The percentage of aging household cats has increased significantly over the last decade. While the aging process may induce certain physiological changes that may complicate the health care management of pets, age itself is not a disease. In fact, many conditions attributed by the owner to “old age” are actually treatable conditions that, with appropriate and timely medical intervention, can be controlled, if not cured, so that the cat’s quality of life is significantly improved.
Signs of Illness
Some examples of behavioral changes and other health problems that are often attributed solely to old age, but instead may be associated with a treatable disease are inappropriate elimination; changes in attitude; activity or mobility; weight gain or loss; or an alteration in eating or drinking habits. These changes may be slight and develop slowly, therefore, it is important to observe your cat closely so that even the most vague changes will be noted.
Routine Veterinary Care
With younger cats, routine yearly visits to the veterinarian are recommended for health maintenance. An aging cat, however, needs more frequent routine monitoring (every six months) by the veterinarian, since changes associated with aging and disease progression can occur within a relatively short time. Also, cats are particularly good at hiding illness; a cat with significant disease can appear healthy to the owner. Be sure to tell your veterinarian about anything that seems abnormal with your cat, even if the sign seems vague and unimportant. Your veterinarian will also need a record of any current prescription or nonprescription medicines being administered, all foods being fed (don’t forget to count treats), and nutritional supplements.
Diseases of the Aging Cat
Some treatable diseases that may commonly occur in aging cats are hyperthyroidism, chronic renal failure, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowel disease, cognitive dysfunction, and cancer.
With the popularity of cats and the increasing age of the feline population, the incidence of cancer has also increased. The good news is that some recent advances in feline cancer treatment have improved response rates and quality of life, and increased survival times in many patients. As with human cancer, early diagnosis and treatment increases the chance for curing the disease. The Veterinary Cancer Society has developed the following list of signs which may indicate cancer:
- Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow.
- Sores that do not heal.
- Weight loss.
- Loss of appetite.
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening.
- Offensive odor.
- Difficulty eating or swallowing.
- Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina.
- Persistent lameness or stiffness.
- Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating.
If your cat should develop any of the above signs, report them promptly to your veterinarian. While they may be due to other problems or diseases and do not necessarily mean your cat has cancer, early diagnosis and treatment is important.
regardless of the disease state.
A caring and observant owner teamed with a compassionate veterinarian and other health care team members can make your cat’s senior years “golden.”
Did you know that…
According to a recent survey, overall pet ownership has increased during the 1980s and 1990s; however some substantial shifts in the types of pets owned have occurred. The dog population appears to be stable or is increasing only slightly. The cat population has increased substantially as compared to the dog population. Most interesting is the increase in the number of households owning nontraditional pets, such as birds, fish, rabbits, ferrets, and reptiles.