Understanding The Changing Health Needs Of Mature, Senior And Geriatric Cats
If you have lived with your cat since it was young then you have a good understanding of what is normal for your cat in the way of behavior and habits. Any changes in their behavior or habits can be a sign of illness. Because signs of illness in cats can be so subtle, even the most astute owner may miss some of these changes especially when the onset is so gradual. For this reason, it is extremely important to bring your cat to your veterinarian annually until 8 years of age and then semi-annually after 8.
" Having us take a look at them annually is really helpful for making sure they're not living in discomfort."
Hi. This is Dr. Michelle Drake. Kip and I are here to talk to you today about cat senior care. Senior cats definitely have some special things that we want to pay attention to.
Most importantly, cats kind of suffer in silence, and so there may be things going on with your cat. As they age, they're gradual and they're not going to let you know when they're not feeling as great.
Dental health is a big one. Cats get these lesions in their teeth called neck lesions right at the base of the gum and the tooth, and they're extremely painful and they do require extraction of that tooth. But, again, the cats get kind of used to living with that pain. But we want to pay attention to it. Having us take a look at them annual is really helpful for making sure they're not living in discomfort.
Other things that cats start to experience as they age is hyperthyroidism, which is the thyroid gland goes a little crazy. It starts creating too much thyroid hormone and causes weight loss or heart rate goes up. A couple of other things that may occur. The only way we're going to find out about that is to do blood work. Annual blood work and checking your analysis on cats is super important as they age.
Also, kidney disease, liver disease are some of the other things we're looking for. Certainly, a good thorough physical exam. Something that's super important is their eating habits, their bathroom habits, and their weight.
Cats really should not be losing any weight unless you're really trying hard. If a cat is a 10-pound cat one year, and the next year they're 9 pounds, that's 10% body weight loss, and that's actually pretty significant. That's one of the other things we're really going to pay attention to as the cat ages.
The way they move around. If a cat has always jumped on your bed and now they stopped jumping on the bed, there's a reason for that. Usually it's arthritis. Cats can have arthritis and pain. Again, they're going to suffer in silence. We really want to have a look at them, sometimes take X-rays and talk to you about what's going on to figure out the best way to make sure your kitty is going to live long, and happy, and feel really good in their old age. Right, Kip?
During the visit with your veterinarian and their staff, you will review habits and behavior that may signal changes in health. This review will prompt you to think about what is going on with your cat and have a different perspective which may help in identifying signs of illness. In addition, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam which will play a significant role in determining where your cat is in the aging process and what can be done to keep it as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
A focus of senior cat veterinary appointments is to identify illnesses which may be in an early stage and set up a plan for treatment and management of any symptoms that may be causing discomfort. There are many illnesses which can be managed with diet and sometimes medications may significantly improve the wellbeing of your cat. It is through the partnership of cat owner and veterinary team that we can best address and manage senior cat issues for the best outcome.
Specific Age Related Issues For Senior Cats
Changes in the cat's body that are common as a cat ages include:
- Altered sleep-wake cycle
- Changes in thyroid function
- Decrease in kidney function
- Changes in vision
- Decreased sense of smell
- Brittle/ingrown nails
- Heart or circulatory problems
- Decreased digestion and ability to absorb nutrients
- Reduced ability to handle stress and/or changes in behavior
- Changes in mobility/arthritis
Your Role As The Caretaker Of An Elderly Cat
The most important role when caring for your elderly cat is being aware of their behavior and habits. Their needs may change subtly over the years but they still require the basics of cat care including social interaction and an enriched environment. While older cats may sleep more, they still need interaction and a stimulating environment to keep their bodies active and their minds engaged. Cats of all ages need a stimulating environment to keep them healthy. The need for engagement is very important, especially for indoor cats. All cats need to learn to play, hunt and interact.
In addition to a stimulating environment, owners of elderly cats can expect to be responsible for things like:
- Make sure sleeping and eating areas are easily accessible
- Adjust physically challenging areas for easy access
- More frequent veterinary visits
- Dispensing medication
- Lifestyle accommodations
Understanding your expanded role in the life of your elderly cat is essential to helping them age gracefully. At your next appointment, one of our veterinarians would be happy to give you some insight and guidance on how to ensure your cat enjoys a smooth transition into its elderly years.
Wellness Visits For Senior Cats
The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends that senior cats be seen by a veterinarian every six months. Because cats age faster than people, that means almost two (kitty) years will pass between visits. It is important to monitor elderly cats in between visits, because cats are very good at hiding symptoms of disease or illness. As cats age, illnesses become increasingly common. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that mature cats, senior cats, and geriatric cats will likely begin to develop one or more conditions that will significantly affect their quality of life.
