Old age happens to the best of us - even our cats. And as our cats enter into the golden age, they may have specific needs or problems that must be addressed. The aging process brings about a gradual decline in a cat's physical and sometimes mental abilities. Becoming aware of these issues allows an owner to provide the best possible care.
Not all cats age at the same rate. A cat's biological age depends upon genetic background, the quality of his diet, his general state of health and the quality of his living conditions. Research estimates that old age for cats begins somewhere between the 8th and 9th birthday.
Ideally, caring for the geriatric cat should focus on preventative measures. Whenever possible, it is better to prevent a problem from occurring, rather than to wait for a problem to develop. Detecting diseases in the early stages greatly improves the outcome. Different cats have specific risk factors that influence the diagnostic approach to geriatric medicine. Risk factors are characteristics of the breed, genetics, environment and life-style of your cat that may put him or her at greater risk of developing a particular disease or other age related changes.
Within the last few decades, advancements in veterinary medicine have caused a dramatic increase in the longevity of our pets. Today, cats are living longer and healthier lives. If there is a problem with your older cat, don't assume it is just because of old age, and that nothing can be done. With appropriate treatment, many conditions can improve. Your veterinarian may do the following to assess your cat's health and to maintain a healthy condition.
All cats should receive routine vaccinations as required by law (rabies) and vaccines that are appropriate for individual needs. Specific vaccines and frequency of administration may vary, and should be discussed with your veterinarian. Treating an older cat depends on the individual requirements or problems of your pet. The most common problems of geriatric cats are:
Home Care and Prevention
A periodic inspection of your pet, at home, may uncover potential problems. Make sure that your pet has clean, warm and protected living conditions, and provide easy access to clean fresh water.
Feed a good quality cat food that is appropriate for your cat's specific needs, and do not allow your pet to gain excessive weight. Discuss unexpected weight gain with your veterinarian. Based on a complete geriatric work-up, a prescription cat food might be advised. Groom your pet and, if possible, brush your cat's teeth regularly. Finally, follow your veterinarian's recommendations as to exercise, nutrition and any medications that may be needed.
Pets today are living longer and better quality lives than ever before. Many factors are responsible for this increase including improved nutrition, veterinary care and educated owners. This increased longevity means that there are more cats reaching an older age, and that owner's will be faced with the special demands and problems that become apparent with age.
Understanding the aging process and the most common problems that face the geriatric cat is the first step in providing the best possible care to your older animal. The main focus of geriatric health care is owner education and the early detection and prevention of disease.
It is important to realize that aging itself is not a disease; it is simply a stage of life. Increasing age causes a gradual decline in the body's ability to repair itself, maintain normal body functions, and adapt to the stresses and changes in the environment.
Many changes occur in cats as they age.
Most veterinarians recommend more frequent veterinary visits and additional diagnostic tests for geriatric animals in an effort to find the early stages of disease, before they become problems. Practicing prevention is always better than treating a disease already present. In the long run, preventive medicine improves quality of life, and is more cost effective than waiting for problems to appear. A well-educated and proactive owner is the first step in optimal senior cat care.
Many of these tests are recommended on geriatric cats even when they are feeling totally normal. The routine geriatric exam and accompanying diagnostic tests are recommended to ensure that the early stages of disease is discovered, and appropriate preventive measures and treatment plans instituted.
The most common diagnostic tests performed by your veterinarian as part of a complete geriatric work-up include:
The above represents the most routine diagnostic tests that your veterinarian may advise for your senior pet. Based on the history and physical examination findings, common additional testing might include:
At the end of the geriatric visit, a geriatric wellness assessment may be completed and given to the owner.
The treatment of the geriatric cat varies according to individual requirements and the problems found. The following is a list of the most common geriatric problems and their general treatment recommendations:
Additionally, on the basis of the geriatric work-up, special nutritional requirements or restrictions may be recommended. These diets attempt either to slow the development of the disease process, or improve specific organ function. Special diets for many diseases (even in the early stages) including kidney, liver, gastrointestinal, heart, dental and skin disease are available. Even diets for diabetes and cancer may be recommended. Proper nutritional management is a very important part of the care for your geriatric cat, especially since it is something that you have control over.
Optimal treatment for your pet requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your pet does not improve rapidly.