With advancements in veterinary medicine happening frequently, cat longevity and quality of life are increasing as well. While this wonderful news means you can enjoy your cat longer than ever, it also increases the demand for quality senior cat care. Fortunately, care plans to treat older cats are developing rapidly, and most vets are now well-versed in addressing the special needs of our senior furry friends. Our experienced veterinarians in Raleigh can help you navigate your cat’s health as they enter their golden years.
What To Expect
Though cats age differently and at different rates throughout their lifetimes, cats are considered senior cats at 7-10 years old. Even if your cat seems healthy, adopting a senior-cat preventive medicine schedule will give your cat the building blocks for increased longevity.
The Importance of Regular Veterinary Care for Your Older Cat
Cats age, on average, seven times faster than we do. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends that healthy older cats be examined every six months by their vet. That is equivalent to us going to our doctor every three to five years! Senior comprehensive exams should include annual or biannual baseline bloodwork and urine screens in order to catch some of the more common medical changes as quickly as possible. Others may need additional diagnostics such as blood pressure measurement, ECG, and X-rays based on individual history and overall health status. Routine medical care and checkups will also screen for conditions such as dental problems, allergies, and the detection of potential illnesses. Cats can appear well even when they are ill. Their diseases can be hidden quite well. So it is important that they be examined periodically as they age to detect problems as early as possible for better disease management and quality of life.
Your Harmony veterinarian will focus on these health areas at your check-ups:
Signs of illness in cats can vary depending on the issue, but listlessness, vomiting, loss of appetite, excessive itching, improper urination or defecation, and eye discharge can all be signs of a health issue. So, if your cat is showing any of these signs or is injured, take him to the vet immediately.
And just like aging humans, senior cats experience increases in the following:
- Muscle and joint ailments (stiffness, weakness, decreased activity)
- Senility and brain disease
- Liver disease
- Kidney and urinary tract disease
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disease
While many senior cats live long, happy lives without experiencing symptoms of any of these ailments, knowing there are increased risks will help you and your veterinarian keep a close, watchful eye on any changes in your cat’s health. As with our own health, addressing problems in the earliest stages is crucial and desirable when intervention is most effective. Call us with any changes in your cat’s behavior. Particular attention should be given to the following:
- Sores that won’t heal
- New growths that you find or changing of old growths
- Lameness, stiffness, slowing down
- Changes in normal routines and habits (especially for cats)
- Urinary incontinence, changes in potty habits, or unusual “accidents” in the house
- Increased thirst
- Noticeable unexplainable weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in breathing (rate, rhythm, sounds)
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea, particularly with blood
- Apparent dizziness or fainting
- Confusion/disorientation/sudden inability to respond to simple commands
Though any of these alone or in combination is not an automatic sign of a serious illness, they all require immediate veterinary attention. We want to get your cat on the road to recovery as soon as possible and minimize the discomfort and additional consequences untreated illness can cause.
Senior cats’ immune systems tend to be more compromised compared to those of younger cats. Because of this, intestinal parasite preventive medications, as well as flea, tick, and heartworm preventative, are especially essential as cats age.
Problems with Urination or Elimination
Urinating or defecating in places other than the litter box can be caused by medical problems or behavioral issues. Medical problems often relate to urinary tract infections or cystitis (bladder inflammation), which are often associated with straining and pain, usually producing only a small amount of blood-tinged urine. Diarrhea can also be associated with elimination outside the litter box.
If your cat is straining to urinate or not urinating at all, please contact us at Harmony Animal Hospital immediately, as this behavior could be due to a blockage, which can sometimes be life-threatening.
Diet and Nutrition
Older cats may need specially formulated food to help them digest more easily and optimize their overall health based on their medical needs. Weight gain and weight loss are both concerning changes for any cat. You should keep a close watch on your cat’s weight, as rapid gains and losses can be both a sign and a cause of potential health concerns.
