Needs of the Older Cat
are individuals, and, like people, they experience old age in their
own individual ways. Fortunately, advances in feline health care have
helped to extend the cat's normal life span. Today, it is not unheard
of for cats to live to be twenty years old, although the average
feline life span is from twelve to fifteen years. Providing good
health care for your cat through all its stages of life is the best
means of assuring an optimum life span.
is a natural process, producing changes in body metabolism, hormone
balance, and sensory perception. There is an overall gradual decline
in the body's metabolic rate. Decreased drug tolerance, inability to
regulate body temperature, decreased caloric needs, and decreased
immunity to diseases accompany the decline. Progressive degeneration
of hormone-secreting organs (e.g., thyroids, adrenals, pancreas, and
kidneys) can result in associated diseases (e.g., hypo- or
hyperthyroidism, hypo- or hyperadrenocorticism, diabetes mellitus).
The ability to taste, smell, see, and hear also diminishes with age.
and behavioral signs may reflect some of these bodily changes.
Physical signs can include a cloudiness of the eyes; a thinning hair
coat; decreased tolerance of the cold; flabby skin; prominent spine
and hips; joint stiffness or lameness; graying of the muzzle; muscle
atrophy; and deafness. Behaviorally, the older cat is less tolerant
of environmental changes, sleeps more and is less active, and may
seem more irritable.
they reach eight or nine years of age, cats are more susceptible to
the diseases associated with aging. Therefore, it is advisable to
have older cats checked yearly or more often by a veterinarian. At
each visit samples of blood, urine, and feces may be taken for
laboratory examination. Also, keeping current on vaccinations helps
to protect your cat against panleukopenia (feline distemper),
respiratory diseases, feline leukemia, and rabies.
Care for the Elderly Cat
observation by the owner and quick veterinary attention when
required are important to the health of the older cat. Early
detection and early treatment of disease are particularly important
for older animals, since their resistance is often reduced.
changes may be necessary if the cat has developed diabetes, heart or
kidney disease, or obesity. Older cats lose their sense of smell,
which may affect their interest in food. Strong aromas may be
required to entice the cat to eat. To ensure proper nutrition, select
a cat food that states it is a "complete and balanced product
for maintenance" and that meets the requirements of the
Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), preferably by
veterinarian may also recommend vitamin and mineral supplements
according to the individual cat's needs. However, if a cat is
voluntarily eating a balanced diet, supplements are not necessary and
could even be counterproductive by destroying the nutritive balance
of the diet.
older cats are less active and have a reduced metabolic rate, many
tend to become overweight, and the owner must adjust the amount of
food to the cat's decreasing activity level. Progressive weight loss
also can be a very serious problem in an older cat; it may signal
kidney failure, presence of a tumor, diabetes mellitus, liver
disease, or other conditions. Therefore, owners should check their
pet's weight every few months and keep a record of any changes.
older cat becomes less agile as arthritis develops and muscles begin
to atrophy. Accordingly the cat will limit its physical activity.
However, regularly engaging your cat in moderate play can promote
muscle tone and suppleness, increase blood circulation, and improve
gastrointestinal motility. During times of exercise be alert to
labored breathing or rapid tiring that may suggest the cat has a
disease. It may be necessary to relocate food dishes and litter boxes
for cats with advanced arthritis and muscle atrophy.
brushing and combing removes loose and dead hairs before they can be
swallowed by the cat during self- grooming. Grooming thus minimizes
the formation of hair balls. Hair balls can cause problems for an
older cat because its gastrointestinal tract is often less motile,
favoring impactions and other obstructions. Brushing also stimulates
blood circulation and sebaceous-gland secretions in the skin,
creating a healthier skin and hair coat.
you are grooming your cat, you can also look for unusual lumps, skin
lesions, or external parasites. Unusual lumps or skin lesions should
be examined by a veterinarian for appropriate treatment. External
parasites can be controlled by treating the cat and its environment
with recommended pesticides.
cats may not use scratching posts as frequently to remove the outer
sheath of their claws. Therefore, nails should be checked weekly and
trimmed if necessary.
removal of plaque is a prime factor in preventing and controlling
dental disease. There is evidence that tartar formation is reduced 95
percent by daily cleaning and 76 percent by weekly cleaning. If your
cat has never had its teeth professionally cleaned or has a buildup
of tartar, it would be prudent first to schedule your cat for a
professional dental cleaning with a veterinarian before assuming the
dentistry consists of gently rubbing your cat's teeth and gums with
a piece of gauze or specially designed toothbrush soaked in a mouth
rinse or paste designed for cats, which are available through your
veterinarian. (Do not use human toothpaste, as it causes excessive
salivation in cats and if swallowed may cause digestive upsets.)
