Caring for Senior Cats: Problems & Treatments


Ensuring that your cat’s senior years are as golden as possible:

Both Dusty and Coco are in their 12th year. Hemmie’s age is unknown because she was brought in after being found as a stray, but it is safe to say that she is well into her senior years. And Yuri, who turned 7 not too long ago and still bounds around the house and up and down the stairs like a kitten, is a senior in the making. In human years, this equates to Dusty and Coco being 64 years old, Hemmie being 78 years old, and Yuri being 54 years old.

Cats age much more quickly than dogs do up until the age of two, as one year in a dog’s life is equivalent to seven years in a human’s (which equals 24 human years). They continue to age at a rate of four human years for every one that passes.

Given the high quality of care that is readily available and the fact that most cats today live indoor lives, they have the potential to live anywhere from 18 to 20 years or even longer. The Humane Society of the United States reports that the average lifespan of a cat living outdoors is less than three years.

Cats, like all other organisms, will eventually die. The bones become brittle, and one’s vision and hearing both deteriorate. Digestion problems develop. Kidneys fail. In addition to that, a plethora of physical ailments that are too numerous to mention are a possibility. Funny, it sounds just like human problems.

Instead of using the term geriatric, James R. Richards, DVM, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, prefers to use the term senior. According to him, “the latter connotes decrepit, and a lot of these older critters are anything but,” adding that cats can be considered senior between the ages of 7 and 11. At this point in time in your cat’s life, it is especially important to have a healthy relationship with his or her veterinarian. According to Dr. Richards, “twice-yearly wellness exams are the norm or more frequently if a chronic problem such as chronic kidney disease exists,” and these exams should be taken very seriously.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners and Fort Dodge have collaborated to create a public awareness campaign called “The Great Cat Watch for Wellness Sake.” This campaign assists cat owners in becoming more aware of the subtle signs of feline illness. In addition, the campaign promotes annual wellness exams as one of the most effective ways to ensure that pets are in the best possible health and to avoid contracting any diseases. The American Pet Products Manufacturing Association reports that the frequency of veterinary visits for cats is approximately one-half that of dogs.

Baseline blood work is recommended by Dr. Richards beginning at the age of 7 and continuing on an annual basis thereafter, unless a problem is identified, in which case more frequent visits may be indicated. Your veterinarian will also look for signs of tartar buildup and gum disease, both of which are fairly common in older cats. Brushing one’s teeth is a common piece of advice that is given these days. I can attest to the fact that it is not a pleasurable process because I have participated in it. Let’s be honest: how much do you look forward to brushing your teeth and flossing your teeth every day? An elderly cat with chronic conditions such as kidney disease or diabetes can still have a good quality of life thanks to the advances that have been made in veterinary medicine in recent years.

The simple act of observation on the part of a cat’s human companions is the most effective way to deal with the aging process. Cats are experts at hiding the signs of illness, so the changes may not be immediately noticeable.

Is it because she is missing the litter box that she is drinking more water and using the litter box more frequently? Has she adopted new ways of personal hygiene? Has she managed to trim down despite her ravenous appetite? All of these conditions, including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and kidney failure, share those symptoms.

Does she seem to have no reason for it but to start meowing in the middle of the night? Does it appear as though she has lost her bearings or orientation? Cats can also suffer from cognitive dysfunction disorder, which is characterized by excessive vocalization, changes in interactions, disorientation, confusion, anxiety, and changes in sleep patterns. Cats can also experience cognitive dysfunction disorder. Your veterinarian may suggest Anipryl (selegiline hydrochloride), a medication that has received approval from the FDA for use in dogs and is now also available for use in cats in Canada. In addition to Anipryl, veterinarians can provide their clients with Cholodin FEL, a nutritional supplement that has a lower price point than Anipryl. Are her movements jerky, or does she hesitate before jumping, or is she unable to jump in a regular pattern? Supplements like glucosamine and Cosequin for Cats can be helpful for arthritic cats, which unfortunately are not immune to the disease. Also helpful would be a bench or chair placed next to one of her favorite windowsills, which would allow her to take in the scenery while also assisting her in getting into bed at night.

Check for lumps and masses on a regular basis. Sadly, an alarmingly high percentage of cats are being diagnosed with cancer these days. The good news is that there have been advancements made in both the diagnosis and treatment of the condition, which means that measures can be taken to continue to maintain a quality of life.

The senior years are not an exception to the rule that proper nutrition is vitally important at all stages of life. It’s never too late to make the switch to grain-free canned food and reduce the amount of carb-heavy kibble in your pet’s diet. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), there is no evidence that senior diets are required if the cat consumes a diet that is nutritionally balanced.

According to Dr. Richards, the best way for cat owners to help their elderly felines is to keep a close eye out for any subtle signs of illness, such as a change in the manner in which the cat uses the litter box or the way it interacts with other people, and to take their cats in for exams twice a year.

If Magnolia is at least 10 years old, you should keep a closer eye on her and spend some additional time talking to your veterinarian during her next checkup to find out what you can do to make her golden years a little more comfortable for her. Who could say? She could reach the age of 29 like Lucy, who hails from Ontario, Canada, or she could reach the age of 31 like Granpa Rexs Allen, who hails from Austin, Texas. I really, really, really hope that Dusty, Coco, Hemmie, and Yuri will all make it to that age.

Warning Signs of a Potential Illness

  • Inappropriate elimination behavior
  • Changes in interactions
  • Changes in activity
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Changes in food and water consumption
  • Changes in grooming
  • Signs of stress
  • Changes in vocalization
  • Bad breath

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