In Part 1 of our blog on Aging Cats I outlined several things to watch for at home as well as a list of reasons older cats require routine veterinary care. I wanted to take the time to fully explain each of these points so that, as a cat lover, you can truly appreciate and understand how best to take care of your feline companion.  At Westway Animal Clinic we take pride in our approach with pet owners; we work together to ensure pets have healthy and happy lives. You will see two lists below; things to watch for at home, and things to regularly monitor with your veterinarian. If you notice any changes in your cats habits or overall health please don’t hesitate to contact us. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – early detection is key!

 

Here are things to watch for at home

 

1. Loss of appetite/Picky eaters

  • As their sense of taste declines, their desire to eat and interest in eating may wax and wane
  • Issues with oral health, both teeth and gums, can result in a change in eating habits
  • Try changing textures, temperature, flavours and food amounts (small portions more frequently) to increase your cats’ interest in eating

 

2. Vomiting, Diarrhea or Constipation

  • On top of trying variations of texture, flavours etc. with food, choosing a highly digestible diet is also important
  • Aging may result in an inability of the gastrointestinal (GI) system to properly absorb nutrients from food and so highly digestible foods allow for the cat’s GI system to work with less effort – talk to the Westway team about which food is best for your pet
  • Symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea or constipation should always be taken seriously as these can indicate a more significant issue with the GI tract, pancreas and/or liver

 

3. Hearing loss

  • Hearing is often affected with age and is often why cats will vocalize more frequently or with greater intensity
  • Hearing issues also result in a cat sleeping more deeply and being startled more easily

 

4. Vision Impairment

  • Owners will often notice a bluish grey cloudiness in the center of the pupil (“cataracts”)
  • Although cats often lose their ability to focus properly, this is something they compensate for and is not easy to pick up on (it is occasionally more obvious with outdoor cats – especially if they are hunters and need to have pinpoint accuracy)

 

5. Coat, nails and skin health

  • Older cats groom less due to a lack of energy or increased discomfort from arthritic conditions or dental disease which means they will often look unkept; shedding more and becoming matted more readily (you may also see an abundance of dry skin flakes)
  • Matted fur as well as longer nails can cause significant discomfort as the matts will pull on the skin and the nails will make walking difficult (especially in a cat that already has mobility issues) – the Westway Animal Clinic team is happy to help owners with keeping nails short by either helping with routine nail trims or teaching pet owners how to trim nails at home
  • Over time, skin becomes thinner and loses elasticity; this makes our assessment of hydration in an older cat more difficult as well as causing increased itchiness associated with dry skin and more friable (easily torn/injured) skin
  • The lustre and overall quality of the coat may be compromised as a result of other medical conditions and a lack of proper nutrition (whether not eating enough, not eating food appropriate to their lifestage or not eating a consistent diet)

 

6. Metabolism

  • We tend to associate metabolism with how the body turns nutrients (food and drinks) into energy, but we don’t think about the fact that it is also our main source of heat
  • Older cats will have a slower metabolism and so have a tendency to feel cold
  • This is compounded by the fact that they have often lost weight/decreased muscle mass
  • You will notice your cat spending more time in warmer areas of your home and the best thing you can do for your older cat is create warm spots for them to “nest” and relax

 

 

Here are things to regularly monitor with your veterinarian

 

1. Immune System

  • With age, their ability to fight disease decreases, making them more susceptible to diseases and infection
  • Ensuring they are protected from common diseases and parasites through vaccinations and anti-parasitic treatment will assist their bodies in “battling the elements”
  • Performing routine senior wellness exams is a very important part of caring for a senior cat as cats do everything they can to hide symptoms of disease, including pain, which can lead to undetected problems or detection only at a later, more advanced, progression of disease

 

2. Cardiovascular Health

  • Cardiac (heart) disease is quite common in older cats though, difficult to detect at home until the disease is fairly advanced
  • You may notice an increased respiratory/breathing rate, weight loss or lethargy – unfortunately, these are symptoms for several different conditions and would not confirm a diagnosis of heart disease
  • Several other conditions, like hyperthyroidism, can cause changes in the heart muscle and increase blood pressure (hypertension)
  • It is very important to have your cats’ blood pressure checked every 6 months to a year as an indicator of significant medical issues – checking blood pressure is a routine part of all senior feline exams at Westway Animal Clinic

 

3. Respiratory Health

  • Over time the lungs can lose their ability to properly expand and contract; this combined with weakening of the chest wall muscles means that there is a reduction of the total amount of air being inhaled/exhaled, leading to chronic respiratory diseases
  • Lung cancer (pulmonary neoplasia) becomes more common as cats age and pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) is a common result of heart disease
  • Any changes in your cats’ respiratory (breathing) rate or a cough of any kind should be investigated immediately

 

4. Musculoskeletal System

  • In cats, arthritis is difficult to diagnose as lameness is not a common symptom and cats hide pain well (as we have discussed in previous blogs – chronic pain is challenging to diagnose in cats)
  • Muscle mass reduces with age – cats who are less active (sleeping more, playing and jumping less) lose muscle tone
  • Sleeping more means it is more difficult to identify and assess mobility issues
  • Inactivity also means cats may not use their scratching posts as often and so monitoring their nail length is a must (remember – long nails can cause multiple issues – we can help you with that)

 

5. Oral Health

  • Dental disease is very common issue in aging cats as, they don’t brush their teeth!
  • Some cats will exhibit a change in eating routines or show signs of facial pain (pawing at their mouth, vocalizing, not wanting to chew their food) but most will hide their discomfort – especially because they are food motivated and don’t want a little pain to get in the way of a good meal
  • Thorough dental examinations and an oral assessment can help to identify issues before they become serious – gingivitis (bleeding, swollen and/or infected gums) can cause infection throughout the body as bacteria from the mouth enters the bloodstream

 

6. Urinary System/Kidney Health

  • Over time, kidneys shrink in size resulting in a reduction in their efficiency
  • The kidneys filter the blood, help to maintain blood pressure and also dilute the urine
  • Kidney and urinary disease are very common in cats – especially as they age – and early detection is critical to overall health as urinary and kidney infections/disease can be fatal (changes in drinking habits are an important symptom and should be taken seriously)
  • If caught early, diet and medication can be used to treat and/or maintain health