Believe it or not, cats over the age of 7 are considered to be in their geriatric years. This doesn’t mean they won’t be with us for a good many more years (some for another decade or more!) but there are a number of common diseases that we see in older cats, which if treated early can make them much happier companions!
Firstly, it’s important to remember that when it comes to our cat friends, subtle changes can mean a lot. Cats are solitary creatures and hide thier illness so small changes in their behaviour might mean they are not feeling 100%. For example, the cat who always used to sleep on the bed or the window and is now sleeping on the floor might be painful from arthritis and unwilling to jump. Crying or vocalizing from pain is a very late sign and usually means the cat is in significant discomfort.
So here are a few disease we see commonly in older cats:
Chronic Kidney Disease – This is a big one. Most cats will eventually develop kidney disease. It is a slowly progressing disease and although we can’t cure it, there are lots of things we can do to help slow things down. Our main treatment is a special diet and it works best when started early. It is diagnosed through blood and urine testing. There are four stages of kidney disease and often there are no symptoms in stages one and two. This is what makes blood and urine testing so important. Common symptoms include drinking and urinating more, decreased appetite, weight loss and vomiting. Check our the International Renal Interest Society (http://www.iris-kidney.com/) for more information.
Hyperthyroidism – We see overactive thyroid glands commonly in older cats. The thyroid gland controls metabolism and in some older cats it starts making extra hormone. Common symptoms include drinking and urinating more, weight loss, contstipation or diarrhea, vomiting, increased appetite and sometimes hyperactive behaviour. It is diagnosed with a blood test. Common treatments are a special iodine restricted diet or a medication to lower thyroid levels, although other therapies including radioactive iodine or surgery are also occasionally done.
Diabetes – Overweight animals are more likely to develop this disease. Common symptoms including drinking and urinating more and increased appetite. Complications requiring hospitalization can develop if the disease is not treated, so it’s important to start therapy as soon as possible. Many cats can be weaned off insulin after some time and be maintained on a special high protein low carbohydrate diet alone.
Arthritis – Cats develop arthritis as they get older, just like we do. Keeping a close watch on your cat’s behaviour can help us determine if treatment may be appropriate for arthritis. Although xrays can confirm arthritis, they are not always necessary for us to start treatment. In less severe cases, special diets high in glucosamine and omega 3 fatty acids can make a big difference for some cats. For cats with more advanced disease, numerous medications are available to help them live more comfortable lives.
Careful observation at home, yearly physical examinations and routine bloodwork screening are the cornerstone of keeping our older kitties healthy, happy and pain free!