What are the considerations at different life stages?
Every cat is unique but certain health problems tend to arise in certain life stages. Some of these are highlighted in the following sections. The information here is by no means exhaustive, but it gives an idea of when certain problems more commonly occur, and what your vet may be looking out for during routine checks.
For further information on many of these problems please see the information on our main web site – www.icatcare.org
Senior (11 to 14 years) and Super Senior (15 years and above) cats
At these stages, several things can go wrong at the same time! However, many diseases are still very treatable, so don’t simply put any changes in your cat down to ‘old age’ and ignore them!
As cats get older, problems such as overactive thyroid glands, high blood pressure, kidney disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer, are more likely to develop. Cats can also suffer from the equivalent of senile dementia, where they may become confused, withdrawn, wander aimlessly and vocalise (meow) excessively. However, these signs can occur with other diseases too, so a full examination is always needed.
Older cats can become dehydrated and constipated. They may spend less time grooming, which can lead to coat and skin problems. Claws can become overgrown. Older cats may eat less because their sense of smell is not so good, or because they have teeth or gum problems. The cat’s digestive system may also not work so effectively and this may also contribute to weight loss. Older cats thus need to be monitored even more closely for signs of illness.
Cats need careful attention as they age and regular health checks help focus where additional attention may be required. While some older cats are predisposed to becoming dehydrated, diseases such as kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism may exacerbate this and feeding a wet (canned or pouch) food rather than a dry food will help to increase their water intake.
It will come as no surprise that chronic kidney disease, overactive thyroid, diabetes, arthritis and cancer are recognised as being among the ‘top 5’ significant conditions of Mature, Senior and Super Senior cats. Nevertheless, many of these illnesses and changes can be managed very successfully providing even Super Senior cats with a good quality of life.
To best care for your elderly cat, there are other ageing changes to be aware of. These include:
- Reduced vision and increased sensitivity to bright light, which can mean your cat is easily startled and takes longer to cope with any changes in the house, such as moving of furniture.
- Reduced hearing or deafness, which may cause your cat to be more easily startled by things it cannot hear approaching. Often deaf cats will also cry during the night or when left alone.
- Reduced sense of taste and smell, which may lead to a reduced appetite and preferences for different foods.
- Reduced bone and cartilage quality, which may contribute to arthritis and painful/stiff joints.
- Muscle wastage, which can result in weakness and contribute to reduced mobility.
- Often overgrown and brittle claws that require regular trimming.
- A decline in immune function, which may lead to increased susceptibility to infections.
- Thinning of the skin and reduced coat quality, which may lead to a poor hair coat are also common.
In an older cat, it can help to make certain changes in the home environment including:
- Providing soft comfortable beds in various favourite places.
- Keeping beds in warm areas. Using heatpads or heated beds can be helpful in a cold environment.
- Placing favourite beds in easily accessible areas or providing steps for easy access to help them reach their beds.
- Ensuring there is easy access to quiet hiding places where your cat will not be disturbed.
- Providing indoor litter trays – at least one on each level of the house – in quiet accessible areas.
- Providing big litter trays with shallow sides that will be easier for your cat to get into.
- Regularly grooming your cat, especially if it is longer haired.
- Trimming the claws as necessary and providing scratching surfaces.