How to Transition to Managing Old Cat Behavior

Today you can expect your cat to live a longer life than in the past. While some cats live into their twenties, most cats live to be 16 or 17 years of age.

Cats are like people. We are all unique and not all of us will age at the same rate. Your cat may begin to display old cat behavior as early as 7 years of age or as late as 10 years of age – most will change by age 12 at the latest.

What is old cat behavior and how will you be best prepared to manage it?

Normal aging brings about changes in behavior. Old cat behavior includes being less active, playing less, sleeping more, grooming less, eating less heartily, and reacting less to surrounding events. Older cats may experience a disturbance in sleep patterns or disorientation. Suddenly your older cat begins forgetting previously learned behaviors, like the location of the litter box. These changes can cause a lot of anxiety and your cat may react in many different ways. Your cat may begin to display aggression or change its social relationships with other household members.

Feline cognitive dysfunction or FCD can begin as early as 11 years of age, affecting memory, sight, hearing and much more. Typical signs of FCD can be described by the acronym DISH.

  • D – Disorientation – Your senior cat may wander aimlessly and appear lost or confused at times. He may fail to recognize family members.
  • I – Reduced Social Interactions – Your cat may no longer greet people warmly or seek their attention as often.
  • S – Changes in Sleep-Wake Cycle – Your cat may sleep more during the daytime but wander aimlessly at night, perhaps crying out.
  • H – Loss of House Training – Breakdown of house training can occur because your cat forgets where the litter box is, or is no longer concerned about personal hygiene.

To learn more about old cat behavior, go to Behavior of the Senior Cat.

Why Increased Urination in Cats Happens

As our cat’s age, they tend to urinate more often, and sometimes they urinate outside the litter box. Incontinence or weak bladder is age-related. The bladder weakens with age, resulting in more frequent urination. Essentially, your cat will urinate as soon as pressure builds up in the bladder – and often, that can mean urinating outside the litter box.

Increased urination in cats is normal with age. It often results from diseases that are common to aging felines, like kidney failure, hyperthyroidism or diabetes. Increased urination in cats is often an early sign of diabetes in older or overweight cats. But don’t just assume that your cat’s more frequent urination is a sign of old age. If you have concerns, see your veterinarian. Your cat could be suffering from a urinary tract infection or bladder infection, or kidney disease.

More frequent urination will cause the litter box to become soiled more quickly. Many cats will stop using the litter box when they encounter a buildup of soil or odor. So increased urination in cats often means urinating outside the litter box. To help keep your cat from urinating outside the litter box, make sure to keep the litter box as clean as possible. Clean the litter box daily, or more often if necessary. To learn more about dealing with a cat urinating outside the litter box, go to How Do You Deal with a Cat Urinating Outside the Litter Box.

Arthritis is another condition that can contribute to urinating outside the litter box. Older cats can suffer from arthritis pain that makes it difficult for them to access the litter box. When this happens, they will simply find an “easier” place to go. Get a litter box with lower sides that is more easily accessible to your older cat.

If your cat is urinating outside the litter box, here are some things that you can try. Increase the number of litter boxes in your house. Make sure there’s one on every floor in case your cat is experiencing discomfort going up and down the stairs. Put the new litter boxes in areas where your cat can easily find them. Many cats also have trouble getting into and out of the litter box when they get older, so use litter boxes that have low sides. To learn more about increased urination in cats, go to Why Increased Urination Happens in Cats.

Here’s Why Your Cat Wants Attention More Often

Sometimes an older cat can become more needy. If your senior cat wants attention more often, she can show it in many different ways. Your cat may become more vocal. She may follow you around or brush up against your legs. If you are working at the computer or reading the newspaper, she may sit in front of the computer screen or on the keyboard, or she may jump up and sit on top of your newspaper. Essentially she is saying look at me! Pay attention to me!

