Aging in your Cat
Cats age much more rapidly than humans, and are considered geriatric after the age of ten. Our feline friends need and deserve extra care as they age.
Older cats tend to gradually reduce their activity level and playfulness. If you continue to feed the same amount of food, your older cat may become overweight. Obesity hurts your cat's ability to move, breathe, digest food and fight infection. Obesity occasionally leads to diabetes and pancreatic problems. If your cat is overweight, feeding less of the regular food, or switching to a lower calorie, higher fiber food is recommended. Because some diseases can lead to or mimic obesity, your cat should be seen by a veterinarian for an examination and possible laboratory work before starting on a weight loss program. Food specially designed for the older cat may be beneficial because of decreased calories and protein and increased fiber.
Some cats will become thinner with age. Weight loss can occur secondary to several diseases, so an examination and lab work are indicated.
Joint and Muscle Problems
Some older cats develop stiffness and lameness due to degenerative joint disease ("arthritis"). Controlling body weight and providing warm, soft resting places will make your companion more comfortable. If your cat is stiff or lame, an examination and radiographs are needed to judge the severity of disease and rule out problems such as cancer or infection. Anti-inflammatory or other pain-relieving drugs may be prescribed if appropriate.
Dental disease occurs frequently in older cats. Cats with moderate to severe disease will have bad breath, red gums, and oral pain. Dental disease can lead to abscessed teeth, bone infections, kidney and heart damage, and may shorten your cat's lifespan. Home care, including daily tooth brushing or application of oral rinses will slow the progression of the disease. Most older cats need to have their teeth professionally cleaned once a year.
Regular brushing and occasional bathing will help keep your pet's coat in optimal condition. Allergic skin disease is often worse in the older cat and needs prompt treatment.
To prevent flea problems, we recommend Advantage or Frontline Plus to kill any adult fleas.
Report any lumps or abnormal appearance of the skin to your veterinarian. Some growths are harmless but many require surgical removal and biopsy.
Degeneration of the heart valves or changes in the heart muscle occurs occasionally in older cats. These changes can lead to difficulty breathing, coughing, decreased exercise tolerance, formation of blood clots, and in severe cases, heart failure and death. Medical treatment started early, before your cat is showing signs, will slow the progression of the disease and may extend your cat's lifespan.
Older animals are prone to a decline in liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal tract function. This degeneration may be due to age, infection, inflammation, or cancer. Your cat should have a complete evaluation by your veterinarian if you notice any change in your pet's activity level, appetite, drinking, or urinary habits, or the presence of vomiting, diarrhea, coughing or difficulty breathing.
- Hyperthyroidism is a common problem in the elderly cat. This serious disease causes weight loss despite an increased appetite and activity level. Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed by a blood test and can be treated with medication, surgery, or radioactive iodine therapy.
- Chronic kidney failure causes a progressive increase in water drinking and urination, weight loss, high blood pressure, and a decreased appetite. The disease cannot be cured but can be controlled with medication, fluid supplementation and proper diet.
- Diabetes mellitus also causes increased water drinking and urination. Proper care includes special food and insulin injections, and monitoring blood work and urine.
Resistance to Disease
The immune system, responsible for fighting disease and cancer, declines with age. Timely vaccinations and an increased awareness of the signs of disease are essential.
Bi-annual geriatric evaluation, including a complete physical examination and bloodwork, urinalysis and possibly radiographs and blood pressure measurement, will allow early detection of disease. With appropriate care and treatment, your companion should enjoy a longer and more comfortable life.