A typical wellness visit for senior cats includes checking:
- Thorough review of habits and behaviors
- Weight and Body Condition
- Skin and Coat Quality
- Mouth, Gums and Teeth
- Ears and Eyes
- Thyroid Gland
- Heart and Circulatory System
- Lungs and Nose
- Joints and Muscles
- Any condition changes since the last visit
Additionally, wellness visits for senior cats can also include vaccinations, parasite prevention, and treatment for any specific conditions that your senior cat may be developing.
Senior Cat Food
Feline nutrition is extremely important throughout the entirety of a cat's life. However, it is an especially important facet of senior cat care. Feeding a mature, senior or geriatric cat an age specific diet can help:
- Manage weight
- Increase lifespan
- Reduce or eliminate pain
- Maintain healthy skin, coat and bodily functions
Senior cat food is formulated specifically for the nutritional requirements of aging cats. It can be served in dry or wet (usually canned) form. Because aging cats require increased daily water intake, serving canned food and/or leaving multiple water dishes around the house is always a good idea when possible. Feeding small, frequent meals 3-4 times a day will help senior cats digest food easier than serving fewer, larger meals.
Dental Care In Senior Cats
As cats enter their senior years, those who have had their dental care addressed with regular dental checkups throughout their life, have a significant advantage over cats with dental issues that have gone unnoticed. However, regardless of whether dental care has been a mainstay of your cat's preventative program, it will be extremely important as it ages. Dental disease is a gradual but painful degenerative condition. Living with chronic pain is very stressful and will significantly impact your cat's well being. Of course your cat won't let you know that they are in pain, however the fact is that all cats over 4 years of age have some level of oral health issues, and these conditions do cause significant pain. If your cat has not had a dental checkup in over a year, they are definitely due. Schedule an appointment today.
Managing Disease In Elderly Cats
As your cat ages, he or she becomes more susceptible to the myriad of diseases commonly found to plague elderly cats. Some of the more common ones include:
- Kidney Disease
- Thyroid Disease
- Gastrointestinal Issues
- Memory/Comprehension Challenges
Managing disease, whether this means preventing or treating one or more at a time, requires a knowledge of the ailment, and also spotting symptoms in elderly cats before they become full-blown emergencies. This is why it is essential to monitor your cat's behavior and routine, and note any changes, including:
- Weight loss
- Increase in thirst and urination
- Loss of Appetite
- Litter box habits
If you witness or suspect any changes in behavior or routine for your mature, senior or geriatric cat, we recommend making a veterinary appointment immediately.
Considering Quality Of Life For Senior And Geriatric Cats
Partnering with your veterinarian is the best way to enjoy your cat's senior years and allow your cat to age gracefully and comfortably. During your regular visits, quality of life issues will be addressed. Along the way, you will make health decisions for your cat with the help and guidance of your veterinarian. At some point, you may be confronted with serious health issues and may need to address the need for diagnostic testing and possibly procedures for your geriatric cat.
Some important health assessment questions you and your vet will review include:
- Is your cat experiencing any pain and if so is the pain well managed?
- Is your cat's appetite normal and it is able to eat normally?
- Is your cat interacting with other pets and family members as usual?
- Does your cat have more good days than bad days?
- Does your cat follow predictable routines for sleeping, resting, grooming, eating, playing and socializing?
If you are having trouble discerning the answers to any of these questions, our veterinarians are here to help.
End Of Life Decisions For Your Cat
Partnering with your veterinarian through your cat's senior years will make the final decisions more gradual and gentle. End of life decisions are always difficult but when you feel supported by our veterinary team, you will feel more comfortable and accepting of your choices.
At The Drake Center For Veterinary Care, our compassionate and supportive veterinary team is here to help you in any way that is in the best interests of you and of your feline companion. We understand this is a very difficult time regardless of the situation. You have lived with your cat for a long time, you have a strong bond with your cat and the grief process is real and should be taken seriously. Please contact us for information about end of life services including grief support.
At The Drake Center We Are Here For Your Aging Cat
We are here to help our furry feline patients age gracefully, peacefully and comfortably by offering comprehensive senior cat care services. Aging cats rely on the love and care of owners and a good veterinary support staff as they grow into their later years. We have helped better the lives of thousands of aging cats, while bringing peace and happiness to their human caretakers. Schedule a veterinary appointment for your senior cat today!