Some of you may be too young to remember the mantra of the 1960′s – “Never trust anyone over 30!” Of course, now that I’m WAY past 30, it makes me laugh. But should you trust your “over 30″ cat?
In some ways, no. Cats are notorious for hiding symptoms of illness. By the time a cat is taken to the vet, more often than not, he’s already seriously ill. As your kitty gets older, it’s important to know what’s normal for him and what isn’t, so that you can investigate any changes in his health or behavior quickly.
They Don’t Stay Young Forever
Did you know that when your cat turns seven, he’s considered a feline senior citizen? At the ripe old age of fourteen, he’s joined the geriatric crew.
Cats are living longer now than ever before. It’s not unusual any more for a cat to live to be twenty years old. But as they age, new challenges arise in keeping them healthy.
Like us, cats do show changes mentally and physically as they get older. Diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, arthritis, and cancer are more common in older pets, which is why preventative health care is important. Catching problems while they’re still small means they’re easier to treat.
You know your cat better than anyone else does. Be alert for small changes in your cat’s appetite, his activities, and his litter box habits. Is he sleeping more or less? Watch for lumps or any unusual bleeding, too.
Chronic Renal Failure
Chronic renal failure (CRF) is probably the leading cause of death in senior cats. Renal failure means your cat’s kidneys are not working properly. Since your cat can function on as little as 30% of his kidneys before he shows any symptoms of kidney failure, most of his kidney function can be lost before you realize what’s going on. And there’s not much that can be done at that point.
Symptoms of CRF include:
- Excessive urination
- Increased thirst
- Vomiting, nausea, and gagging
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle wasting, weight loss
- Poor hair coat
- Lethargy, weakness, depression
- Ammonia smell on breath
The best way to treat CRF is to prevent it. If your cat is age seven or older, it’s a good idea to check for CRF during each annual exam, with a blood test, urinalysis and blood pressure measurement.
The Feline CRF Information Center is an excellent resource for owners of cats with CRF.
Diet and Digestion Issues
Your older cat will tend to lose some of the weight he may have put on when he was middle-aged. This is because senior felines don’t digest or absorb fat as well as younger cats do. Your kitty may need cat food specially formulated for older cats to be more digestible for them. Innova Senior Dry Cat Food and Newman’s Own Organics Advanced Cat Formula are both highly recommended to help keep your older cat healthy.
Another issue your kitty may face is constipation. As he gets older, food moves through his digestive tract more slowly than it used to. Hairballs can become a serious problem for an older cat who is constipated.
Constipation can be prevented by making sure your kitty is drinking plenty of water, especially if he’s eating dry food. Inactivity can also contribute to constipation, so play with your cat every day, and make sure he’s staying active. Some senior cats suffer from arthritis; keep reading for tips on dealing with this condition.
Skin And Coat Changes In The Older Cat
Some cats, especially black ones, may start sporting gray hair! Hopefully you’ve been in the habit of brushing your cat a couple of times a week. As your cat gets older, this becomes more important to prevent hairballs. Plus it’s a great way to check him for lumps or sores that aren’t healing.
If his fur is becoming dull and thin, supplementing with essential fatty acids can help keep his coat healthy and shiny. This will also prevent skin problems. Like us, as your cat ages, his skin will become thinner and less elastic, making him more prone to skin breaks. These injuries take longer to heal in older cats.
Your kitty’s nails may become brittle, too, so take care when clipping his nails. You may need to clip his nails more often, as older cats don’t use a scratching post as much as younger ones will.
Arthritis Can Be Painful For Your Older Cat
Your buddy may suffer from arthritis as he gets older, just like we humans do. He may start having problems jumping up in the window or going up and down stairs. If he hurts too much, he may stop moving around much, which is not good. Cats (and people) will lose muscle mass and tone if they don’t get enough exercise. And regular exercise will keep his heart and digestive system functioning well, too.
A supplement that contains glucosamine can help ease his aches and pains. Remember, don’t give your cat aspirin! Also avoid anti-inflammatory drugs or pain medication unless it’s precribed by your vet.
You can make life easier for your cat with arthritis by:
- Using a litter box with low sides to make it easier for your kitty to get in an out. You can even take a dishpan and cut an opening in the side for your cat. Leave an inch or so at the bottom to keep the litter in the pan.
- If your kitty sleeps in a cat bed, be sure there is a low opening so he can get in and out easily.
- If his litter pan is in the basement, you may need to relocate it if he’s having trouble getting up and down stairs. This will prevent accidents!
- If he’s having trouble getting up on the couch or bed, put a nice soft pillow or cat bed on the floor for him so he can be comfy without having to jump up on something.
Other Problems Your Older Cat May Face
- Dental problems – over 70% of older cats show signs of gum disease. Keep up with routine teeth cleanings at the vet’s.
- Decreased resistance to disease – your cat’s immune system and liver may not be functioning as well as it used to.
- Older female cats can develop tumors in their mammary glands. Sadly, 85% of these tumors are malignant. Watch for lumps on her mammary area, and be sure your vet checks her every year.
- Older cats are also at risk for hyperthyroidism and feline diabetes.
- Your kitty may be more sensitive to extremely high or low temperatures. Make sure he’s in a cool place during the summer, and a nice cozy spot during the winter.
- You may notice that he’s not hearing as well as he used to. If your cat is startling easily, he may not be able to hear you coming. Try clapping your hands or stomping on the floor as you approach him. Turning the lights on and off quickly several times before you go into a room will also alert him to your presence.
- He may gradually lose some of his vision as time goes on. However, a sudden vision loss is cause for a trip to the vet, as it may indicate other problems.
- Heart and lung problems can develop in elderly cats too.
- You may notice some behavior changes in your kitty as well. Older cats don’t deal with stress as well, so getting a new kitten may not be the best idea right now. If you’re thinking of a new kitten, do it while your old buddy can still get away from the kitten, still has good vision and hearing, and is relatively pain-free. Be sure your mature cat has a hidey-hole where the new kitten can’t bother him.
- Other cats may begin having problems with daily routines and start forgetting things.
- Your older cat may also have less energy. It’s important to make sure he’s getting enough exercise. Spend time playing with him every day.
With the right care, and lots of love, your senior cat can still have many happy, healthy years ahead of him!