Here’s Why Your Older Cat Wants Attention More Often

Sometimes an older cat can become more needy. If your senior cat wants attention more often, she can show it in many different ways. Your cat may become more vocal. Vocalization is a form of communication for cats, so listen to your cat and pay attention to what she is saying. Your cat’s meow is generally a call for attention of some sort. It’s good to engage in some cat talk and to give your cat the extra attention she seeks. If you’ve ever wondered what your cat is trying to say to you, check out this article – Understanding “Cat Talk” – What is Your Kitty Saying?

When Your Older Cat Wants More Attention

If your cat wants to show her affection for you, she may follow you around or brush up against your legs. One of the most affectionate displays is when a cat will rub its head on their human companions. This friendly, aroma-sharing gesture enables a feline to reinforce a positive relationship and mark you with her scent as she releases pheromones that signal comfort and familiarity. This is a loving signal that your cat wants your attention. To learn more about the ways our cats show us they love us, go to 7 Signs Your Cat Actually Adores You.

If you are working at the computer or reading the newspaper, your cat may sit in front of the computer screen or on the keyboard, or she may jump up and sit on top of your newspaper while you are reading. She may stare at you incessantly. Essentially she is saying, “Look at me! Pay attention to me!” When this happens, you should take some time to show affection to your kitty. Stop what you are doing for a few minutes. Pet her and talk to her and let her know that you love her. If it is possible for you to take a break, see if your kitty wants to play with you.

Tricks Older Cats Use To Get Your Attention

Another trick cats use to get attention is to reach out and push something off the countertop with their paw. Cats usually do this when we are there to watch it happen. If your attention is focused elsewhere, your cat may just reach out with its paw and swipe at an item, pushing it off the table to the floor. This is your cat’s way of saying, “Hey, look at me! Play with me!”

Cat Talk: Your cat will tell you what he needs through vocalization.

If your cat wants attention, he will find a way to show you. Your cat may become more clingy as he ages, wanting to be with you every moment of the day or night. If your cat has lost some of his sensory perception, being with his human companion may be a stabilizing influence in his daily life. To learn more about caring for a senior cat go to How to Transition to Managing Old Cat Behavior.

If your senior cat still likes to play, you should engage in play as often as he is willing. This is a great way to give your cat the attention he seeks and the activity will help to keep his aging body healthy.

While some older cats become more aloof and less interactive, others become more needy. They seem to crave more attention. If your senior cat wants attention, make sure to give it to her. Give her plenty of lap time and talk to her sweetly. Show her that she is important to you. If she still likes to play, get one of her favorite toys and play together. Show your older cat plenty of love and affection and she will be happy.

To learn more about old cat behavior, go to Behavior of the Senior Cat.

Aging Pets: How to Handle Changes in Cat Behavior

Owners of senior cats often notice a change in cat behavior but they simply chalk it up to getting older. Failure to use the litter box, a change in activity levels, and changes in eating, drinking or sleeping can definitely be attributed to old age… but is there something else going on? It would be a mistake to simply attribute these changes to aging without first investigating the possibility of an underlying medical condition. Always see your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your older cat.

Changes in Senior Cat Behavior: What to Look For?

As your cat ages, you should be aware of any changes in behavior, mood or activity. Just like people, older cats become less mentally and physically active. This can be attributed to aging changes that take place in the brain as well as physical factors such as joint stiffness. A change in cat behavior could be a signal that something else is going on.

You may notice your older cat sleeping more than usual. Cats will usually sleep between 16 to 18  hours per day. If your cat is 10 years of age or older, he may sleep between 18 to 21 hours per day. It is natural for your cat to sleep more as he ages.

As your cat ages, bending and moving may become more difficult. This can be related to arthritis or another condition. To learn more about arthritis in cats, go to Arthritis in Cats: Does Your Cat Have Arthritis?

Your cat may have more difficulty jumping up to places that he likes to go, like the bed or his favorite window sill. When this happens you should provide a ramp or a set of kitty stairs so your cat can continue to do the things that make him happy.

