senior cats

Cat Senior Care

Caring For Mature, Senior, and Geriatric Cats

Did you know that cats are considered to be seniors once they reach eight or nine years of age? Once they reach that age, it becomes even more important to see your veterinarian at least once a year. Even further, once cats reach 10 years of age, you should strongly consider taking them in for a wellness exam about every 6 months. 

Contact a local veterinarian to find out how often you should be taking your pet in for exams, as proper senior cat care will surely provide the longevity you desire with your favorite feline. 

If you think of it in human terms, an annual exam for a cat is similar to a human getting an exam only every 4-5 years. A geriatric cat’s health can rapidly change, and annual exams may not be enough to catch a potential problem early. Your veterinarian may recommend semi-annual exams throughout the life of your cat, depending on certain health concerns.

Dental disease, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, arthritis, and skin tumors are some of the diseases that can develop in senior cats, and early intervention is the key to keeping your cat happy and healthy. Therefore, you should contact a local veterinarian about the recommended frequency of exams once your cat becomes a senior.

Weight Management for Senior Cats

If your cat has gained or lost weight without any significant change in diet, this can be indicative of an underlying problem. Thyroid disease - specifically hyperthyroidism, or the overproduction of thyroid hormone - can cause weight loss as the body’s metabolism increases significantly. Some other signs of thyroid disease include excessive meowing or vocalization. Hyperthyroidism can be easily and inexpensively treated with a drug to slow down hormone production.

Weight loss is also an early sign of kidney disease. Another cause for weight loss is diabetes, but one of the risk factors for developing diabetes is being overweight in addition to being older. In short, consult with your veterinarian if you see any unexplained change in your cat’s weight.

Arthritis in Senior Cats

Arthritis can be a concern in senior cats but, unlike in dogs where limping is fairly obvious, the signs in cats are often more subtle. A fairly significant sign that your cat might have some arthritic pain is if he or she longer jumps up on surfaces, or seems to be pausing to get the motivation to make the jump. Arthritis can often be exacerbated by excessive weight, so talk to your veterinarian about whether your cat’s weight is appropriate and about possibly adding in supplements to help with joint health.

Dental Disease in Senior Cats

Many aging cats develop dental disease, and over 50% of cats develop some degree of feline resorptive lesions, also known as neck lesions or feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs). With resorptive lesions, the tooth surface is slowly eroded away at or near the gum line, eventually destroying enough of the tooth that the tooth fractures. This is a progressive disease, so the cats learn to live with the pain as it increases. Make no mistake, however, it is painful. A thorough oral examination of the mouth, teeth, and gums is crucial to detecting dental disease and coming up with a plan to prevent or relieve your cat’s pain and suffering.

Skin Tumors on Senior Cats

Tumors affecting the skin or just under the skin are the most common types of tumors seen in cats. There are several different types of tumors that can affect the skin, including:

  • Basal cell tumors
  • Fibromas
  • Hemangiomas
  • Mast cell tumors
  • Fibrosarcomas

They may appear as small lumps or bumps, hairless areas, rashes, or sores that don’t heal. Your veterinarian can take a sample of the tumor using a needle and have the sample analyzed to determine the type of tumor. At that point, you will work together to come up with a plan of action based on the tumor type and other health issues your geriatric cat may have.

Senior Cat Behavior 

Think about a typical day in your cat’s life, and compare that to a typical day a year ago. Is your cat less active? Is he or she less likely to jump up or play with toys? Is your cat sleeping more and eating the same amount of food? Have his or her food preferences changed from dry to wet? Is your cat drinking more, urinating more, having diarrhea, or maybe struggling with constipation? Is he or she grouchier and less willing to be picked up or petted? These are all things to be thinking about and discussing with your veterinarian since any changes in behavior or activity can be important clues for diagnosing an underlying problem.

Diagnostics for Senior Cats

Blood work and urine should be checked at least yearly. The blood work consists of a CBC, which checks the number of red blood cells and white blood cells, and a chemistry panel, which checks the health and function of the internal organs—especially the liver and kidneys. 

Other blood work that might be run includes thyroid hormone levels and screening for some forms of cardiac disease. A urinalysis can detect changes in kidney function, give additional information for diagnosing diabetes, and screen for a potential urinary tract infection. Sometimes chest radiographs (X-rays) are warranted if a new heart murmur or changes in lung sounds are detected on an exam.

Speak With Your Veterinarian About Caring For Your Senior Cat

Cats are famous for hiding illnesses until they are severely debilitated and, by then, it may be too late to effectively help them. Therefore, a thorough annual or semi-annual physical examination along with a conversation with your veterinarian about how your cat is acting at home is important in helping your cat live a healthy and comfortable life.

Reach out to a veterinarian near you to ensure you’re doing everything you can to provide your cat with a long and high-quality life.