Obesity is a widespread problem in older cats, as it is in all older pets. Excess weight adds stress to the body and puts your cat at greater risk for diabetes, liver problems, and joint pains, to name a few. At Harmony Animal Hospital, we know that keeping older cats at their ideal weight can be challenging. We can work with you on adjusting your cat’s quantity of food and ensuring the food provides balanced nutrition.
Provide Fresh Water
Senior cats need to stay properly hydrated. Cats love fresh (moving) water. Having wide, large water dishes and changing the water regularly will help keep your cat interested. Senior cats who don’t get sufficient water most commonly develop urinary tract infections and other health problems. If you want to encourage your cat to drink, providing an electric water fountain will keep the water circulating and tempting.
Dementia, also called cognitive dysfunction, with similar roots to Alzheimer’s disease, has been reported through clinical findings in cats. Monitoring your cat for signs of behavior changes, loss of training habits, and disruptions to regular routines is vital. Give your cat plenty of mental and social stimulation to help stave off age-related senility. Diet changes, supplements, and medications are also available to help your cat with mental health issues.
Your senior cat may need environmental changes in the home and yard, such as steps to climb on beds and other furniture, non-slip rugs for slick surfaces, sleeping areas on the ground floor, and less free range outside. Advanced adaptations are available for cats with physical disabilities.
Arthritis is a common ailment in cats of all ages, even adolescents, though we tend to see it more in aging cats. For cats with arthritis, it tends to be worse in colder months. If left untreated, it can be very painful. As cats get older, most will experience joint stiffness, just like people. Offering your cat health-appropriate exercise will help keep their joints loose and make mobility easier. However, millions of cats suffer from these ailments because people don’t recognize the symptoms. Your veterinarian can help assess and give you the proper tools to monitor your cat’s mobility and help you intervene if needed. Remember that when cats are in pain, they don’t vocalize, so here are some of the things to look for:
- Abnormal gait and/or stiffness
- Difficulty or hesitation with jumping on furniture or during play
- Creaking or popping noises in joints
- Spinal issues (hunching)
- Muscle atrophy
If you see any of the above signs that concern you, give us a call to schedule a visit. There are many options. Our goal is to get your cat pain-free with a treatment plan that fits best with your lifestyle. We will do an exam and create a pain management and wellness plan. Treatments may include:
- pain medication
- laser therapy
- Adequan injections
- nutritional supplements
- physical therapy
- weight loss (if necessary)
Plan for the Future
As the best vets in Raleigh, we know that senior cat care is a combination of using preventive medicine and addressing issues as they arise. Though every cat’s health will change at different rates, Harmony vets use a series of guidelines to help you and your senior cat navigate potential challenges as they age and to prevent or slow the progression of serious health problems as much as we can.
Holistic Veterinary Medicine for Senior Cats
Although holistic veterinary medicine has been around for many years, it has become increasingly popular over the past two decades, with more and more vets embracing the practice. There are a couple of reasons for this.
One of the reasons for its popularity is that many cat owners have experience with Alternative Medicine themselves and are looking for less invasive ways to treat their cats. Although medications can heal, they also come with a number of secondary effects. While some health issues require traditional medication, this is not always true for every health condition. Many milder problems can be treated through less invasive therapies such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, and homeopathy. Even nutritional therapy can work wonders for specific health issues that don’t seem to respond to other forms of treatment.
If your cat is already undergoing traditional treatment for a health problem, holistic medicine can be used as an add-on, either to help relieve secondary effects or symptoms or to strengthen the immune system so the healing occurs faster. Click here to learn more about Harmony’s holistic veterinary medical offerings and philosophy as it pertains to your senior cat.
Your senior cat can have many years ahead, and we know you want them to be enjoyable. So do we. With a combination of preventive care and early intervention, we can help your cat’s later years be as happy and healthy as possible. There are many simple, non-invasive, and financially feasible options to keep your senior cat comfortable. Harmony Animal Hospital is here to help guide you through your cat’s golden years. Call us to schedule an appointment for your senior cat today.