Keeping Your Senior Cat Active and Happy

In spite of mobility problems, it is important that your senior cat continues to exercise. To keep your cat interested in play, continue engaging in interactive play sessions. Just reduce the length of time your cat exercises and increase the frequency of your play sessions. For example, if you played twice a day for 20 minutes at a time, play four times a day for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. If your senior cat does not see as well, roll a ball with a bell for him to chase. If your cat enjoys catnip, leave a catnip toy out for him to play with as he wishes.

In most cases, cats can be considered senior when they are between seven and ten years old.

If moving becomes painful, your cat may wash himself less often. It will be up to you to offer more grooming assistance as your cat ages to help him maintain a clean, soft coat. With age, your cat may be less able to cough up hairballs, so regular brushing will help keep them from forming. If your older cat resists being combed or brushed, use a soft-bristled brush or a grooming glove. Pet wipes will help you to keep his coat clean. If your senior cat uses his scratching post less often, you will need to clip his nails to keep them from becoming ingrown. To learn more about grooming your senior cat, go to Grooming Your Senior Cat – Special Concerns.

A normal change in cat behavior with older cats may be that they do not want to be picked up as often. This could be because he is experiencing joint pain or his muscles are stiff. On the other hand, some senior cats become more clingy with age, wanting to be with their human every second of the day or night. All cats are different. Take your cue from your cat and give them the comfort and security they need.

Senior Cat: Litter Box Issues

Age-related problems may make your cat avoid the litter box. Mobility issues may make it difficult for your cat to navigate stairs in order to access his litter box, and he may have problems climbing into the box. To help prevent these litter box issues, make the litter box more accessible to your kitty. Put the box in a location where your cat will not have to climb or descend stairs to get to it. Also, find a litter box with lower sides to make it easier to access. Age-related illnesses like diabetes or kidney problems may cause your cat to urinate more often. That means you will have to clean the box more often to keep it clean and appealing. For more information about litter box avoidance, check out The Top 8 Reasons Why Your Kitty Won’t Use the Litter Box.

Vet Tips for Elderly Cat Care

As we age our bodies change. The same thing is true for our cats.

What do you need to know about elderly cat care? As your cat changes, so do physical and emotional needs. Ideally, elderly cat care should focus on preventative 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 improve the outcome.

What to be Aware of as Your Cat Ages

As your cat ages, she may lose weight. This can be part of the normal aging process, but it can also be a sign of a medical problem like cancer, kidney failure, hyperthyroidism or something else. Changes in weight can be the first sign of disease, so don’t take chances with your senior cat. If you notice any significant changes contact your veterinarian.

Elderly cat care should include regular visits to your veterinarian. Your senior cat is at risk for several medical problems as she ages, which is why she needs periodic exams to stay healthy. Some of the most common illnesses known to afflict older cats include nutritional problems, dental disease, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, skin tumors, and cancer. Other concerns with elderly cats include liver diseases and anemia. To learn more about possible disorders with your senior cat, go to 10 Common Disorders of Senior Cats.

As your cat ages, your veterinarian will help to monitor any changes along the way. Most vets recommend a checkup every six months. Have your cat’s hearing and eyesight checked. It’s not unusual for a senior cat’s eyes to look cloudy. But like humans, your senior cat can develop cataracts and glaucoma. Your senior cat can also develop hearing loss. Your cat may have hearing or eyesight problems if he seems surprised when you come close, if he bumps into things, or if he doesn’t come when you call him.

Senior Cats and Nutrition

Remember that elderly cat care includes good nutrition. As your cat ages, her metabolism slows down and your older cat will require fewer daily calories. Make sure that your senior cat is eating well. There is no one best food to feed to a senior cat – the best food depends on your cat’s specific problems or nutritional requirements. Most foods for older cats are lower in protein, sodium, and phosphorus to help their aging hearts and kidneys. Increased amounts of certain vitamins have also been found to be beneficial in the senior cat.

