Cats are said to have nine lives - many a moggy will go on to live to a ripe old age of 20 years plus or minus a few!
What specific needs does my elderly cat have?
If your cat has always been allowed to come and go as they please, you cannot change things just because they are getting older. As they age, their senses (sight and hearing) will deteriorate. They will also become slow and less mobile. Consequently, they may become less aware of potential hazards or danger and less able to deal with them.
Older cats may not be able to climb up trees to get away from dogs or other cats. They may not see or hear danger approaching. They are more likely to get run over if they cannot hear cars coming and cannot run as fast as previously. A particularly common and sad accident occurs when an elderly cat gets run over whilst sunbathing on its own drive. These issues are difficult for us owners to cope with as many cannot be prevented unless you force your cat to be an indoor only cat. For many cats and owners that would be impossible and/or intolerable. Being aware of the potential problems is a good place to start.
What are the specific illnesses that older cats get? How can I spot them?
Here are some symptoms of common problems in cats (usually) over 10 years old. As the owner of a senior feline it is well worth being aware of them. Remember this is not a comprehensive list. If you are worried about your cat in any way, give your veterinary practice a call.
Is your cat losing weight, eating a lot and never seems satisfied or restful? Have they got a strange meow?
These symptoms can be a sign that your cat has an overactive thyroid gland. Loss of weight, accompanied by a ravenous appetite over a period of time should ring alarm bells. If undiagnosed and untreated; the excess hormone (Thyroxine) can cause high blood pressure and heart problems. It can be successfully managed if diagnosed and treated.
Is your cat getting stiff, especially on its back legs and is reluctant to jump?
Arthritis is a very under diagnosed and therefore under treated problem in older cats. Because they can’t talk, and the symptoms come on gradually, most owners just accept that their cat is getting stiff and slow. Cats are often in pain with this condition which has a debilitating effect on them. This can affect their mood i.e. make them grumpy! They can also become vulnerable in situations where they need to climb or run to avoid danger. There are really good pain killers available from your vet nowadays which are easily given in liquid form and well tolerated.
Is your cat thin, not eating as much and drinking a lot?
If your cat has these symptoms, they may be suffering from organ problems such as kidney disease. Many people dread taking their cat to the vet if they think they may have something serious like kidney problems. However, though it is true that some renal disease has a very poor prognosis, some types can be managed well on diet food with or without additional pills or medicine.
Is your cat drinking a lot, but not off its food?
This could be a sign of diabetes, especially if your cat is or has been overweight and like its food! Cats evolved from desert countries and as such have very good water conservation abilities when they are in good health. A cat that starts to drink noticeably more than it used to, is never normal so do get them checked out. A simple blood test can differentiate between kidney problems and diabetes.
Has your cat got breathing difficulties and gets tired all the time?
Heart problems are not uncommon in older cats. They can cause your cat to get exhausted quickly and to be short of breath more often. This can be a very subtle change in behaviour as, our moggies are lazy creatures a lot of the time! However, if you notice anything unusual about the breathing pattern such as panting or open mouth breathing, you should book an appointment for a check-up.
Is your cat wobbly, acting oddly or have sight problems?
High blood pressure is a common disease in older cats and can cause little bleeds into the retinal or brain blood vessels, amongst others. This can result in a range of systems being affected but often first manifests itself when the sight becomes affected, the pupils dilate, and the cat can be wobbly and disorientated. If caught early, the changes can be reversed wholly or partially so don’t delay if you notice anything like this in your cat.
What can I do, if anything to prevent age related problems in my cat?
It is a really good idea once your cat gets to about 10 years old, to opt for regular wellness blood screens as well as blood pressure and weight monitoring. By doing this your veterinary team will know what is normal for your cat, which makes it much easier to spot when something is amiss.