Managing Elderly Cats



Fighting the Signs of Feline Ageing

We are all aware of the ageing process, particularly it’s sometimes unwanted physical effects! Wrinkles, expanding waistlines and receding hairlines are things that we humans battle against as the years pass by. Advances in modern medicine have successfully increased life expectancy throughout the world, often by combating diseases and disorders linked to advancing age. Our pets don’t escape nature’s biological clock, but the good news is that similarly much can be done to increase life expectancy and help our pets cope better with many of the more common problems associated with ageing.

Today’s blog article is about caring for the senior cat, how to recognise the signs of ageing, and what steps to take to help your senior cat live a long, happy, healthy and comfortable life.

Just like humans, different cats age at different rates, but most cats will start to show some signs related to ageing between 7 and 11 years of age. Many cats live well into their late teens and even into their early twenties, but a 14-15 year old cat is generally considered to be geriatric.

What are the common signs of ageing in cats?

Ageing is a natural process, and many of the common signs result from this natural process:
– reduced activity levels
– reduced ability to jump and climb
– changes in appetite
– weight loss
– coat and fur changes
– behavioural changes

There are also a number of conditions and diseases that are much more common in cats as they age, and we have discussed some of these in earlier blog articles. These conditions often cause characteristic signs and symptoms, for example:
– increased thirst (seen with kidney disease, hyperthyroidism and diabetes)
– stiffness and lameness (seen with osteoarthritis)
– excessive appetite and weight loss (seen with hyperthyroidism, some tumours and heart disease)
– reduced appetite and halitosis (seen with dental disease and kidney disease)
– memory loss, vocalisation and increased aggression (seen with senility, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure and any painful conditions including arthritis)
– diarrhoea and constipation (seen with hyperthyroidism and kidney disease)

As this list demonstrates, many of the signs and symptoms seen with age-related conditions in cats are an exaggerated form of the common signs seen with general ageing. This is important to remember, and is key when keeping your senior cat as healthy as possible.

General care of the senior cat

Here are some key points:
– Older cats need help with grooming to prevent matting of fur and to keep the coat and skin healthy. Using topical oils such as ‘Dermoscent’ can help with coat condition.
– Younger cats keep their claws short through daily activity, allowing the claws to regularly shed a shell and keep to a healthy length. Older cats are less active and therefore their claws don’t tend to shed, so are much more likely to become overgrown, and occasionally will even grow into the pads of the toes causing severe pain. Checking the claws of older cats is a very important part of keeping them comfortable, with regular trimming of claws usually necessary. This is something we can do here at the surgery for you.
– Try to keep your older cat’s routine the same, since older cats dislike change and are less able to adapt. Feeding times and food bowl and litter tray locations should be kept the same. However, it is important also to remember that older cats are often less mobile, and therefore food and water bowls should generally be at floor level to prevent the need for jumping and climbing. Similarly, access to litter trays should be easy.
– Feeding the right diet is a major factor in ensuring good health in older age. There are many good senior diets available which account for reduced activity levels and therefore help prevent obesity. These diets also tend to help manage kidney disease which is very common in older cats, and also help manage osteoarthritis. Allowing free access to water is also very important.
– Provide a warm, comfortable bed or place in which your older cat can feel safe and secure.
– Regular check-ups are one of the most important parts of caring for your elderly cat.

Why are regular check-ups important?

Many owners of older cats notice physical and behavioural changes in their cats, but may simply consider these changes an inevitable part of ageing. We know that many of these changes may indicate the start of age-related conditions which either need treatment to slow down their progression or to prevent discomfort. As with so many conditions, early diagnosis of many of the conditions we see in older cats will generally mean treatment is more successful, quality of life can be more effectively improved and life expectancy can be maximised. Regular check-ups are the perfect way to spot problems as early as possible.

What happens at a check-up and what will the Vet be looking for?

If you have any concerns that your cat is starting to show the signs of ageing, and you are worried about any physical or behavioural changes, do make an appointment with one of our vets or nurses here at the surgery so that we can check for any age-related problems.
At the check-up, a thorough history will be taken, to find out what changes are occurring and what problems you may have noticed. A full clinical examination will follow, to check for any health problems, including dental disease, arthritis, heart and lung problems, evidence of high blood pressure and also to check for any abnormal lumps or bumps.
If necessary, your Vet may want to take a blood sample and also check a urine sample, since this is an important part of ruling out many of the common age-related conditions. A blood pressure check may also be necessary, and further investigations such as X-rays and ultrasound will be discussed with you if appropriate.
Thankfully, most elderly cats do not need further tests, but we can give you advice on general health care. Worming and vaccination may be appropriate depending on your cat’s lifestyle, particularly since older cats tend to be less able to fight infection.

What if a disease or illness is found?

Early diagnosis of a condition increases the chances of successful treatment, and that is where regular check-ups during old age can be so important. Thankfully with modern treatments, many of these conditions can be managed well, if not cured, and after discussing all of the options with you, all appropriate steps will be taken should any problems be found. All of the most common conditions, including dental disease, arthritis, thyroid and kidney disorders, can be treated and managed very effectively to maximise quality of life in old age. Often simple changes to routine, such as feeding the appropriate diet, can have a huge positive impact on the health of the older cat. Furthermore, there continue to be new developments to help us treat some of the more challenging conditions, such as dementia in older cats and common cancers, and survival rates are continually improving which is brilliant news.

Watching our pets age can be a difficult time. But don’t forget that much can be done to help, and improvements can often be astounding. If you have any concerns or are worried that your cat may need some extra help to cope with the ageing process, don’t hesitate to contact us here at the surgery, or make an appointment to see one of our vets or nurses. To help with the cost, we are offering blood tests to check kidney function with a 25% DISCOUNT during the months of April and May. As we discussed in a previous blog article, kidney disease is a very common condition in older cats, and checking a blood sample is an important part of ruling the condition out.

Dog owners, look out for our article on caring for the senior dog, coming soon……….