Keep your senior cat active. Provide moderate exercise to help maintain muscle tone, to keep his heart and digestion healthy, and to improve his attitude.

Cat Obesity: A Growing Epidemic

In 2016, 58.9% of cats were classified as clinically overweight or obese.

Obesity is a problem to be taken seriously. It directly correlates to a decreased longevity and may contribute to other problems like diabetes and arthritis. According to the Pet Obesity Organization 2016 Pet Survey, over 50 million cats are clinically overweight or obese.

The primary causes of obesity are overeating and lack of exercise. When regular caloric intake exceeds the energy burned, the excess is stored as fat. As little as an extra 1 percent caloric intake can result in 25 percent increase over ideal body weight by middle age. Most owners don’t recognize that their cats are overweight until they take them to the veterinarian for another reason. To learn more about how to tell if your cat is overweight, go to Is Your Cat Too Fat.

If your senior cat has arthritis, there are some things you can do to help. Consider buying a set of pet stairs to help your cat more easily access the bed or sofa. Give your senior cat a soft yet supportive place to sleep. Consider a good glucosamine supplement. To learn more about arthritis in cats, go to Arthritis in Cats: Does Your Cat Have Arthritis

As a rule, cats don’t like change, and this is especially true for older cats. Your senior cat is set in her ways. Stick to a regular schedule. Feed your cat at the same time every day. Cats love a routine, and they will appreciate it even more as they age. Any changes in daily routine, schedules or environment will cause undue stress. Stress can weaken your cat’s immune system and make her more susceptible to disease, so keep change to a minimum.

Cats are good at hiding illness and this is just as true for elderly cats. Diseases can be treated with better outcomes when they are caught early so it is important to carefully monitor your senior cat’s behavior and health, and to have regular checkups with your veterinarian.

Show Some TLC: How to Help Your Geriatric Cat Thrive

Having a geriatric cat can be new territory for many cat owners, and knowing what specific care your older cat needs can be difficult to understand. With new problems popping up and a higher risk for more serious problems, geriatric cats need an informed owner in order for them to live their best lives.

Old age happens to the best of us — even our cats. And as our cats enter into the golden 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 an owner 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.

Caring For the Geriatric Cat

Ideally, caring for the geriatric cat should focus on preventative 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. Risk factors are characteristics of the breed, genetics, environment and lifestyle of your cat that may put him or her at greater risk of developing a particular disease or other age related changes.

Some cats, like some people and some dogs, age poorly. In affected individuals, slowing of their mental processes causes them significant impairment in their everyday lives. Although some of the signs of age-related cognitive decline are similar to those of “normal aging,” it is the extent and nature of the deficits that distinguish true cognitive dysfunction from simple age-related slowing down. Typical signs of feline cognitive dysfunction are described by the acronym DISH.

D = disorientation. This means that the cat may wander aimlessly and appear lost or confused at times. He may also fail to recognize family members.

I = reduced social interactions. Affected cats may no longer greet people warmly or seek their attention as often.

S = changes in sleep-wake cycle. The cat may sleep more during the daytime but wander aimlessly at night, perhaps crying out.

H = loss of housetraining. Breakdown of housetraining appears to occur because your kitty forgets where the litter box is or is no longer concerned about personal hygiene.

The prevalence of cognitive dysfunction increases with age so, for example, if at 13 years of age, 10 percent of cats may be affected, 50 percent by age 16, and 90 percent (plus) at age 20.

Eating Right

Providing the proper diet is very important in the care of an aging cat. However, there is no best food to feed a geriatric cat; the best food depends on the specific problems or nutritional requirements of the individual animal. Most foods for older cats are lower in protein, sodium and phosphorus to help their aging hearts and kidneys. Increased amounts of certain vitamins have also been found to be beneficial in the senior cat.

