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As Old as He Feels – Caring for Your Elderly Cat

By: Dr. Douglas Brum

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They say old age creeps up on a person like a thief in the night. This is especially true of your cat. Cats seemingly race through adolescence and adulthood, and suddenly at around 8 years of age, they are entering their golden years. As our cats age, they may have specific needs or problems that must be addressed. The aging process brings about a gradual decline in a cat's physical and sometimes mental abilities. Becoming aware of these issues allows you to provide the best possible care.

Not all cats age at the same rate. A cat's biological age depends upon genetic background, the quality of his diet, his general state of health, and the quality of his living conditions. Research estimates that old age for cats begins somewhere between the 8th and 9th birthday. This is the equivalent of about 55 human years.

Ideally, caring for the geriatric cat should focus on preventive measures. Whenever possible, it is better to prevent a problem from occurring, rather than to wait for a problem to develop. Detecting diseases in the early stages greatly improves the outcome. Different cats have specific risk factors that influence the diagnostic approach to geriatric medicine. Characteristics of the breed, genetics, environment, and lifestyle of your cat may put him or her at greater risk of developing a particular disease or other age-related changes.

Veterinary Care

Within the last few decades, advancements in veterinary medicine have caused a dramatic increase in the longevity of our pets. Today cats are living longer and healthier lives. If there is a problem with your older cat, don't assume it is just because of old age, and that nothing can be done. With appropriate treatment, many conditions can improve. Your veterinarian may do the following to assess your cat's health and to maintain a healthy condition.

  • A thorough and complete medical history. Your veterinarian will note changes in behavior and physical abilities
  • A complete physical examination
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Biochemical profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Thyroid level
  • Fecal exam for parasites
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia Virus (FELV) testing

    Treatment

    All cats should receive routine vaccinations as required by law (rabies), and vaccines that are appropriate for individual needs. Specific vaccines and frequency of administration may vary, and should be discussed with your veterinarian. Treating an older cat depends on the individual requirements or problems of your pet. The most common problems of geriatric cats are:

  • Nutritional issues – managing obesity or special needs
  • Dental disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Skin tumors
  • Cancer

    Home Care and Prevention

    A periodic inspection of your pet at home may uncover potential problems. Make sure that your pet has clean, warm and protected living conditions, and provide easy access to clean fresh water.

    Feed a good quality cat food that is appropriate for your cat's specific needs, and do not allow your pet to gain excessive weight. Discuss unexpected weight gain with your veterinarian. Based on a complete geriatric work-up a prescription cat food might be advised. Groom your pet and, if possible, brush your cat's teeth regularly. Finally, follow your veterinarian's recommendations as to exercise, nutrition and any medications that may be needed.

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