Caring For The Elderly Cat

Elderly Cat

There are now more pet cats than dogs in Britain. Increasingly, with improved nutrition, health care and management changes, more and more of these cats are living to greater ages. From this we can see that elderly cats form an ever-increasing group of animals that need to be cared for.

WHY SHOULD WE TREAT OLD CATS DIFFERENTLY TO YOUNG CATS?

1.With advancing age body functions change.

As cats age all of their body systems are affected:

Reduction in exercise may result in reduced muscle tone, which may further reduce the cat’s ability to jump, climb or exercise. This may also lead to a stiffening of the joints.

When coupled with a reduced metabolic rate (common in older individuals), lack of exercise can result in a fall in energy requirements of up to 40%. If a cat maintains a good appetite its daily food intake must be reduced to prevent excessive weight gain.

Inappetence (lack of desire to eat) may be encountered, since the senses of smell and taste become dull with age, and periodontal (dental) disease is common.

Gut function and the ability of the intestines to absorb nutrients are reduced in older animals.

Although not yet proven, it is often assumed that older cats have some degree of subclinical (underlying) disease, particularly of the kidneys.

2.With advancing age medication must be given with ever increasing care.

Changes in physiology not only affect food absorption, they also affect the way many drugs are metabolised. Liver and kidney disease occur commonly in older cats. When coupled with mild dehydration these can result in reduced clearance rates and marked elevations in drug concentrations circulating within the blood. When treating geriatric patients the dose and dosing intervals of some drugs may therefore need to be altered.

DOES MY OLD CAT STILL NEED TO HAVE REGULAR BOOSTER VACCINATIONS?

It is generally assumed that with age immune function may deteriorate, which can in turn result in a reduced ability to fight infection. Regular booster vaccinations are generally recommended and prompt treatment of disease is essential. At the time of vaccination your cat will receive a full health check which may detect unnoticed health problems

As important as the vaccination is the full health check your cat will receive at the same time, which may detect unnoticed health problems.

MY OLD CAT BECOMES VERY DISTRESSED WHEN WE TRY TO MEDICATE HER. SHOULD WE KEEP TRYING WHEN IT UPSETS HER SO MUCH?

This is something you should discuss with your vet. There is no simple answer to this question; it depends on whether the treatment may lead to a cure, or whether it is aimed at controlling clinical signs. It also depends on how ill the cat is, and on how distressing it finds the disease for which it is being treated. Older cats are often poorly tolerant of excessive physical handling or environmental change, so while veterinary medicine may be able to offer complex therapeutic options, it is important that each case be assessed individually. If you are having difficulty giving tablets our veterinary nursing team will be happy to demonstrate a few techniques which may aid the process.

WHAT DISEASES DO OLD CATS SUFFER FROM?

The major diseases seen in older cats are hormonal disorders (such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus), kidney disease, neoplasia (cancer), infections (e.g. feline immunodeficiency virus [F.I.V.], periodontal disease and arthritis. However, older cats can be affected by diseases more commonly seen in younger animals (such as inflammatory bowel disease), and road traffic accidents.

It is important to remember that while young animals often only have one disorder at a time, this is often not so in older patients, where diagnosis and treatment may be complicated by the concurrence of multiple interacting disease processes.

While it is true to say that “old age is not a disease”, it is important that we pay particular attention to our older cats, so that if they do develop disease we can recognise it, and treat it early, and so maintain their quality of life for as long as possible.

Free dental clinics are run at the surgery by our nursing team.

WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE MY OLDER CAT HAPPY AS POSSIBLE?

Most cats age gracefully and require few changes to their general regime. Since older cats do not generally respond well to change, if changes must be made it is important they are introduced slowly.

Elderly cats should have easy access to a warm, draft free bed, situated where the cat can sleep safely without fear of disturbance.

It is advisable to feed older cats on a highly palatable, possibly reduced protein diet, with a high water content, on a ‘little and often’ basis. They should always have easy access to fresh drinking water. A small daily helping of dry food/biscuits may help to maintain their dental hygiene.

As cats age some show a reduced ability to control urination and the passing of bowel motions. To reduce the risk of “accidents” it may therefore be necessary to allow access to an indoor litter box.

Older cats should have regular health checks.

FREE HEALTH CARE/SENIOR NURSE CLINICS

Although your cat receives a health check by the veterinary surgeon annually at vaccination time, veterinary nurses now run senior clinics (Club 8 Plus) throughout the year which are free to our clients.

As well as a free health check for your cat, this will give you the opportunity to ask questions and receive advice on any aspects of your cat’s health. The list below is a guide to the common topics of concern:

  • Ears
  • Eyes
  • Drinking/eating
  • General demeanour/behaviour
  • Genitals
  • Mammary glands
  • Mobility
  • Paws/claws
  • Routine blood screens
  • Skin/coat
  • Teeth
  • Urine/faeces
  • Weight

The nurse clinic is completely free of charge to our clients. However, if any problems are identified the nurse will refer you to one of our vets where a full consultation will be necessary.

If you would like to take advantage of this free offer, we would be very happy to hear from you and your feline friend. Please telephone the practice on 01628 622086 to make a mutually convenient time to see the nurse.

Should you wish to discuss any of these issues in more detail, please consult your veterinary surgeon.