Obesity is a very common problem of older animals and should be taken seriously. It directly correlates to a decreased longevity, and may contribute to other problems. For the best health care, provide your older cat a good quality food that is appropriate for his specific needs, and do not allow your cat to gain excessive weight. Try not to give table scraps, and stick with a consistent diet.

The Vaccination Question

As pets age, questions about vaccinations arise. Common questions are which vaccine does my senior cat need and how often should he 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.

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

If you’re like many cat owners, or if you're thinking about adopting an older cat, your feline companion ranks as one of your closest friends — and the good news is that you can expect to spend a long time with your cat companion.

November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month. Adopting an older cat is a great choice, since cats are living longer than ever. The average life span of a cat ranges from 14 to 16 years, although some cats have been known to live into their 20s.

But cats are like people. Each is unique and not all of them age at the same rate. Your cat may begin to experience changes in his body and behavior as early as 7 years of age or as late as 10 (most experience change by age 12 at the latest).

Most cats age gracefully. Nevertheless your cat is depending on you to make her golden years truly golden.

So if you're going to be adopting an older cat, or already have an aging feline friend, here’s what you need to know to do just that.

Physiological and Behavioral Changes to Be Aware of When Adopting an Older Cat

Your cat will experience physiological changes as he ages just as you will. The changes in your cat’s internal organs and body systems will occur without you being aware of them.

Aging cats may have weakened immune systems and be more susceptible to disease and infection. Keeping your cat indoors will lessen his risk of contracting a contagious disease. Regular checkups that involve periodic blood tests become important to detect problems such as diabetes or kidney failure, so the condition can be treated early. A health problem in an aging cat does not carry the same grim outlook for his future as it once did. Most problems can be managed, and your cat will likely have a good prognosis for a long, happy life.

Changes in your cat’s behavior will naturally occur as he ages.Be aware that changes such as increased thirst or inappropriate urination or defecation may indicate the onset of health problems. Visit the veterinarian to determine if the changes are simply behavioral or the sign of illness.

Occasionally, the personality of cats changes as they age. Although it is uncommon, your cat may suffer from memory loss or dementia. He may appear forgetful, pace, or wander from room to room as if he is disoriented. If your geriatric cat appears to want more attention, give it to him. If he wants to spend more time alone, allow him to. Old age is not an illness, but, again, your cat’s old age will require special consideration from you to make it enjoyable.

Normal Aging Changes vs. Cognitive Dysfunctions

Like people, older cats become less active mentally and physically. Part of the reason for this is aging changes that take place in the brain, but physical factors, such as joint stiffness, may also play a role.

Normal aging changes include:

  • Being less active
  • Playing less
  • Sleeping more
  • Reacting less to surrounding events
  • Grooming less
  • Eating less heartily

All these signs are a result of progressive mental slowing that results from a decreased number of functioning central nerve cells and actual physical shrinkage of the brain.

Some cats, like some people and some dogs, age poorly. In affected individuals, slowing of their mental processes causes them significant impairment in their everyday lives. Although some of the signs of age-related cognitive decline are similar to those of “normal aging,” it is the extent and nature of the deficits that distinguish true cognitive dysfunction from simple age-related slowing down.

Typical signs of feline cognitive dysfunction are described by the acronym DISH.

D = disorientation. This means that the cat may wander aimlessly and appear lost or confused at times. He may also fail to recognize family members.

I = reduced social interactions. Affected cats may no longer greet people warmly or seek their attention as often.

S = changes in sleep-wake cycle. The cat may sleep more during the daytime but wander aimlessly at night, perhaps crying out.

H = loss of housetraining. Breakdown of housetraining appears to occur because your kitty forgets where the litter box is or is no longer concerned about personal hygiene.

The prevalence of cognitive dysfunction increases with age so, for example, if at 13 years of age 10 percent of cats may be affected, 50 percent by age 16, and 90 percent (plus) at age 20.

Golden Years: Caring for Your Senior Cat

In many ways, age is just a number for your cat.

