Decrease in grooming; a matted, dull, oily hair coat
- Significant increase or decrease in appetite and/or thirst
- Difficulty urinating, discolored or pale urine
- Change in litter box habits
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea; firm stools that are difficult to pass (constipation is fairly common)
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Laying around a lot more, notable decrease in activity, walking stiffly
- Detectable lump on or under the skin
- Coughing or difficulty breathing
- Foul odor
Some of the more common diseases veterinarians see in geriatric cats are:
Kidney insufficiency – aging kidneys may not function normally causing, among other problems, lack of re-absorption of water with increased urine output and thirst to compensate. Some forms of insufficiency cause the loss of proteins into the urine. Blood work and urine tests help significantly in the diagnosis of this condition. Medication, fluid therapy and dietary management are all key to the management of this fairly common ailment in older cats.
Periodontal disease – As in humans, good dental health requires a lifetime of attention to oral hygiene. Unfortunately, a majority of pets have had insufficient preventive dental care throughout their lives and enter their senior years with some degree of dental and periodontal disease, meaning the teeth, gums and the soft tissue/bones supporting these structures are inflamed and breaking down. Periodontal disease will lead to an uncomfortable and infected mouth. If your cat is still eating, that does not mean there is not a problem in the mouth. Hunger will usually override even a fairly advanced case of oral pain!
Hyperthyroidism – The over production of thyroid hormone from this disorder speeds up the metabolic rate, causing calories to burn faster and cats to increase their appetite to compensate. Usually weight loss occurs despite the increased appetite. Rapid heart rates and restless temperaments are common, easily detectable symptoms. There can be some less obvious but very serious consequences to the excess of thyroid hormones, such as heart and kidney toxicity and hypertension. Detection of this disease is usually quite straightforward with blood tests and there are a number of options available to manage the condition that your veterinarian can discuss with you.
Cancers – Unfortunately, our kitty friends are also susceptible to a number of cancers and the rate increases with aging and the breakdown of their immune systems. Some cancers are serious but many are treatable with a positive outcome if they are detected early and treated appropriately.
Arthritis – Perhaps your previously agile jungle cat is not racing around the house anymore but prefers to laze about on the floor or maybe only as high up as the footstool. Cats can get arthritic joints too and veterinarians have supplements, weight and diet plans, and pain relief options that can greatly enhance your elderly cat’s quality of life.
Hypertension – Cats can get high blood pressure with a number of ailments, such as kidney insufficiency and hyperthyroidism. They can get serious organ damage and blindness from retinal detachment relatively easily so monitoring for and treatment of hypertension is important. While it is not always straightforward to measure, veterinarians can check your cat’s blood pressure at an examination.
Liver diseases – Various ailments of the liver and gall bladder can plague an older cat and symptoms vary depending on the nature of the problem. Blood and urine tests, along with imaging with x-rays, ultrasound, etc. can help with the diagnosis and lead to appropriate treatment.
As you can see, your veterinarian can be a critical part of your senior cat’s well being and can aid caregivers in providing the best quality of life that your feline companions deserve in their “golden years”. Along with soft bedding, accommodating hearing and vision impairment, slightly heating their food if appetite is off, increasing brushing their hair coats, you can help your older cats feel happy and content at home.