Common illnesses associated with older cats

The saying that ‘cats have nine lives’ may not be quite true. However, we certainly see many cats who seem to defy the laws of physics and live well into their teen years and beyond, with the oldest ever cat reported to be 38 when she passed.

While many cats look good as they age, it is not uncommon for them to be dealing with health issues, some of which are easy to see and others which are not. As cats can be very good at hiding signs of illness, it is a sensible idea to have senior kitties checked over every 6 to 12 months. As well as examining them from nose to tail, the vet may run blood tests and check blood pressure at some of their checks to ensure no disease is being missed. Some of the conditions we are on the lookout for include:


An overactive thyroid can cause lots of symptoms which are all too commonly mistaken with normal aging. These include weight loss, a reduced muscle mass, hyperactivity and a ravenous appetite. When the vet checks the cat over, they may also notice an increased heart rate and an enlargement in the neck region (a ‘goitre’). A blood test will reveal an elevated level of thyroid hormone. There are a few treatment options available, including daily medicine, surgery and radioactive iodine therapy.


Diabetes results in elevated blood sugars and a cat that will eat more, drink more and lose weight. This is a condition which is easily diagnosed. This is because the affected cats will have high sugar levels in both urine and blood that can be checked. Most older cats will be treated with insulin injections. In some cases, reversing any obesity and changing diet can be enough to control the diabetes.

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A recent study revealed that about 90% of cats over the age of 12 suffer with arthritis to some degree. Most owners will find this a surprise as cats rarely show obvious signs of being stiff and slow. For many, if joint disease is suspected and the recommended medication is started, owners are amazed at the improvement and report their furry friends acting like kittens again! Those on long-term medicine such as pain relief and anti-inflammatories should have their blood tested regularly, ensuring their liver and kidneys remain in good health.

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Dental Disease

While poor dental health can cause weight loss, drooling and bad breath, we do not always see obvious signs. In fact, most cases of dental disease are diagnosed during routine examinations. Dental assessment and treatment, including extractions, under general anaesthesia, is regularly performed, even in elderly cats.

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Matted Fur

While matted fur may seem innocuous, it can lead to dermatitis and discomfort. Matted fur is typically an indication of an underlying problem in the older cat. This is especially if they did not have this issue in their younger years. Matting denotes improper grooming which can be linked to painful joints and dental disease.


As any animal ages, the chances of them developing cancer increases. Lymphoma is a prevalent cancer in elderly cats. Depending on where it is located, it can cause a multitude of symptoms. Those with intestinal lymphoma may experience weight loss and chronic diarrhoea. We are usually able to diagnose the condition with imaging studies such as an abdominal ultrasound, though biopsies may sometimes be required.

Chronic Kidney Disease

When the kidneys no longer work as they should, we can see an increased thirst, more frequent urination, nausea and lethargy. This is a progressive disease, meaning symptoms will get worse over time. Fortunately recent advances in veterinary care allow us to maintain a good quality of life in most affected cats for quite a considerable time. Treatment options include prescription foods, attention to control of blood pressure and other renal support medications.

One of the best things you can do for your older cat is to ensure they are receiving regular vet checks. This ensures any developing disease can be detected early and dealt with proactively.