Health issues in older cats
At the age of seven, a cat is not actually considered a senior however that’s the time changes start to occurr, although you may not notice any changes until years later.
The most important thing for when cats hit the senior years is getting regular, thorough health exams and baseline bloodwork. Bringing your cat to your vet for regular checkups and conversations about your pet’s well-being will help catch potential problems earlier and make preventative health care measures more effective.
Here are some of the most common health issues for senior cats and what you can do to help.
Appropriate diet and exercise are important throughout your cat’s life. Ideally, we want to be able to run our hands down the back and be able to feel the ridges of the spine. Going down the sides of the chest, we want to feel the bumps of the ribs. If you can’t feel the spine, your pet is too heavy. The most common cause of cat obesity is an imbalance in diet and exercise. Combating obesity is done by increasing activity and decreasing caloric intake. A strict dry food diet, without canned food, and treats and snacks in moderation is recommended. The more exercise your cats can get, the healthier they will be.
Thyroid disorder and endocrine and hormonal problems can cause your cat to be overweight. Treating these underlying issues appropriately can often achieve weight loss without changes in diet and exercise.
Arthritis is a common senior cat ailment. Symptoms can include stiffness when walking, especially after sleeping, difficulty going upstairs, or missing a target when jumping. If you notice these symptoms, go in to your vet to get your cat checked. Many vets recommend a glucosamine supplement once your cat has reached seven years of age. Essentially, glucosamine gives nutritional support to cartilage and slows joint degeneration. Human glucosamine supplements are not as effective for cats.
At home, you can give your cat stairs up to the couch or bed and get a lower-set jungle gym to make jumping less strenuous. It’s also helpful to have a bed or mat on the first floor to let your pet rest comfortably during the day.
These fatty, well-defined lumps under the skin are common in older-aged cats. They are almost always benign, meaning they won’t spread to other parts of the body. A rapid change in size or consistency is concerning and warrants immediate removal and biopsy. If your vet has checked out the bump and it’s not changing and not bothering your cat, it’s likely removal isn’t needed. However, if the lipoma is in a bothersome location like the armpit and rubs when your cat walks, removal is recommended.
Leukemia, or cancer of the blood, is primarily a concern for kittens, but cancerous lumps and bumps can show up later in life. There are many potential causes, including the aforementioned lipomas, so getting regular checkups and investigating any new or rapidly developing lumps is very important. Any wound or sore that doesn’t heal also needs attention fast.
Kidney Disease and Renal Failure
This nearly silent killer is the number one natural cause of death in cats. By the time your cat is showing symptoms, like voiding frequently, missing the litter box, and drinking excessive amounts of water, it is likely that there is already significant damage to the kidneys. Some amount of kidney disease is normal with older cats, but appropriate treatment starts with regular checkups. Your vet can determine an appropriate approach, including plenty of water, vitamin and dietary supplements and other measures to prevent extensive damage. With advanced kidney failure, options include dialysis, IV fluids, and even organ transplant surgery. The most important thing you can do for your cat is get regular vet checkups and bloodwork to catch symptoms and prevent damage as much as possible.
Vision and Hearing Loss
It’s normal for all cats to experience some changes in their vision and hearing as they age, just as humans do. Their night vision won’t be as clear and they may not hear quiet noises as well. Your cat’s eyes may even look a bit cloudy with age. If your pet is running into things or seems afraid to move, see your vet immediately. This can be a sign that a retina has detached, which needs immediate attention. With cataracts, a vet eye specialist can remove the cataract and improve your cat’s vision significantly. They may also recommend special eye drops. At home, you can keep nightlights on, especially around corners or in favorite nooks. Keep staircases illuminated to help prevent nighttime falls and try moving play areas into more open, well-lit spaces to encourage more active play. The better your cat can see, the less it will impact playtime and other important aspects of life.
All cats can experience a degree of dementia in their lifetime. Symptoms are more commonly noticed at night than during the day. Your cat may sleep more in the daytime and pace and cry at night. He may stare into space, unaware of his surroundings and cry and act more nervous at these times. You may also notice a change in eating patterns or a loss of housebreaking. Dementia cannot be reversed, but you can typically slow the progression with dietary supplements or medications. It’s important to be loving and patient with your pet, as this is a confusing time for them.
Your furry friend may act like everything is under control, thank you very much, but it’s important for your cat’s teeth to be evaluated and cleaned regularly. Significant dental disease can lead to infections that spread to other parts of your pet’s body.
Age is not a disease! Just because we’re older, it doesn’t mean that we’re sick. Your smart cat probably already told you that, though.