Veterinary Care for Your Senior Cat

titleCaring for Your Senior Cat
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Older cats have special health needs and may require more attention and care than younger kitties. The aging process varies between species, so if you own a senior dog, your cat may not be considered a senior even if they are the same age! As a general rule, you should consider your cat a senior around 10 years of age. As your cat ages, changes occur in his physical condition that warrant more frequent visits to your veterinarian. If medical problems are recognized and treated when they are first detected, the treatment may be easier for your cat and less costly for you. Twice-a-year wellness examinations are recommended in order to diagnose medical problems during the early stages.

A geriatric exam is more extensive than a simple check-up and includes a complete physical exam, oral examinations and recording of body weight and body condition. We also examine your cat's ears, eyes and various internal organs. Some laboratory work may be done, including a serum chemistry profile, complete blood count, blood pressure measurement, urinalysis, fecal exam, EKG and perhaps endocrine blood tests. Establishing a base line is an added benefit and can ultimately help should there be any changes - even small ones - to your cat's health.

As cats grow older, their organs may become less efficient and they may be less able to resist infections and other diseases, and so it is increasingly important to be vigilant of any condition that may warrant veterinary attention. As a responsible cat owner, you want your cat to remain healthy, active and happy for as long as possible.

General Tips for Your Aging Cat


There are several reasons why a special diet may be needed for an elderly cat. He or she may be less active than a younger kitty and therefore may require fewer calories. The digestive organs may become less efficient in digestion and absorption and a highly digestible diet may be more appropriate. Phosphorus and protein content may need to be adjusted if your cat has kidney problems. Under certain circumstances the vitamin and mineral needs of an elderly cat may change as he or she ages. Some of the special senior feline diets have mineral and vitamin content carefully adjusted to help provide the appropriate balance for elderly pets, especially those with failing kidney or heart function.


As your cat ages, joint pain and stiffness may develop. This may mean your cat becomes less active and his or her energy level may decrease. Your cat may become tired more easily and want to nap more often. Muscle tone tends to reduce which may further reduce your cat's ability to run, jump and climb. This decrease in muscle tone and exercise also contributes to the stiffening of joints.


Hearing, sight and smell can all become less acute with age and you may need to make allowances for these changes. Be cognizant of indications of impaired sight such as bumping into furniture or loss of hearing if your cat stops reacting to its name or familiar sounds. Eye infections, cataracts, decreased night vision or even blindness are common; however, these can also be symptoms of a larger problem.


Older cats are more likely to develop tooth and gum conditions. If your cat has sore gums or loose teeth, he or she may be reluctant to eat or food may drop out of his or her mouth. Gum disease not only leads to loss of teeth, but can also cause heart and kidney infections if bacteria enter the bloodstream through enflamed gums. Examine your cat's mouth regularly and ask for advice if the teeth or gums look unhealthy.


Urinary incontinence or inappropriate urination sometimes occurs in an aging cat. Inappropriate urination may also be the result of a urinary tract disorder, or symptomatic of other problems. Changes to your cat's litter or litter box location may also trigger urinary issues. Consult our veterinary staff if your cat suddenly becomes incontinent or begins to urinate more frequently.


As your cat ages, his or her behavior may change significantly. You might interpret this as simple aging, but it actually might be due to a treatable geriatric disease like cognitive dysfunction. Some typical signs include confusion, disorientation, decreased activity, changes in the sleep/wake cycle, loss of litter box training, or signs which suggest a decrease in your cat's interest in, or ability to interact with his or her environment or with you.


Excessive thirst and frequent or uncontrolled urination can be signs of kidney problems or diabetes. Since the kidneys process and eliminate body waste products into the urine, it is vital they remain healthy. If your cat's kidneys are not functioning properly, we may recommend a diet specially designed for kidney problems.


As cats get older, temperature sensitivity increases because their coats are often poor and not as resistant to temperature changes. Tolerance of cold temperatures and wet conditions decreases and the need for a dry, draft-free, sleeping area is a priority. If your cat goes outside, do not leave him or her outside for long periods of time in cold or wet weather. In hot and humid weather, use air conditioning and/or fans to help keep your cat cool.


Provide regular grooming. This helps to remove dead fur and prevent hair balls that may cause vomiting or intestinal impaction. Grooming also gives you a chance to inspect your cat for parasites, skin disorders and unusual lumps or lesions that may require our attention. Besides the health benefits, many older cats enjoy the extra physical contact!

Even if your cat seems perfectly healthy, regular geriatric check-ups are important to manage many of the changes associated with aging. A complete geriatric health maintenance program can provide a means to target age-related health problems, institute preventative health care measures and detect any disorders early enough to provide appropriate medical treatment. Cats can be the most rewarding when they reach middle or old age; they know you, have a special routine, and have spent years as a loyal companion. Maintaining the health of your aging kitty is part of a mutually beneficial relationship and can provide you with many more years of love and companionship.

For more information about our veterinary services for senior cats in Westmont, IL, or to schedule a senior wellness appointment, please call Abbeywood Cat Hospital at (630) 969-5432.