Cats tend to age gracefully, living longer and more active lives today than ever before. At times, the “nine lives” proverb doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. The average feline lifespan ranges from 14-18 years and growing, with some cats living well into their twenties.

And yet, as is the case with all living things, age ultimately does catch up with every feline. Sooner or later, Father Time interjects and a senior cat invariably slows down, becoming vulnerable to the effects of aging.

As a cat owner, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the aging process your feline will experience so that you can provide support along the way. Here’s our guide to providing adequate care for your elderly cat to ensure his golden years shine brightly.

Living with A Senior Cat

Try as they might, cats cannot escape the effects of senior citizenship. Although they age gracefully, a 12-year-old cat is considered the equivalent of a 64-year-old human – and this ratio increases with each passing year. You’ll enjoy your feline friend’s companionship for many years, but age always wins out in the end.

The first visible signs of aging within senior cats often arise from sagging skin due to lost elasticity and degenerating muscles resulting in weight loss. Enduring decreased sensory perception, your senior cat may eventually have diminished ability to hear and taste. Consequently, you may need to call to your feline more loudly and creatively urge him to eat.

The advent of cat senior citizenship requires various additional actions on the part of the owner. In addition to scheduling regular veterinary checkups, you should consider bringing an outdoor cat inside for safety purposes and switching to a softer food that enables a cat with missing teeth or dental issues to still chew effectively.

Behavior of a Senior Cat

Based on an average cat lifespan of 14-18 years, a feline reaches senior citizenship at the three-quarter mark – or at approximately 11-13 years of age. During this time, you will encounter significant behavioral changes within your senior cat.

Like people, older cats become less active mentally and physically. In some respects, the situation is not unlike having a grandparent in your home. Normal aging changes related to cognitive decline can include any or all of the following:

  • Being less active
  • Playing less
  • Sleeping more
  • Reacting less to surrounding events
  • Grooming less
  • Eating less heartily

How Age Affects Your Cat

Try as they might, felines simply can’t stay forever young. Both physically and mentally, changes are in store once a cat’s age reaches double digits. From a physical standpoint, all organ systems throughout the body will undergo some structural and functional change. An elderly cat’s cardio-respiratory, musculoskeletal, and central nervous systems each become more susceptible to disease and failure over time, necessitating an increased veterinary presence.

That said, aging has never been a fair game and never will be. It certainly doesn’t affect all cats of a certain age in precisely the same way. Whereas some cats remain active with no noticeable physical or mental limitations even at age 15, other felines aren’t able to age as slowly and successfully.

Grooming Your Senior Cat – Special Concerns

Most cats devote a large portion of their livelihood to achieving proper grooming. However, an elderly cat may require some assistance in this regard. Older cats tend to groom less frequently and can develop skin conditions that require extra attention.

By assuming a more active role in keeping your cat clean, you can monitor for any changes in skin and coat that may signal a medical problem. Check for lumps and bumps both on and underneath the surface of your senior cat’s skin, and seek an appointment with your veterinarian to ensure any found skin abnormality doesn’t pose the threat of being a tumor.

Thankfully, there are products available making it easier to provide grooming assistance to your senior cat. Everything from plastic-tipped brushes to waterless shampoos can aid this process.

Common Disorders of Senior Cats

Even if your cat ages like wine, he’s bound to encounter age-related diseases at some point. Here are some of the most commonly diagnosed illnesses known to afflict older cats:

  • Nutritional concerns: Obesity represents a serious concern in older cats, as it’s a common problem that’s often linked to other complications like diabetes and liver disease.
  • Dental disease: Without proper treatment, this can result in tooth loss and the development of infection that can spread to other parts of the body.
  • Heart disease: The most common heart disease in senior cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which involves an enlargement and weakening of the heart muscle. Early detection and proper treatment can slow the progression of this disease.
  • Cancer: While cancer poses a significant risk for senior cats, a number of treatment options exist, including surgery and chemotherapy. As a result, not all cat cancers prove fatal.

