BY DR. MARTY BECKER
Doesn’t it seem just like just yesterday that your cat was a crazy kinetic kitten? One of the blessings of cats is that age seems to creep up on them gently — so much so that it may be difficult for us to notice that they really are getting older and have developed some of the common health problems of old age.
Among the challenges of advancing age in cats are arthritis, cancer, cognitive dysfunction,dental disease, failing vision, hearing loss, heart disease, hyperthyroidism and kidney disease. Though these health problems are inevitable in most cases, veterinarians and pet owners can work together to help cats stay comfortable and contented, rather than growing creaky and cranky. Let’s take a look at some of the conditions you may see in your senior cat and how they can be treated or managed.
Senior Cat Health Issues
It was long thought that cats didn’t get arthritis, but that’s not true. According to feline veterinary specialist Dr. Arnold Plotnick, studies have shown that 90 percent of cats 10 years of age and older are likely to have radiographic signs of arthritis. They are especially prone to this painful degenerative joint disease if they are allowed to become overweight or obese. Suspect arthritis if your cat no longer wants to go up or down stairs or jump on or off furniture, has difficulty grooming himself, pees outside the litterbox because it’s difficult for him to climb inside, or seems stiff after standing up.
If you notice these signs in your cat, talk to your veterinarian about ways to relieve those achy joints. Though there aren’t a lot of medications available for arthritic cats, they may benefit from nutritional supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin. Other ways to potentially help provide pain relief are acupuncture and massage.
Cats tend to be less prone to cancer than dogs: Fifty percent of all dogs and 30 percent of all cats over the age of 10 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer, Dr. Heather Wilson, assistant professor of oncology at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, says. The most common type of cancer seen in cats is lymphosarcoma.
Take your senior cat to the veterinarian immediately if you notice any of the following warning signs of cancer: appetite loss or unintentional weight loss; lumps or bumps that increase in size, sores that don’t heal, or bleeding or other discharge from the mouth, nose, or anus; unusual body odor, lack of energy, difficulty eating or swallowing, unexplained lameness that doesn’t improve; or difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating.
Does your cat prowl at night, howling as if he’s lost his best friend? Forget where his litterbox is or get “stuck” in corners? Seem to not know who you are? He may be suffering from cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), or feline senility. It’s a degenerative change in the brain that can cause your cat to become anxious, forgetful or confused.
Fortunately, cats with CDS can sometimes be managed with medication, environmental changes and behavior modification techniques. Your veterinarian should check him out to make sure his symptoms aren’t caused by another health problem, such as arthritis or a urinary tract infection. Once those are ruled out, your vet can prescribe medications that may help. You can make it easier for him to use the litterbox by providing steps to it or cutting out a section so he can walk right into it.
Structure and routine will also help your senior cat maintain good mental function. Feed him at regular times, have a daily play date and give treats at a certain time. The more your cat can anticipate good times, the better he’s likely to respond.
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