Your Aging Cat

48-your-aging-cat2-300x251With the advancements in nutrition and vaccinations available, cats can live a lot longer now days than even twenty years ago.  Indoor cats can easily live to be 15 to 18 years old, some even passing the twenty year mark.  That was not the case for previous generations of our feline friends.  Because indoor cats are not exposed to the hazards of outdoor life such as feral cats carrying disease and avoiding cars, their wellness examinations are often neglected when they seem perfectly healthy.  Older cats can exhibit subtle symptoms that are written off to “old-age”.  It is forgotten that there are physical causes of these changes, and when recognized early, the onset of disease can be significantly delayed.  Detecting and treating age related problems can not only extend a cat’s life but also improve the overall quality of their life.

Wellness examination is the veterinary term for preventive medicine.  In human healthcare, preventive medicine is a very important tool for detecting underlying disease such as diabetes, heart failure, and liver dysfunction.  It only makes sense that as responsible and loving cat owners, we give our pets the same benefit.

When you take your cat in for a wellness exam, the veterinarian will want to know about any changes you’ve noticed in your cat’s behavior.  Changes in water consumption, grooming, activity, frequency of vomiting, loose stools, amount of urine production, and appetite are all very important to discuss with the doctor.

Anyone who has owned a cat for its lifetime is familiar with the appearance of the “skinny old cat”.  It is not normal for an older cat to lose interest in food and drop in body weight.  In fact, by the time weight loss is observed, significant changes are already occurring.  Usually, other symptoms preceded the weight loss.  In some cases, the cat is still eating normally, or even ravenously, but they continue to lose weight.  When a ten pound cat sheds two pounds, or twenty percent of its normal weight, that is the equivalent of a 200 pound man losing 40 pounds!

Some of the ailments and organ dysfunctions seen in older cats that can be treated, delayed, or prevented are listed here along with the symptoms associated with them.  The symptoms alone are not a diagnosis of disease.  Examinations, blood-work, and radiology are used in conjunction with history to confirm a disease.

SenilityDecreased appetite, aggression, inappropriate elimination, reduced grooming, howling and vocalization, wandering
Renal (Kidney)FailureIncreased water consumption, increased or inappropriate urination, weight loss
Inflammatory Bowel DiseaseVomiting or diarrhea, increased frequency or blood in stools, weight loss, inappropriate elimination
HyperthyroidismWeight loss despite normal to increased appetite, decreased grooming of the coat and nails, vomiting, pounding rapid heartbeat, increased aggression or affection
DiabetesIncreased thirst and urination, bladder infection, weight loss
Arthritis, Degenerative Disc DiseaseMuscle wasting due to decreased activity, excessive sleeping, avoidance of being petted, aggression, reluctance to jump and play, hiding
Periodontal DiseaseHalitosis (bad breath), tooth loss, pain and pawing at face, decreased appetite and weight loss
Hypertension (high blood pressure)Sudden blindness, symptoms associated with renal failure or hyperthyroidism

Diagnostic TestsWhen people reach middle age, routine tests such as blood analysis, cancer screening, and evaluation of the heart are recommended to maintain good health. The same is true for older cats. The reason, in both cats and people, is that some illnesses are not visible during a physical examination, but can be detected in other ways. Tests recommended for cats seven years or older are listed below.

Comprehensive Blood Panelquantifies each type of blood cell and the chemical components of the blood plasma. This provides information on the health of the bone marrow, kidneys, liver, pancreas and thyroid, and can help to detect infections.

Complete Urinalysismeasures the concentration and chemical constituents of the urine. Cells and other solids in the urine are examined microscopically. The urinalysis provides information on the health of the kidneys and bladder, and is also useful in the detection of diabetes.

Chest X-Raysallow visualization of the internal organs of the body. Chest x-rays are recommended to assess the condition of the heart and lungs and to detect tumors.

Abdominal X-Raysof the abdomen are helpful to detect tumors and to assess the condition of the kidneys, bladder, intestine, and spleen.

Electrocardiogrammeasures electrical impulses within the heart, using sensors placed on the skin. The ECG is helpful in detecting heart conditions.

VaccinationsJust as he did when he was younger, your cat continues to benefit from the protection of regular vaccinations against infectious disease. Your veterinarian will recommend a vaccine program tailored to your cat’s age, lifestyle, and health status.

NutritionHealthy older cats require a diet that is lower in calories, while still rich in essential nutrients such as high quality proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Special diets are available to address the more specific requirements of cats with medical conditions. Your veterinarian is your best advisor in selecting a diet that will keep your cat purring.

Dental CareKeeping your cat’s teeth and gums healthy is critical to his well being. Dental disease is painful and can lead to infection in the internal organs, such as the kidneys and heart. Your veterinarian should check your cat’s teeth regularly. He will let you know when your cat needs a professional dental cleaning. Under general anesthesia, all of the plaque, tartar, and bacteria is removed from the. After your cat’s teeth are clean, it is your job to keep them healthy. Tooth brushing and dental diets are highly effective.