Just like us, cats are prone to developing more health problems as they age. But the shift into the senior years can seem very slow and subtle for cats. Their needs will change, and you should anticipate those needs so that you can keep your pet healthier for longer. But what exactly should you watch out for?
Dietary changes. As your cat ages, he will probably become less active over time. And that means he needs fewer calories each day. If you continue to feed the same food at the same amounts, weight gain will creep up on both of you, and that can lead to health problems. If you have a senior cat, we should discuss switching his food to a lower-calorie blend.
Osteoarthritis. Senior cats can be less active simply because of their age and energy levels, but osteoarthritis can also be the culprit. If your cat does develop this painful disease, alterations to your home can help to make her more comfortable.
In a 2011 study approximately 65% of cats showed x-ray evidence of osteoarthritis, and at 12 years over 90% of cats demonstrated these signs. Monitor your cat for these changes in mobility:
- Climbing stairs with a bunny hop
- Going down stairs at an angle
- Hesitancy when jumping up or down (such as on/off of the couch or bed)
- Uses arms to pull him/herself up
- Smaller jumps using objects
- Reaching down before jumping off objects
Raise her food and water bowls so that she doesn’t have to bend, and provide her plenty of comfortable, padding resting places that she can easily access. Heated beds are preferred by many older cats with arthritis.
Kidney disease. Because kidney disease is so common in senior cats, it’s a good idea to learn the warning signs. Watch for sudden weight loss, vomiting, increased thirst, and refusal to use the litter box (or any other abnormal behavior around urinating).
Hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism can be seen in cats as early as 8 years of age. It occurs due to overproduction of thyroid hormone from the thyroid gland. Some of the symptoms are weight loss despite a good appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, increased drinking and urination and dry not groomed coat.
Stress. If your senior cat does suffer from arthritis or other age-related conditions, he might become a bit more grumpy. Provide him with a quiet place to retreat, away from kids, visitors, and other pets. Try to keep your pet engaged and playful in ways that he can tolerate.
Regular exams. As your cat ages, switching from annual to bi-annual checkups might be a good idea. If we see your cat every six months, we can more easily screen for and detect common illnesses earlier in their progression by performing blood work and urine testing.
Give us a call if you have a senior cat, and we’ll help you learn how to keep her healthy and happy as she grows old.