As your cat ages, there's a lot of things that could potentially cause some problems. And a lot of it has to be determined by what their lifestyle was like as they were younger. Did they have a good diet? Did they have good care? What were the circumstances in which they spent the majority of their time? Because a lot of things that happen early in life will be an indicator of how well we do as a senior pet. So if you have that kitten that was well cared for and always had a good home and had good food and good care, we can often see that they do much better. They don't have a lot of underlying conditions that could have been prevented. However, if you have a cat that didn't come from maybe a pleasant environment starting out, those cats will have more problems as they age.
People will often notice mobility issues, and that would manifest as the cat doesn’t jump up on the counter anymore, or they jump up on the furniture like they used to, or they’re just laying around and not as active as we used to be. There could be changes in appetite, as perhaps they don't eat as much or maybe we're eating more. And also, they may not use the litter box as they used to in the past, or you see changes in litter box behavior.
The following changes are common as a cat ages:
- 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
- Changes in behavior
- Changes in mobility/arthritis
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 is he or she 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 answering any of these questions, our veterinarians are here to help.
Most common in our senior cats will be kidney disease, some types of cancers, thyroid diseases—those will probably be the top three that I can think of at the moment. And these are diseases that can have some serious effects and some serious long-term difficulties in terms of trying to treat or deal with. But we do know that cancer is pretty prevalent in many of our pets now, and we see it a good bit in our older cats. And it can also cause some GI problems. We also see many dental issues with some of our older pets in terms of tooth resorption or cavity-type lesions. It's not an uncommon thing to find.
Some other common ones include:
- Gastrointestinal Issues
- Memory/comprehension challenges
Managing disease, whether this means preventing or treating one or more at a time, requires knowledge of the ailment and spotting symptoms in elderly cats before they become full-blown emergencies. This is why it is essential to monitor your cat's behavior and routines and note any changes, including:
- Weight loss
- Increase in thirst and urination
- Litter box habits
If you witness or suspect any changes in the behavior or routines of your mature, senior, or geriatric cat, we recommend making a veterinary appointment immediately.
Preventative care that can help extend life will always be having a good diet, as good food's vital for bodily function to make sure that we're providing the proper nutrients. Also, getting routine blood work done will be helpful because we want to be able to detect some of those problems that might be coming up in your cat that maybe you're not noticing at home. And when we talk about those kinds of tests, we're typically looking at your cat's red and white blood cell counts. Are they well hydrated, anemic, or are their numbers where they should be? Are they below normal, or are they above normal? Is there some type of evidence of infection going on?
And we look at how well your cat’s kidney, liver, and thyroid are functioning. So those are essential things to look at when your cat ages. And we also recommend that as a senior cat, and we're mainly talking cats that are eleven and older or sometimes seven and older, depending upon any underlying condition, we'd like to have them come in at least twice a year. And dependent upon what we're dealing with, we may have them come in more frequently if we're trying to monitor certain things.
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 a 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. Providing small, frequent meals 3–4 times a day will help senior cats digest food easier than serving them fewer, larger meals.
Dental Care In Senior Cats
As cats enter their senior years, those who have experienced dental care with regular dental checkups throughout their lives have a significant advantage over those whose dental issues have been ignored. Regardless of whether dental care has been a mainstay of your cat's preventative program, it will be extremely important as he or she 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 he or she is 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, it is definitely due. Schedule an appointment today.
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 Berry Farms and Concord Road Animal Hospitals, our compassionate and supportive veterinary team is here to help you in any way that is in the best interests of you and 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.
If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (615) 224-7776, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.