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Geriatric Cat Care

By: Dr. Douglas Brum

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Pets today are living longer and better quality lives than ever before. Many factors are responsible for this increase including improved nutrition, veterinary care and educated owners. This increased longevity means that there are more cats reaching an older age, and that owner's will be faced with the special demands and problems that become apparent with age.

Understanding the aging process and the most common problems that face the geriatric cat is the first step in providing the best possible care to your older animal. The main focus of geriatric health care is owner education and the early detection and prevention of disease.

It is important to realize that aging itself is not a disease; it is simply a stage of life. Increasing age causes a gradual decline in the body's ability to repair itself, maintain normal body functions, and adapt to the stresses and changes in the environment.

Many changes occur in cats as they age.

  • Changes in metabolism occur so they require less food. Cats, in general, have a more sedentary lifestyle, and older cats, specifically, are usually less active. Weight gain and obesity are common problems.

  • The lack of exercise contributes to reduced muscle tone and strength, further adding to the potential of obesity.

  • Changes in a cat's environment or routine may actually contribute to behavioral changes or even illness. Trying to minimize severe or sudden changes in the geriatric animal is always a good practice.

  • With time, cats begin to have a gradual decline in their senses (hearing, smelling, vision, and taste). Decreased taste sensation can contribute to anorexia, especially if your cat becomes ill.

  • Your pet may not respond to stimuli as rapidly or in the same manner as when he or she was younger. It is not uncommon for older cats to spend more time sleeping and have more difficulty being roused.

  • The body's ability to repair itself decreases, and the function of the immune system is compromised with increasing age. Metabolic and endocrine problems, organ dysfunction and cancer are all seen with increased frequency in the aging cat. Some of these problems may be difficult to help, however it is usually possible to improve the quality of your pet's life significantly by educating yourself, and becoming aware of potential problems.

    Most veterinarians recommend more frequent veterinary visits and additional diagnostic tests for geriatric animals in an effort to find the early stages of disease, before they become problems. Practicing prevention is always better than treating a disease already present. In the long run, preventive medicine improves quality of life, and is more cost effective than waiting for problems to appear. A well-educated and proactive owner is the first step in optimal senior cat care.

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