Guest Post by Lorie Huston, DVM
Please join Lorie on her website – Pet Health Care Gazette
With the current level of health care available to our cats, many of our pets are living into their late teens and early twenties. However, caring for an older cat comes with its own set of challenges.
The age at which a cat becomes geriatric is sometimes difficult to nail down accurately. However, the Life Stage Guidelines published by the American Association of Feline Practitioners categorizes cats from 11-14 years of age as senior and cats over 15 years as geriatric.
Caring for a geriatric cat often means doing everything possible to maintain your cat’s health and comfort.
- Monitor your cat’s body weight and body condition. Choose a diet appropriate for your cat’s health status. Older cats often have health issues such as chronic kidney disease, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and/or cognitive dysfunction and may have special dietary requirements. Your veterinarian can help you determine which diet is best suited to meet your cat’s needs. In general, diets that contain a highly digestible protein source and antioxidants such as Vitamin A, beta-carotene, and fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are a good choice for a healthy older cat. Both obesity and weight loss are problematic for geriatric cats and need to be addressed either through a weight loss plan or by finding and treating the cause of the weight loss, respectively.
- Feed your cat small meals frequently throughout the day. At least three or four small meals provides for better digestibility than one large meal daily.
- Encourage your cat to increase his water intake by feeding wet food, providing more than one water bowl, using a fountain, or leaving a faucet drip for your cat. Dehydration can be a serious problem for any cat but can be particularly troublesome for senior and/or geriatric cats.
- Make sure your cat’s water bowls, food dishes, and litter boxes are easily accessible. If you have a large home or more than one floor, consider providing additional water bowls, food dishes, and litter boxes for your cat at various locations throughout your home.
- Make sure litter boxes are low-sided to allow your cat easy entry and exit. Arthritic cats can have difficulty climbing over steep sides.
- Provide comfort for your cat in the form of soft bedding on which to rest and relax. In colder climates, a heated bed can provide additional relief for sore joints and stiff muscles. Just make sure the heating element does not get hot enough to burn your cat.
- Exercise is important even for your geriatric cat. Regular exercise helps keep joints healthy and keeps muscles from wasting. Encourage your cat to exercise through the use of toys, food puzzles, and food hunting games. Interactive play can be especially satisfying for both you and your cat, allowing time to bond with one another.
- Older cats sometimes have joint or muscle pain or other health issues that make it difficult for them to access locations they previously enjoyed. Make accessing favorite perches easier for your cat by providing steps to access the perch.
- Cats as young as 2-3 years of age can already suffer from dental disease. But for your geriatric cat, oral disease can become extremely painful and can affect your cat’s quality of life. Brushing is the standard of care for your cat’s teeth. However, if your cat already has dental disease, brushing may cause unnecessary pain. Your cat may require veterinary dental care before you can begin brushing his teeth, if you have not previously been doing so. Additionally, some cats simply do not tolerate brushing well. In these cases, there are other alternatives available, including dental diets, oral rinses, and dental chews. Your veterinarian can help you plan a good dental care program for your cat.
- Regular veterinary care is important for all cats. However, for older cats, these visits become even more important. Twice yearly visits are recommended for older cats. More frequent visits may be required for cats with ongoing health issues. During these regular visits, your veterinarian will assess your cat’s body condition, overall general health, dental health, and vital signs. Routine blood screening and urine testing is important as well. These tests can help us detect health problems early on, while they are still treatable. Cats are very good at hiding signs of illness and veterinary evaluations can uncover issues that even the most observant cat owner may not know are present.
- If you have any questions or doubts about your cat’s health, or your cat suddenly experiences any change in behavior, consult your veterinarian promptly.
- Keep changes in your household and your cat’s routine to a minimum. Changes cause stress for many cats and can contribute to causing illness.
- Most importantly, spend plenty of time enjoying your cat’s company.