Our feline friends are able to live a long life thanks to the veterinary care available today. This also means that our focus needs to shift as our kitties get older. Today, our Westfield vets talk about geriatric veterinary care and offer some senior cat care tips to keep them healthy well into old age.
What happens as your cat ages?
Cats can experience many changes in their physicality and behavior as they age, just like their humans. While aging is not a disease in itself, keeping your vet abreast of changes in your senior cat will play an integral role in ensuring they receive the most comprehensive geriatric veterinary care possible. Some changes to watch for include:
- Grooming & appearance. As cats age, they may become less effective at grooming for a few reasons and develop matted or oily fur. This can result in odors on the skin, inflammation, and painful hair matting. Senior cats' claws are also often overgrown, brittle, or thick and will need more attention from their caregivers. You might also notice the iris (the colorful part of the eye) develops a lacy appearance or slightly hazy lens. While there is little evidence that their sight is significantly impacted, several diseases such as those related to high blood pressure can severely and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see.
- Unintentional weight loss or gain. Older cats may lose weight. This can point to numerous problems, from kidney and heart disease to diabetes. Aging cats also commonly develop dental diseases, which can hinder eating and lead to weight loss and malnutrition. Oral health problems can also cause significant mouth pain.
- Physical activity & abilities. Degenerative joint disease or arthritis often becomes an issue for older cats who may have difficulty accessing water and food bowls, beds, and litter boxes. The need to jump or climb stairs may further hinder their ability to reach essential places. While changes in sleep patterns are a normal part of aging, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep may be cause for concern and be a reason to contact your vet. A marked increase in energy may point to hyperthyroidism and should also be looked at. Hearing loss is also a common health issue in geriatric cats for many reasons and should also be checked by your veterinarian.
- Cognitive issues. If you notice that your cat has started being confused by tasks or objects that are part of their daily routine, this may be a sign of issues with memory or cognition. Behavioral changes such as litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and seeming disorientated, are also potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be examined by your vet.
- Issues caused by disease. A cat may become aggressive due to pain from health issues like dental disease or arthritis, so keeping an eye on your cat's mood is important because cats tend to hide discomfort. Diseases and disorders affecting urination (e.g. diabetes, kidney failure) can cause an increase in litterbox usage, which may lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate areas. Cats that are experiencing mobility problems due to joint inflammation may have challenges accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also lead to your senior cat eliminating in inappropriate places and should be addressed by a vet.
Caring for Senior Cats
Your observations are some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy. Incorporating simple changes to your grooming, feeding and general interactions with your cat can be a low-pressure way to watch for any changes in your aging pet so your vet can provide geriatric care geared to your pet's needs. Here are some of the key areas of senior cat care to focus on:
Manage Your Senior Cat's Diet
When it comes to the nutritional aspect of your cat's health, their diet will need to be adjusted as their needs change. Your vet will be able to help you monitor your cat and inform you of when changes to the diet are needed.
If your cat is experiencing weight control issues or health conditions, your geriatric-focused vet will be able to make recommendations for a good food fit.
As your cat ages, you may want to begin controlling their portions and feeding them smaller meals more frequently. Introducing puzzle-type feeders is also a great way to help your cat use problem-solving skills allowing for mental stimulation.
Ensure Constant Access to Water
One of the most basic concerns with cats is their water intake. Most cats are terrible at drinking water and can frequently experience dehydration. This can worsen as cats age, which is especially concerning since they are prone to constipation and kidney disease in their later years.
One of the ways that many cat owners combat this issue is by introducing wet food into their cat's diet as well as placing water dishes at various points around the home, allowing for easy access.
Watch For Signs of Geriatric Related Pain
Our feline friends are skilled at hiding any pain. This has been a part of their nature for as long as they've been on this earth. It is a method of survival for animals to hide their pain in fear of appearing weak to others.
Unfortunately, this means that you will also need to pay attention to any potential signs of discomfort, especially as they age.
You can help prevent unnecessary pain for your cat by ensuring that they maintain a healthy weight and visit with their geriatric-related veterinarian for routine wellness exams.
If your cat is experiencing early signs of pain then your vet may be able to help control the level of discomfort using medicine, supplements and alternative treatments, like acupuncture, physical therapy and laser treatments.
Ensure Routine Dental Care
As your cat ages, they will begin to experience dental concerns like decaying and broken teeth, gum disease and oral tumors which can all take a toll on your cat's quality of life.
If your cat experiences any serious dental infections, they could also suffer from conditions affecting their vital organs as the infection enters the bloodstream. Be sure to routinely examine your cat's mouth and contact your geriatric cat's veterinarian in Westfield if you think there may be an issue.
Bringing your cat in for routine dental care can also prevent more serious dental issues from forming and help improve your kitty's overall health.
Offer Mental Stimulation & Physical Exercise
As with humans and all other animals, mental stimulation is a crucial part of your cat's overall health along with physical exercise.
While your cat ages, it is important to keep them busy and active but also to be mindful of their decreasing mobility.
Offer improved ways for your cat to easily manage around the home. Carpet-covered ramps and stairs along with accessible food and water dishes can go a long way.
Routine Geriatric Veterinary Care For Your Cat
Your knowledge of your cat and your observations are an important resource for your vet, as are regular wellness examinations. Depending on your cat's needs (e.g. if they have a medical condition), your vet may suggest increasing the frequency of physical evaluations.
A wellness examination of a senior cat includes the vet checking the cat's weight, skin & fur condition, organ systems, and behavior, and running diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in older felines.
The combination of homecare and cooperative geriatric veterinary care is a great way to help ensure your senior cat has a healthier, happier life with you and your family.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.