One of the blessings of cats is that age seems to creep up on them gently — so much so that it may be difficult for us to notice that they really are getting older and have developed some of the common health problems of old age. Though some conditions are inevitable with advancing age, there are ways that you and your veterinarian can work together to help your cat stay more comfortable and contented for as long as possible. Here are some of the most common health issues seen in senior cats, and how they can be addressed.
According to feline veterinary specialist Dr. Arnold Plotnick, studies have shown that 90 percent of cats over 12 years of age are likely to have radiographic signs of arthritis. If your cat no longer wants to go up or down stairs or jump on or off furniture, has difficulty grooming himself, pees outside the litterbox because it’s difficult for him to climb inside, or seems stiff after standing up, arthritis may be the reason. If you notice any of these signs, talk to your veterinarian about ways to help relieve your cat's pain.
Thirty percent of all cats over age 10 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer, according to Dr. Heather Wilson, assistant professor of oncology at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. One of the most common types of cancer seen in cats islymphosarcoma. Take your cat to the vet immediately if you notice any of these warning signs: appetite loss or unintentional weight loss; lumps or bumps that increase in size, sores that don’t heal, or bleeding or other discharge from the mouth, nose or anus; unusual body odor, lack of energy, difficulty eating or swallowing, unexplained lameness that doesn’t improve; or difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating.
Is your cat having trouble chewing — or picking up his food and then dropping it? He may have painful periodontal disease, a common problem in aging cats. Plaque and tartar can build up heavily over the years, especially if teeth aren’t brushed or professionally cleaned on a regular basis. Schedule a thorough cleaning, and then follow up by brushing your cat's teeth every day to help keep them clean. Keeping teeth and gums clean is an important part of maintaining your cat’s good health.
Cataracts, glaucoma and retinal detachment are among the eye conditions that can affect older cats. Look for signs such as cloudiness or whiteness of the lens, general cloudiness of the eye, dilated pupils or, of course, bumping into things. Medication can help, depending on the type and severity of the problem. Cataracts can be removed surgically, but cats typically get around so well using their sense of smell that it’s often not necessary. Just remember not to move the furniture around, or he might bonk his head.
Even for cats, the sense of hearing begins to go with age; it’s just a fact of life. You can’t purchase hearing aids for your cat — yet — but you can still communicate with him. Teach hand signals, stomp your foot, so he feels the vibrations and knows you are nearby, or use the time-honored method of going to him to alert him that it’s dinnertime. He’ll appreciate it.
Though it may seem like a good thing, an excessive appetite and increase in energy could be clues that your senior cat may have developed hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland produces far greater levels of thyroid hormone than necessary. Cats with hyperthyroidism are also prone to hypertension, which can contribute to kidney failure or heart disease if the condition goes untreated. If you suspect your cat may have developed hyperthyroidism, schedule a visit with your veterinarian for blood work and to discuss treatment options.
Kidney failure is one of the most common problems veterinarians see in senior cats. Regular geriatric exams, starting early in your cat’s golden years, can increase the likelihood of early detection and proper management of any deteriorating kidney function. Though kidney failure isn’t reversible, in many cases, a therapeutic diet, subcutaneous fluid therapy, and sometimes medication and certain supplements can help to manage the condition and add months or years to your cat’s life.