Sometimes as we see little changes in our mature adult and senior cats, we are tempted to attribute those changes to simple aging. Old age is not necessarily a disease, however. In fact, many conditions or changes that our older cats go through can be diagnosed and treated appropriately, adding high quality to our feline companion’s lives. Below are common issues in our older cats and a brief explanation of what can be done to further explore, diagnose, and sometimes treat these issues:
Weight loss or changes in appetite:
Is your kitty looking a lot thinner lately? Can you feel or even see the shoulders, spine, or hips, but couldn’t before? Unexpected, unintentional weight loss in your cat should always be discussed with your veterinarian. Eating less (or more, but accompanied by weight loss) is a flag for us to start with an exam and lab work to rule out common senior feline diseases, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and kidney disease. Conditions that affect the liver, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or other primary or secondary gastrointestinal diseases should also be ruled out—sometimes we can diagnoses these issues through lab work and x-rays. Other times more advanced diagnostics such as x-rays, ultrasound, or endoscopy are required. Dental disease is another common issue for mature adult and senior cats and an exam should be done to make sure there are no signs of periodontal disease that would lead to weight loss or a decrease in appetite.
Changes in grooming:
Is your cat’s coat looking a little dull or unkempt? Are you dealing with mats that weren’t there before? Changes in grooming can mean many things including an underlying systemic issue, a weight issue where your cat can’t physically groom places they once were able to groom, or perhaps your kitty has physical pain such as arthritis that prevents them from grooming with ease. Grooming changes should always be addressed with your veterinarian. She or he can try to get to the bottom of the issue, and at the same time help provide at least short term relief by helping you select proper grooming tools and clipping off the mats that may be very uncomfortable or contributing to issues of hygiene.
Changes in mobility
Just like aging adults, cats will accumulate degenerative issues along the way that may affect their joints and spine. If your older kitty is in a lot of physical pain or showing any signs of limping when they move around, an exam and x-rays are always a good start towards diagnosing an underlying issue that we may be able to reverse or correct. Whether or not we find a reversible or chronic issue, the great news is that we have a lot of options to treat pain in our feline companions. Many prescription medications are available as well as supplements. At Westgate Pet Clinic we carry both Fish Oil, a good source of Omega-Fatty acids, and Glucosamine with Chondroitin Sulfate (there is both an oral and an injectable form). We also have rehabilitation services at Westgate provided by Dr. Teresa Hershey, and both Dr. Hershey and Dr. Catherine Hageman perform acupuncture for cats.
Changes in the litter box
Did you know that your cat’s litter boxes provide major clues about possible health issues that they may face? Cats that are developing or have diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or kidney disease may produce more urine and you might see a trend for larger or more urine clumps in the box or more visitation. Older cats are also more likely to experience urinary tract infections or bladder and kidney stones, and you may see more frequent urination, vocalization in the box, blood, or urine outside of the box. Stool volume or texture may also change as cats age. Less stool in the box, less frequent visits, smaller and harder stools, vocalization in the box, or stool outside of the box may indicate constipation or dehydration. More stool in the box, softer stools, or stools outside of the box may be an indication of pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, or other primary or secondary gastrointestinal issues.
Remember to try scoop litter boxes at least once daily. Scooping once daily allows you to see if there have been any changes in urinary or defecation habits, which can alert you and your veterinarians that there may be something to check on. Besides all the medical clues we can gain from a litter box, older cats are more likely to continue to use their boxes if the boxes are scooped at least once daily. They are also more likely to use their litter boxes if they are in locations that are easy for them to get to—perhaps the stairs going down to the basement are more difficult for them in older age and they need at least one box to be on the floor where they primarily spend their time. Litter type? Clumping litter continues to be the top preferred type of litter for cats in veterinary behavioral studies. Make sure the boxes in use are large enough for your cat to move around in them with ease (if they are having issues with mobility, navigating a small box may be more difficult) and that there is a lower side for them to comfortably get in and out of the box. Last but not least, the general rule of thumb for number of litter boxes in a household is one box per cat + one extra box.
Changes in interaction
As our cats age, they will start to sleep more and perhaps interact a little less than they did before with us or other pets in the household. If you note a change in how they are interacting, it is best to have your veterinarian perform and exam and check their current weight. Any changes on exam or even a small amount of unexpected weight loss may be a signal for us to check for common feline senior diseases, catching issues early before your cat develops other signs of illness. Although feline dental disease does not always lead to changes in activity level, many clients have commented that their cats have been more youthful and playful after a dental cleaning—checking teeth during the exam is always a top priority.