Making the Golden Years Truly Golden: How to Care For a Senior Cat

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Common Disorders

Someone once said that cats don’t age; they grow more refined. Either way, as time progresses certain illnesses can develop. By being aware of some concerns regarding older cats, you can be a more educated and prepared guardian for your aging companion. It’s important that your elderly cat receive routine veterinary care and periodic exams to keep him healthy.

Here are some of the most commonly diagnosed illnesses known to afflict older cats:

Nutritional Concerns. Obesity is a very common and serious concern in the older cat. It directly correlates to a decreased longevity, and may contribute to other problems. Overweight cats are more likely to become diabetic, suffer from liver disease (hepatic lipidosis), or feline lower urinary tract disease. Proper nutritional management is an important part of the care for your senior cat, especially since it is something that you can control.

Dental Disease. Dental disease and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) are common findings in the elderly cat. Untreated dental disease leads to tooth loss, and may serve as a reservoir of infection for the rest of the body, posing a risk to other body systems.

Kidney Disease. Kidney disease is a very common finding in the older cat. With early detection, special diet, and treatment, many cats can do well. Kidney disease is one of the primary reasons veterinarians recommend screening blood tests in older cats.

Hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is another common disease of older cats. The thyroid gland becomes overactive, often due to a tumor, and the cat becomes quite ill. There are several treatment options available that can help your cat regain his health and live a longer life.

Diabetes. Unlike people, most diabetic cats cannot be maintained on diet changes alone. Daily insulin injections are typically necessary. Occasionally, oral medications and diet can improve the blood sugar level, without the need for injections.


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To Vaccinate or Not?

As pets age, questions about vaccinations arise. Common questions are “Which vaccine does my senior cat need?” and “How often should she be vaccinated?” Unfortunately, the absolute answers to these questions are not known but there are several recommendations. The major concern about repeated vaccinations in cats is the issue of feline vaccine-associated sarcoma. This is a cancer that develops near the vaccination site. The incidence varies widely, from as high as one in 1,000 cats to as low as one in 10,000 cats.

Despite the well-known benefits of vaccination, the practice of vaccinating senior cats annually is controversial. Some veterinarians believe that annual revaccination is a critical part of preventative health care. Some research indicates that the immune system of older animals is not as effective as younger animals. This suggests that older cats may be more susceptible to diseases and therefore require annual vaccinations. Others suggest that there is little scientific information to suggest that annual revaccination of older cats is necessary for some diseases because immunity to many viruses probably persists for the life of the animal. For this reason, many veterinarians do not think that annual vaccination is worth the risk of allergic reaction, vaccine-induced sarcoma, or immune diseases.

The one thing that many veterinarians agree on is that cats should only be vaccinated against those diseases for which they are susceptible. For example, if your cat is indoors and not exposed to stray cats or new family feline additions, vaccinating for feline leukemia and feline infectious peritonitis is not recommended. If your cat is at risk for feline infectious peritonitis, many feline veterinarians recommend that a blood test be performed to see if the cat has been exposed to coronavirus. If the coronavirus titer in the cat is elevated (indicating exposure), the vaccination will not be effective and should be avoided.

Rabies should be given based on local laws. In some areas, rabies vaccination must be given every year. In other areas, local law allows vaccination to be given every three years.

The foremost recommendation is to discuss the vaccination program with your veterinarian. If you're adopting an older cat, be sure to get her vaccination records. And, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the pros and cons of vaccinations.

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