Anyone caring for an older cat knows how they tug at the heart strings. Cats are such independent, graceful creatures, whilst their ageing bodies make it hard to maintain that dignity. For example, stiff joints can make it difficult for an older cat to reach hard-to-get-to places when grooming, which leads to a dull, matted coat.
The truth is your older cat depends on you more than ever before to keep her comfortable and enjoy life. Indeed, simple things like clipping her claws can save the misery of ingrown toe nails. Which goes to show that ill health in older cats isn’t always about the big stuff, but also about attending to the details. And be reassured that many problems can be treated or controlled, so spotting a problem early is good news for your cat.
1. Purrs-onal Care
OK this isn’t an illness, but good coat care helps your cat to feel good about herself. A combination of arthritis and dental disease makes it tricky for older cats to groom. This leads to her coat becoming choked with shed fur (hairball alert!) and matts forming.
Avoid this by combing and brushing your cat every day and clipping claws once a month, to win her purr-petual gratitude.
Did you know that 90% of cats aged 12 or over have evidence of arthritis on x-ray?
Arthritis can affect any and every joint, including the spine. It can stop your cat from jumping up onto her favourite window ledge and makes grooming a chore.
It’s also a painful condition, so if your older cats moves stiffly and has changed her habits lately, then arthritis might be the problem. There are NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) licensed as safe for cats, and whilst these won’t turn her back into a kitten they will make life more comfortable.
PS. An arthritic cat doesn’t wear her claws down, so be doubly vigilant for overgrown nails.
OK, this is cheating a little because blindness is the symptom, and the cause is often high blood pressure. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is common but often goes unnoticed, which is a shame because it leads to complications such as sudden onset blindness.
Because of the lack of signs until something cat-astrophic happens, older cats should have their blood pressure routinely checked at least twice a year.
4. Dental Disease
A lifetime spent chomping on cat food can lead to the build-up of tartar, inflamed gums, and broken or missing teeth. If you’ve ever had toothache you’ll know how uncomfortable it is, but remember cats have limited ways of telling us they are in pain.
Most often their discomfort shows as poor appetite, bad breath, or suddenly becoming a messy eater. It’s understandable if you are reluctant to seek help for your cat’s dental disease (it’s natural to worry about anaesthetic risks) however, doing right by your cat means visiting the vet, and then talking through your concerns with an expert, rather than ignoring the issue and leaving your cat in pain.
5. Over Active Thyroid Glands
Hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid glands) wasn’t recognised as a condition until the 1980s, but is now accepted as a major cause of weight loss and poor body condition in older cats.
Too much thyroid hormone revvs up the metabolic rate, causing cats to burn calories at a furious rate. You might recognise the symptoms as a skinny cat with a ravenous appetite, who is also very vocal and demands attention. Unfortunately hyperthyroidism strains all the organs and causes heart disease and liver failure, but the upside is there are several different treatment options.
6. Diabetes Mellitus (sugar diabetes)
There is an increased risk of diabetes in cats that invest their whole life in eating and sleeping, and are coach potatoes as a result. The signs include drinking loads and flooding the litter tray, along with a good appetite but weight loss.
The crucial thing to realise about diabetes is that early treatment can sometimes put the cat into remission and they revert to being non-diabetic. So don’t delay, get to a vet at your earliest suspicion.
7. Kidney Disease
Kidneys wear out over time and filter toxins less effectively. The sheer old age of many of our cats means they have tired kidneys, but the deterioration is often slow and cats receiving treatment for kidney disease can live for months or years after diagnosis.
8. Persistent Tummy Upsets
Older cats are prone to diarrhoea as a result of inflammatory bowel disease. This condition means the bowel wall is less tolerant of foods it once digested with ease, and the result is litter tray armageddon.
Get this looked into (who wants all those dirty litter boxes) because a combination of diet adjustment and medication can control the issue. Unfortunately, another cause in older cats of persistent diarrhoea is bowel cancer, so yet another good reason for a vet check.
9. Cognitive Dysfunction
Last but not least, the brain ages just as the body does. Cats can suffer ‘cognitive dysfunction’ which is a form of feline Alzheimer’s which affects their behaviour. Typically, these cats are easily confused and tend to shout about it (meaning they are very vocal, especially at night.)
Whilst there is no cure for brain ageing, there are food supplements and medications which can slow down deterioration and make the most of the brain power they have.
And finally, be aware that quality of life is everything for an older cat. Do your bit to help your cat enjoy a dignified old age, by tending to their personal needs and seeking help when necessary, safe in the knowledge that many conditions are treatable.
Do you have an older cat? What steps do you take to ensure your cat’s senior years are as comfortable as possible?