The veterinary community has named November as Senior Pet Health Month. Advances in medicine, nutrition, and overall lifestyle have allowed our feline friends to live longer than they have historically. Each cat is different and deserves a plan tailored for them and their specific needs.
It has been estimated that the first year of a cat’s life equals approximately 16 years in human time. At the age of 2 years, they are equivalent to a 21-year-old young adult. After that, your cat age about 4 years per every human year.
As with anything you read on the internet, always consult your veterinarian to before making changes to your cat’s health and treatment plan. More frequent veterinary care can be expected for senior pets. Increasing their visits to twice a year rather than once a year is recommended. Often the veterinarian recommends checking bloodwork, which can tell us more information than what we can see on the outside. Catching diseases early allows for easier, often less expensive and more successful treatment.
Common physical and behavioral changes in cats include:
- Weight gain (often due to less activity)
- Weight loss (often due to lack of appetite)
- Nodules or lumps under skin
- Hearing loss
- Vision loss (often starts with night vision)
- Health problems including arthritis, dental disease, heart disease, or reduced kidney function, or incontinence.
- Loss of appetite
- Increase or decrease in thirst
- Lethargy or loss of interest in exercise
- Difficulty breathing, especially after exercise
- Hesitation on stairs, to jump, or to get up
- Sudden aggression, fear, or anxiety
- Confusion, disorientation, wandering
- Lack of cleanliness, matting of fur
In the wild, cats are often prey. In order to survive, they must keep their weaknesses hidden. Our domestic cats may also hide their symptoms of aging or disease for this same purpose. Sharing observation of even the slightest changes can give your veterinary professional a hint to a possible deeper problem.
Common Health Problems and Their Symptoms:
- Arthritis- lameness, stiffness, trouble jumping or getting up
- Cancer- lumps, significant change in weight, extended abdomen
- Dental disease- lost teeth, gum inflammation, malodorous breath
- Diabetes- increased thirst and urination, sticky urine
- Heart disease- decreased exercise tolerance, weakness, coughing, gagging
- Incontinence- inability to hold their urine as long, urine or BM accidents, urinating while sleeping
- Kidney Disease- increased water consumption and urination
- Senility- Our pets can have “senior moments” just like us.
- Hyperthyroid- increased hunger, decreased weight
As your cat ages, their nutritional requirements also change. Food formulated for senior cats have reduced calories and fat, higher protein, and often include vitamins and supplements such as Glucosamine and Omega fatty acids. There is prescription food specifically tailored for health conditions such as kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, etc. The formulas can help alleviate the symptoms and/or slow the progression of disease.
What can I do at home?
- Nutrition/weight- Feed them a nutritional food and help them maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight can put more pressure on sore, arthritic joints.
- OTC Supplements- Adding Glucosamine, Omega fatty acids, fish oil, etc. to your pet’s diet can benefit many different body systems.
- Keep moving- Cats tend to nap a lot, but older cats may sleep even more. They may not want to engage in playing with toys. Try to engage them in shorter play sessions and supply them with stimulating toys to keep their mind sharp.
- Grooming- Grooming can become difficult due to pain, inability to reach, etc. You may need to step in and take over the grooming tasks; brushing, bathing, wiping after a BM.
- Steps/Ramps- If jumping up on the bed is too difficult, provide steps or life them. If stairs become too challenging, provide them with a ramp or carry them.
- Litterbox- Move their litterbox to the level of the house they occupy most, or supply one on each level. Arthritic cats may have trouble stepping in to the litter box; try one with shorter walls. Cats with senility issues may be unaware that they miss the box and urinate/defecate over the side; try a larger box.
- Food/Water Bowls- Cat owners often feed their pets on a counter or table to keep it away from their canine friends. For cats who have trouble jumping, changes to feeding spaces or times may need to be made to accommodate their weakness
- Observation- You know your pets best; you see them every day. Sharing your observations with your veterinarian may be the key to successful diagnosis and treatment.
How do you know when it is time?
This topic can be an entire blog in itself. In summary, you must be the voice for your pet. Sometimes they give you hints; not doing their normal routine, no longer enjoying their favorite things, and having more bad days than good days. Again, consult your veterinary professionals. We can help you understand your pet’s health issues and make an informed decision.
The Bemidji Veterinary Hospital team is here to help. We can discuss your cat’s individual needs and tailor a plan specific for them. Contact us a call at 751-2753.