Grooming Your Senior Cat – Special Concerns

Grooming is an important aspect of your pet’s health care throughout his life. As your pet ages, taking an active role in grooming becomes even more important. Older pets often groom less, may have trouble cleaning those “hard to reach places,” or may develop skin conditions that require extra attention. You will have to take a more active role in keeping your pet clean and monitoring for any changes in skin and coat that may signal medical problems.

Changes in the Skin and Coat

A number of changes are possible in your pet’s skin as they reach their senior years. Skin that has been healthy may become dry and flaky. You may see dander on the surface of the coat. At the opposite end, skin may become excessively oily and feel greasy to the touch. These changes may reflect your pet’s inability to groom properly. Arthritis often makes it hard for some pets to reach certain places. Mental changes associated with aging may cause a lack of interest in normally fastidious pets. You may need to help out with more frequent brushings, bathings or medicated shampoos.

Diseases of the endocrine system are often first reflected in changes in the skin. A hormonal imbalance may make the skin thin and fragile. It may tear easily, or be slow to heal. You may see color changes, often light skin becoming dark and thickened in appearance. You may see small bumps that look like blackheads. Any change in the appearance, color or odor of the skin should be investigated by your veterinarian for underlying medical reasons.

Lumps and Bumps

As your pet ages you may notice that you begin to see or feel lumps or bumps both on and underneath the surface of the skin. All new skin growths should be evaluated by your pet’s doctor to determine if any further attention is needed. Some may only be a nuisance, aggravating your pet if they are located in sensitive areas, or may bleed from grooming or other activity. Some may be more serious, including tumors.
Another type of lump/bump you may see is a pressure sore. These sores arise at the points where there is not much cushion between bone and the hard surfaces on which your pet may lie. These are seen with more frequency as your pet ages and loses a bit of protective muscle mass. Common locations for pressure sores are the sides of the knee and hip joints. If you see the beginnings of these types of sores, it is time to provide soft padded surfaces where your pet lies. These types of sores are difficult to treat.

Nails

Most pets dislike nail trims. The bad news is that as your pet ages, it becomes even more important to trim them and even more difficult to do. Nails often become thick and brittle with age. Pets may resent having their paws handled, further delaying the chore. Nails and nail beds may become overgrown. They can grow into the pads and be quite painful, and make walking a chore. Make it a habit to trim a small amount of nail on your cat every two weeks to prevent overgrowth and make walking easier.

Grooming Aids

There are products that help make it easier and more comfortable to groom your senior pet. Look for brushes and combs that have plastic tipped teeth. These types of tools are more comfortable next to the skin. Wire brushes will help get those mats and pick up excess dander. Brushes that are made with the teeth set in a rubber back with foam padding underneath will be more comfortable. If your pet objects to water and needs bathing, check out the variety of waterless shampoos that may make the job easier and less stressful.

If your pet has long hair, keep the area around the rear end clipped short. Feces often mat in the hair causing skin irritations and unpleasant odors. Senior cats often fail to keep this area as clean.

 

