Super Senior cats
Routine HealthCare Examination: Considerations for Super Senior cats (15y+)
Most owners will be aware of changes in their cat at this life stage, but again changes should not be simply attributed to the ‘ageing process’ without being properly investigated. A minimum of two health checks per year (6 monthly) is recommended and measurement of blood pressure is recommended at least twice yearly. 3-Monthly weight checks with a veterinary nurse can also be considered. There is further increased risk for age-related diseases such as neoplasia, chronic kidney disease, heart disease, hyperthyroidism and osteoarthritis. Early detection and intervention are highly valuable. Super Senior cats have a greater risk of significant loss of muscle mass, which in cats may be partly as a result of compromised protein and fat digestion.
With advancing age, various changes occur that may affect the behaviour of the cat. Owners need to be aware of these changes to provide the best care for their ageing feline friends.
Core vaccines should be continued according to current guidelines, with risks and benefits being assessed for the individual cat when deciding on the frequency of vaccination. An annual risk assessment for the use of non-core vaccines is also indicated, in accordance with current guidelines.
All external parasite control should be maintained and reviewed at each visit, alongside any changes in the cat’s environment, lifestyle and any movement from one region to another. Frequency of worming should be based on a risk assessment and this should be reassessed every visit. Based on ESCCAP guidelines, cats with outdoor access should be dewormed at least every three months, and cats that share homes with children under 5 years of age or immunocompromised individuals should be treated monthly. Faecal examinations may be considered with treatment based on the findings but their limitations as well as their value must be kept in mind.
Nutrition and weight management
Body weight, and BCS should continue to be monitored at each visit. Muscle condition score should also be included as part of the assessment. Maintaining optimal nutrition is essential, and maintenance energy requirements may rise in cats over 12 to 14 years of age. Food intake should be adjusted to maintain optimum bodyweight, and protein intake should not be restricted unless indicated for medical reasons. Cats with reduced food intake or difficulty eating should be evaluated carefully for dental disease and for oral tumours.
Many older cats may have compromised urine-concentrating ability or may be predisposed to dehydration for other reasons. In these cats, feeding a wet (tinned/sachet) diet rather than a dry diet is preferable to help maximise water intake. Weight loss may be an early indicator of underlying disease and may also have negative impacts on the disease process. Percentage weight change should be calculated at every visit and a loss of 10% between visits should be investigated. It’s also important to look at changes in body weight over time and compare the current weight to when the cat was at their ideal body condition score
% weight change = (Previous weight – current weight / previous weight) x 100
During this stage, a minimum database of blood and urine tests should be collected on at least an annual basis. Many Super Senior cats would benefit from more frequent MDB collection (e.g., twice yearly), even if this is a partial MDB (e.g., urinalysis, especially to assess specific gravity). The routine MDB should include assay of total thyroxine at least annually.
Additional points to consider include
Reduction in grooming behaviour may indicate pain from musculoskeletal disease or dental disease so this should be assessed for in the cat’s examination.
Oral/dental examination and regular teeth brushing should be encouraged, especially after dental work has been carried out.
Minimising stress during trips to the veterinary clinic, this is especially important in older cats with underlying health conditions which can be worsened by stress such as heart disease and hyperthyroidism.
The cat’s physical and social environmental needs may change (e.g., with osteoarthritis, deafness, reduced vision and cognitive dysfunction).