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Senior Cats

black catSenior Cat Health Screen

For all cats over ten years, we are offering a new health screen which we hope will help them live much longer.

High blood pressure is a silent killer in many cats causing damage to the kidneys, blindness through retinal detachment and heart disease. Cats are often presented when the damage is already done.

By measuring blood pressure and testing a urine sample we can screen for diabetes, early renal disease, hypertension and lower urinary tract infections.

Looking After Senior Cats

The average lifespan of a cat is 12 – 14 years of age but we see some feline patients in their 20’s.  The table below gives an idea of the equivalent human age for your cat

Life stage

Age in cat years

Age equivalent in human years

Senior

11

60

12

64

13

68

14

72

Geriatric

15

76

16

80

17

84

18

88

19

92

20

96

When a cat is brought to us for a consultation or vaccination this is an important opportunity to give them an examination and to discuss their health with their owners. This is important for all the animals that we see but even more so as they enter their senior years.

Although they can seem very well cats can often hide signs of illness until they are feeling very unwell. As small lone hunters in the wild, without a pack to protect them, it is a real disadvantage to show weakness.

With cats that spend time outdoors it can also be hard to be certain of changes in their eating, drinking and toileting habits. Reduced activity in older cats can also be easily attributed to old age rather than to any medical problems which could be underlying.

Senior cats are also much more likely to develop several serious medical conditions. Some of the diseases we need to be alert to with older cats are listed below

Chronic renal failure

Sadly kidney function in cats deteriorates through life with roughly 7.5% of cats over 10years of age developing chronic renal failure, rising to 20 – 50% of cats over 15 years of age.

The signs of this can include weight loss, increased thirst, reduced appetite and halitosis but often these signs do not become obvious until the disease is more advanced. We use urine and blood tests to assess renal function.

Caught early on in the process we can make changes to their diet to reduce the work load of the kidneys. We can also look out for the side effects of kidney disease, such as high blood pressure, anaemia and protein loss in urine, and manage them.

While we cannot ‘cure’ renal failure we can try to stabilise and manage it to give patients a good quality of life for as long as possible.

Diabetes mellitus

Diabetes mellitus – is common in cats over the age of 10 years. The hormone insulin produced by the pancreas is important to control blood sugar levels and allow animals to use the sugars that they digest for energy in their body.

As cats age, particularly those that have been overweight, their insulin stops being as effective at this job. Their pancreas produces more and more until it becomes exhausted no insulin is available to control the cats blood sugar.

High sugar levels in their blood pass out into their urine, taking water with it, leaving them with an increased thirst to replace this water.

Although they have lots of sugar in their blood their body is unable to use it so they are often very hungry despite losing weight.

Diabetes can be managed with diet changes and daily insulin injections by owners giving these cats a good quality of life.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism – an overactive thyroid is diagnosed in roughly 9% of cats over 10 years of age. Excess thyroid hormone speeds up metabolism causing weight loss despite an increased appetite.

It also causes thickening of the heart muscle and increased heart rate, which can eventually lead to heart failure if left untreated.

Other signs of an overactive thyroid include increased thirst, a swelling in the neck (goitre), overgrooming and muscle weakness. Diagnosis requires a blood test to measure thyroid hormone.

There are a variety of treatment options including tablets, surgical removal, iodine restricted diets and radioiodine therapy.

Hypertension

Hypertension – approximately 13% of cats over 9 years of age suffer from high blood pressure which untreated can lead to kidney damage and loss of sight.

Whilst high blood pressure can be a problem in its own right it can also be a sign or complication of other diseases including chronic renal failure, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, heart conditions and a hormonal condition called Conn’s Syndrome.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis – used to be though of as a condition of dogs alone but now is increasingly recognised in senior cats. Most commonly affected joints include the neck, elbows, hips and stifles.

In addition to stiffness that you would expect owners may notice reduced activity, unkempt coat from lack of grooming, pain on stroking and difficulty getting into the litter tray.

Treatments to reduce discomfort can make a real difference to quality of life in arthritic cats.

Glucosamine joint supplements are available and also the anti-inflammatory meloxicam is licensed for cats with osteoarthritis.

Dental disease

Dental disease – cats can develop problems with excess tartar and gingivitis in the same way as dogs, which become worse with age.

They also have a unique dental problem known as ‘neck lesions’ where small holes develop in their enamel and eventually deepen to affect the sensitive part of the tooth.

These lesions can be very painful but for the reasons discussed earlier few cats show obvious signs of dental pain.

Neck lesions can also be hard to see for an owner as they can be under the gum line or beneath tartar. Affected teeth need extraction under general anaesthetic to relieve discomfort.

Dental disease is also important as it has been linked as a contributing factor to kidney disease.

Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy – heart problems can develop at any age in cats as a primary condition but later on in life can often be secondary to other problems such as an overactive thyroid or hypertension.

As a lot of older cats have reduced activity levels any signs of heart problems can be hard to appreciate for an owner until it is fairly advanced.

If the vet hears abnormal sounds or rhythms when listening to your cat they may recommend further tests such as an ultrasound scan of the heart.

The most common problem is a thickening of the heart muscle which can initially be without external signs but eventually lead to heart failure and clots developing in the heart. While there is no treatment currently which can prevent or delay heart failure we can use medication to prevent clots in patients that are at risk.

We can also give owners information on the signs to look out for to suggest the heart is starting to deteriorate.

In addition to being more prone to these diseases it is also recognised that older cats often suffer from a combination of them. The conditions discussed above can present serious issues for anaesthesia which is why we advise pre-anaesthetic blood tests in older patients.

Other more specific tests such as thyroid testing and heart scans may be advised if the vet feels further investigation is needed for a patient. More information on all of these diseases is available on the owners section of the international cat care website (www.icatcare.org)

By identifying any underlying problems early we hope that we can treat or manage them to give our elderly feline patients longer and more comfortable lives.