10 Common Disorders of Senior Cats

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.
  • Hypertension. Cats with untreated hypertension (high blood pressure) can develop serious signs of illness such as sudden blindness or heart disease. Sometimes, underlying kidney disease or hyperthyroidism is the cause of the hypertension. Treatment is available and can help improve your cat’s health.
  • Heart Disease. The most common heart disease in the senior cat is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlargement and weaknening of the heart muscle). This is often associated with hyperthyroidism or hypertension. Early detection of heart disease, treating underlying disorders and proper therapy may slow the progression of the heart disease.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is associated with vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes IBD is associated with liver inflammation or inflammation of the pancreas. Treatment is available and most cats can do well on proper diet and medication.
  • Skin Tumors. Lumps and bumps are common findings on the elderly cat. On the basis of the size, location and aspiration results, your veterinarian may recommend removal of one or many skin masses. If not removed, the lumps should be monitored closely for any changes in size, shape or texture.
  • Cancer. Unfortunately, cancer is a significant problem facing the senior cat. Lymphosarcoma is the most common type of cancer in the cat. Not all cancer needs to be fatal. Surgery, chemotherapy, even radiation therapy is available that can significantly extend your cat’s quality time, or produce a cure. The prognosis depends on the type and location of the cancer.
  • Other Concerns. As cats age, their organs also age and do not function as well as they once did. Various liver diseases are common in aging cats, including fatty liver syndrome and cirrhosis. Another concern with elderly cats is the potential to develop anemia. Whether associated with kidney disease, cancer, chronic disease or primary bone marrow disorders, anemia can cause your cat to be profoundly weak and, without treatment, may even become so severe that emergency medical help is needed.
  • Cognitive Dysfunction in Cats

    Many people have known old cats that have matured to the point of minimal activity, and who have lost most of their kittenish joie de vivre. That’s normal aging. Feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD), however, is a truly pathological condition represented by a constellation of behavioral signs that are abnormal, seem out of character, or are performed out of context. No one sign is absolutely diagnostic, but the insidious onset of a cluster of signs suspicious of the syndrome in an elderly cat is suggestive of the disorder.

    What to Watch For

    • Loss of control of bladder or bowels
    • Decreased activity/playfulness
    • Increased sleeping time
    • Loss of coordination
    • Increased irritability/aggression
    • Hypervocalization (excessive crying)
    • Nocturnal separation distressIn addition, there may be other changes in normal behavior pattern, such as lack of grooming, altered sound behavior and loss of appetite.

    Diagnosis

    Even if two or three of the typical clinical signs appear in an elderly cat (more than 12 years old), cognitive dysfunction cannot be definitively confirmed as the most likely explanation to the problems unless thorough examination and medical tests are performed. The diagnosis of FCD is made by ruling out other conditions that could cause similar signs:

    • If house soiling is a feature, your veterinarian will perform a detailed examination. This may involve laboratory tests.
    • Brain tumors need to be ruled out. This requires neurological examination, sometimes along with a computed tomography scan (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
    • Inflammatory conditions of the brain and its surrounding membranes (encephalomyelitis) as a result of viral, bacterial, or parasitic diseases. Conditions like rabies, toxoplasmosis, and brain abscesses should be ruled out by appropriate tests.
    • Hyperthyroidism must be ruled out by measuring blood thyroid hormone (T4), especially if there is increased irritability and aggression.
    • Dietary problems, especially thiamine deficiency caused by excessive raw fish in diet, may mimic the condition.
    • Kidney and liver failure must be ruled out by means of appropriate blood tests.
    • Toxicological problems, such as lead poisoning, should be considered and investigated, if necessary.

    Treatment

    If cognitive dysfunction is the only logical explanation for the behavioral change, the next step is to implement therapy. The only treatment likely to be of any benefit is deprenyl (Anipryl®). This drug is currently only licensed for the use of cognitive dysfunction in dogs but its extra label use by veterinarians is permissible according to the Animal Medical Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA) of 1984.

    Organized studies to evaluate the efficacy of deprenyl for the treatment of FCD in cats have yet to be performed but if the results turn out to be similar to those in dogs, treatment with deprenyl would be well worth a try. Typically, a low dose of deprenyl would be given by mouth once a day and the cat’s response evaluated after 2-4 weeks. If no effect is apparent and no side effects have been seen, the dose should be gradually increased until treatment success or side effects dictate against further dose increments.

    A positive response to treatment – a full or partial return to earlier vigor and more typical behavior – provides justification of the clinical diagnosis, but it should be remembered that deprenyl treatment is a symptomatic treatment and will not arrest the inexorable disease process. All we do by treating elderly cats this way is to buy them and us additional quality time together – a worthwhile goal.