As cat owners, we all want our pets to live long, healthy, and happy lives. When they approach their senior years (age 10+), we naturally want to give them the special care they need. Here we’ll take a look at some of the most common health problems experienced by senior cats and offer some tips on diagnosis and management.
Like many senior humans, cats also experience arthritis. In cats over the age of 12, the clinical signs of arthritis are often visible on x-ray, though the symptoms may vary widely from animal to animal. Stiffness and joint pain are the most common symptoms of arthritis, and these may manifest as unwillingness or hesitancy to jump or climb stairs, reduced or incomplete grooming, and urinating or defecating outside the litter pan. If you suspect arthritis in your cat, check with your veterinarian. Effective treatments include non-steroidal medications to reduce inflammation, pain, and weight loss (in obese cats) to reduce stress on load-bearing joints.
Older cats often experience dental or periodontal problems. Without regular teeth cleanings, tartar can build up on your cat’s teeth, increasing the chances of dental problems, which can make eating painful. Cats experiencing mouth pain will often pick up kibble then drop it, or they may reduce the amount of food they eat. If you suspect dental disease in your cat, see your vet. And even if your senior cat seems healthy, a dental cleaning can help them avoid periodontal disease later in life.
Vision problems, particularly cataracts, are common in senior cats. You may notice that your pet’s eyes seem cloudy or that their pupils are dilated. As in humans, cataracts can dramatically impair vision. In some severe cases, surgical removal of the cataract is performed. Your veterinarian can help determine the best course of action.
Cats depend on their hearing to alert them to danger, meal times, or play. Similar to humans, hearing loss is common in senior cats. These problems can be addressed by making a few simple adaptations at home. Some hearing-impaired cats learn to respond to hand signals or vibrations (such as the stomping of a foot). Switching to more aromatic wet food will help alert them to mealtimes as well.
The thyroid is a gland that secretes hormones to regulate metabolism. In older animals, the gland can become hyperactive—secreting too much stimulating hormone. This can result in excessive appetite, restlessness, and irritability. Untreated thyroid disease can cause increased heart rate and high blood pressure, which may become serious health problems themselves. If you suspect thyroid disease in your cat, ask your veterinarian about medications that can help manage the condition without the need for surgical intervention.
Kidney and Urinary Tract Disease
Kidney problems are all too common in senior cats. Unfortunately, kidney failure is a progressive and irreversible condition—however, there are medications and dietary treatments that can prolong kidney function well into your cat’s senior years. In male cats over 7 years of age, you should also be aware that urethral blockage can be an issue. If your male cat seems to have trouble urinating, urinates infrequently, or seems hunched over in pain while attempting to urinate, take him to the veterinarian immediately. Surgical unblocking of the urethra is a routine procedure, but failure to seek treatment promptly can result in permanent kidney damage, uremia, or even death.
As in humans, diabetes affects a cat’s ability to process sugars and can lead to more severe health problems such as pancreatic disease. Cats that are overweight and sedentary are at greater risk for diabetes. Symptoms include increased thirst and urination, vomiting, weight loss, and changes in gait. Check with your veterinarian if you suspect diabetes in your cat, as insulin therapy can be effective.
Feline cancers affect 30% of cats over 10 years of age. Among the most common types is lymphosarcoma. Symptoms include weight loss, decreased appetite, lumps that do not go away, sores that are slow to heal, body odor, and lameness. If you suspect cancer in your senior cat, see your veterinarian immediately.
In cats, health problems can emerge slowly making them hard to detect, so make sure you're prepared with cat health insurance. It’s important to recognize the early signs and symptoms, so if you recognize any of the signs above in your senior cat, contact you veterinarian.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.