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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?
Humphrey is 17 and half now and slowing down, thanks for sharing common things to look for…. we will be monitoring him under a microscope henceforth.
Kimberly Marie Freeman says
Thankfully never had a cat suffer with these issues- only crystal build up. But now know what to look out for
I hadn’t realized that high blood pressure could cause blindness in cats – good to know they need regular checkups to prevent this as they get older!
Watching a cat grow old can be so difficult! I have actually not owned a senior cat until now and he is barely a senior (10 years old). I will diligently be watching for the signs of disease in him. So far, so good. They take good care of me with my crazy up and down health too.
Miss Molly Says says
GREAT information!!!! It is so hard to tell sometimes, but we truly need to know what to watch for. Cats are such private creatures. So, thank you!!!
Sweet Purrfections says
I guess I can say I was luck with Sweet Praline. She didn’t have any of the “normal” problems or diseases that seniors get until she developed the cancer in her digestive system at 15 years.
Talent Hounds says
Nala made it to 17.5 in late 2014 – she did have arthritis and kidney disease just at the end.
Our Charlie had hyperthyroidism. It was managed with medication until she left us at nineteen years of age.
We think our cat is 15 (he’s been us with for the last 13 years) and although he’s always been slow and sedate, he is slowing down even more and is late to his meals. I think he is losing his hearing. I’ll ask my vet if he needs a supplement or medication to help with arthritis.
About Pet Rats says
What a wonderful post! I’ve worked in veterinary hospitals for 20+ years and am so glad to see you’re helping get the word out that there are many things we CAN do to help ensure longer, healthier lives once our cats become seniors. Knowledge is power and you’re giving us the power in this post!
Cathy Armato says
Thanks for sharing all this helpful information. Getting old sucks, especially for our pets.
christycaplan (@christycaplan) says
Arthritis is so key for older cats and dogs. And both species do such a good job hiding how they feel. A great article — I love that you’re educating folks on this as so many of these diease processes can go months without big signs. Thanks!
Jana Rade says
Cats are very good at hiding their health problems. Knowing what to look for is crucial.
Fur Everywhere says
Great article! Unfortunately I have experience with many of these conditions – Jewel had terrible arthritis, kidney disease, and high blood pressure. Carmine and Lita both have arthritis, which we treat with Cosequin – it helps them a lot. 🙂
Thank you for the reminder to get Carmine’s blood pressure checked in June at his bi-annual exam. Jewel’s retinas were detaching due to high blood pressure, and it was really scary for her and me! Thankfully we were able to treat it in time and her retinas reattached. I would definitely recommend all senior cats get their blood pressure checked regularly as well.
The Daily Pip says
We have experienced several of these over the years – mostly kidney disease and thyroid issues. Great post.
Very informative post. My old kitty passed from kidney failure he lived to a ripe old age of 18 years old. We did a lot of the senior care threw our vet. Thankfully he was very healthy until the end of his life. This is a great post for anyone with older kitties.
Dog Mom Days says
My Joey is only 6 but I really worry about him getting arthritis because he has a joint disability. I have him on supplements but he isn’t always good about taking them. I need at least another 10 years out of him!
Three Chatty Cats says
This is a great post – so informative! I had no idea that 90% of cats over 12 have evidence of arthritis. I will definitely be watching for all these items listed here as my kitties age. Thank you!
Tenacious Little Terrier says
According to some vets, Mr. N is a senior now. I started giving him a joint supplement but haven’t made any other changes yet.
Thank you for the great post! My cats are 6 and 7 now and they are probably the oldest kitties we’ve had so far. When I was a kid, all of our kitties were indoor/outdoor and they didn’t have long lives. Now that I’m an adult and am able to make my own decisions, our cats are completely indoor only. Knowing what to expect with senior kitties is definitely important!
Most of my 14 cats are seniors and 3 are on thyroid meds.
Rosa Silva (Cat Lady Confidential) says
Thanks for such an informative post. My cat is not a senior yet (he’s7 years old), but I know I have to prepare for his senior years.
Binga and Boodie are doing amazingly well for seniors, especially Binga, who is over 15-1/2 and is still able to whap with the best of them! Both she and Boodie have no problem leaping up onto the bed at night to sleep with the humans. We consider ourselves fortunate.