If you own an elderly cat, health problems can sometimes be part of the package. From diabetes to obesity, the aging process can take its toll on geriatric kitties, but understanding what your older pet may experience can help you make her more life more comfortable and enjoyable.
Cat experts such as the American Animal Hospital Association feel from a medical viewpoint, a cat is considered geriatric when it reaches seven to ten years old. As the years take their toll on the cat's body, you will see numerous changes. Every organ is affected as the years progress.
Generally, an older cat is less active and tends to sleep more than it did in its younger years. Due to the inactivity, the cat experiences reduced muscle tone, while International Cat Care report 90% of cats over the age of 12 years have signs of arthritis. This makes activities such as climbing, running and jumping difficult. Many elderly cats only jump up to find a comfortable spot to sleep.
General Health Issues in Elderly Cats
In addition to reduced muscle tone, Cornell University explains an elderly feline may experience:
- A decrease in sense of taste, smell, hearing and sight
- A decrease in the temperature of its body, making her more sensitive to heat and cold
- Decreased metabolism (except for cats with overactive thyroid glands)
- Decreased appetite and weight loss
- Reduced bowel function and possible constipation
- Dehydration caused by a decreased sensitivity to the feeling of being thirsty
- Difficulty swallowing due to a reduction in saliva production
- Problems with digestion
- Brittle, weak bones
- Thickened, overgrown claws
- Possible obesity due to inactivity
- Behavior changes
Problems Affecting Major Organs
While all health problems of geriatric felines are serious, the following conditions and diseases affect major organs.
Cardiac problems often develop in elderly cats. As the heart ages, it cannot pump blood as efficiently as it once did. Sometimes a heart murmur, newly discovered during a routine veterinary visit, is the first indication of possible heart disease. One of the most common cardiac problems of aged cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This condition leads to the heart muscle becoming abnormally stiff and thick, making it unable to pump effectively.
When the liver ages, it loses its ability to adequately purify and remove toxins from the cat's blood. The liver is also a common site for the spread of secondary cancers, while the weaker immune system of an older cat makes the liver more vulnerable to infection.
The older the cat, the higher the chance of it developing kidney disease, also known as renal disease. With kidney disease, active, functional tissue is replaced by nonfunctional scar tissue. While there is no cure, careful management of the cat's diet, along with medications to manage high blood pressure, can extend the cat's life.
PetMD explains elderly cats are less likely to suffer from cancer than people or dogs, however, when they do get cancer it tends to be more serious. Three common feline cancers are:
- Intestinal lymphoma, which is a malignant tumor in the lymph nodes of the intestines
- Lymphosarcoma, a cancer of the white blood cells
- Squamous cell carcinoma affecting the nose and ears of white cats
ICat Care explains around 85 percent of cats over the age of three years have evidence of dental disease, which makes it extremely common in older pets. Many aged felines have poor teeth and gums resulting in loss of teeth, periodontal disease and mouth ulcers. This makes for smelly breath, reduced appetite and difficulty grooming.
Other Health Concerns of Aged Felines
Aside from diseases that affect major organs and systems, there are other health concerns that aging felines present.
- Diabetes: Diabetes most commonly affects cats eight years or older, and being overweight increases the chances of developing this condition. Diabetes is one of a number of problems where excessive thirst is a symptom. Diabetes can often be controlled by diet and insulin injections.
- Arthritis and Joint Stiffness: Vet Know How suggests signs of arthritis can be subtle. Your can may no longer jump up onto a favorite window sill to sunbathe. Happily, there are now licensed medications for cats which reduce discomfort and improve quality of life.
- Urinary Tract Disease: Older cats tend to produce weaker urine, which in turn has weaker disinfectant properties. A typical sign is a wet litter tray which needs changing more regularly.
- Hyperthyroidism: VCA Hospitals explains how overactive thyroid glands produce too much thyroid hormone which increases the cat's metabolic rate. These cats are often hungry and eat a lot, and yet lose weight. There are several treatment options so speak to your vet if you suspect your cat has hyperthyroidism.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease: The aging bowel wall may struggle to digest certain foods it previously had no issue with. The result is diarrhea, which can lead to weight loss. For some cats, a low allergen diet is the answer, while others require steroids to control the condition.
- Hypertension: High blood pressure is a silent problem that can cause devastating consequences such as sudden blindness or a stroke. Cornell University explains that because the cat doesn't always show signs ahead of a catastrophic problem, biannual blood pressure monitoring is advisable.
Love Your Senior Cat
Although elderly feline health problems are unavoidable, giving your senior cat love and attention, the best possible preventive medical care and a healthy diet will help him live out his golden years in the best way possible.