Tooth cleaning should be performed on a regular schedule so that it
becomes a habit for both you and your cat.
cats are usually less adaptable to changes in their environment.
Special provision should be made for an older cat that must be
boarded for a period of time. Having a familiar object, such as a
blanket or toy, may prevent the cat from becoming too distraught in a
strange environment. A better alternative, if possible, is to have
the older cat cared for at home by a neighbor, friend, or relative.
traumatic experiences for the older cat involve the introduction of
a new pet or moving to a new home. In both cases, the cat's territory
is drastically altered, thereby causing stress. However, some stress
can be alleviated by giving the older cat more affection and attention.
of Older Cats
aging process leaves older cats more susceptible to certain disease.
In particular, diseases resulting from organ degeneration and
dysfunction are more prevalent.
interstitial nephritis, resulting in scarred and shrunken kidneys,
is the most common cause of chronic kidney failure and death in the
older cat. Weight loss, increased thirst and urination, poor
appetite, bad breath, mouth ulcers, and occasional vomiting are
common signs of kidney disease. However, these signs typically do not
occur until after 70 percent of the kidney's functions are lost, and
they are related to the recirculation of wastes in the blood that are
normally removed by the kidneys. If unchecked, the buildup of toxic
wastes will prove fatal.
effects of kidney failure can be diminished, although not cured, by
medication and a reduced-protein diet, which produces fewer waste
products. Special dietary foods are commercially available and can be
obtained through a veterinarian. With the veterinarian's assistance
the owner may also be able to formulate a diet that will meet the
disabled cat's special requirements. As always(but even more so in
the case of kidney disease)clean, fresh water should be available to
the cat at all times.
cat's chances of developing cancer increase with age. An
accumulation of cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) in the body,
infectious-disease agents, or impairment of the immune system have
been blamed, in part, for the increased incidence of cancer in older cats.
feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is the cause of one of the most
threatening and common forms of cancer in cats, lymphosarcoma. The
virus is contagious among cats and is considered 100 percent fatal to
cats with persistent infections. Disease symptoms are varied but can
include anemia, fever, poor appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea
or constipation, depression, and labored breathing. Tumors associated
with feline leukemia virus commonly occur in the lymph nodes,
kidneys, and intestines of older cats. The tumors may not be apparent
to the touch but often can be revealed by blood tests, radiographs
(X-rays), and biopsy samples. Chemotherapy may cause a short-term
remission of the disease in some cats. However, because there is no
cure, and a painful end is inevitable, many veterinarians recommend
humane euthanasia for cats suffering from lymphosarcoma.
queens or females spayed late in life are more prone to the
development of mammary (breast) tumors. Unfortunately, about 85
percent of the tumors are malignant and are accompanied by early
metastasis to lymph nodes, liver, and lungs. Chemotherapy or surgical
removal of the tumor, although rarely curative, can be helpful in
treating some tumors, though the risks of associated trauma and side
effects may be greater in the aged cat.
is one of the most common ailments of older cats. Bulk-forming
agents, such as wheat bran, or other sources of fiber mixed with
commercial cat food can minimize hair-ball formation in the stomach
or intestine. However, surgical removal of obstructive hair balls may
occasionally be necessary. Regular use of hair-ball medications and
moist, bulky foods also should greatly help control constipation.
Neither laxatives nor hair-ball medications should be used more than
once a week unless recommended by a veterinarian, because they can
interfere with absorption of vitamins.
though diarrhea is not quite as common as constipation in older
cats, it may be a sign of disease, and a veterinary examination would
be in order.
are not prone to tooth decay, but they are very susceptible to
tartar build-up and resultant oral diseases such as gingivitis
(inflammation of the gums) and stomatitis (inflammation of the mouth
lining). Those problems may be more prevalent in cats fed primarily
soft diets and human foods. Signs of oral problems are bad breath,
excessive salivation, brownish-yellow tartar deposits, and difficulty
in eating or refusal to eat. In advanced cases of gingivitis, the
gums are red and swollen and very painful, the tooth sockets ooze
pus, and the teeth become loose and fall out.
irritations and wounds tend to heal more slowly in the older cat.
Also, nutritional deficiencies can occur in older cats that can
influence the health of the skin and hair coat.
older cat may experience chronic degeneration of muscles, joints,
and vertebral discs. Arthritis, manifesting itself as lameness,
stiffness, pain, and a reluctance to move, is common. Currently,
there is no way to prevent or cure arthritis in cats. However, there
are medicines that can alleviate the pain and discomfort of inflamed joints.
of the thyroids is one of the most common endocrine disorders in the
older cat. Hyperactivity, sudden weight loss, increased appetite and
stool volume, and increased fluid intake and urination are associated
with the disease. Fortunately, the disease is treatable by medical
therapy, radiation therapy, or surgery.