How to Watch for Common Senior Cat Health Issues
Cats over age ten are prone to a number of common health issues, such as kidney disease, dental disease, vision problems, and arthritis. There are plenty of steps you can take to spot health issues and take appropriate action. Observe your cat’s eating habits, mobility, and litter box use. Check its eyes, skin, and body for abnormalities every week. Look for behavioral changes that can indicate either underlying medical problems or senility. Schedule a vet visit as soon as you can if you spot any causes for concern. Even if you don’t observe any signs of health problems, bring your older cat to the vet every six months.
Spotting Common Health Issues
Look for signs of arthritis.Almost all cats over age 12 develop arthritis. Your cat might have arthritis or degenerative joint disease if it doesn’t want to go up or down stairs, no longer jumps, has trouble grooming itself, or has difficulty climbing into its litterbox.
- Bring your cat to the vet for a physical examination if you observe signs of arthritis. Ask the vet if they recommend medication.
- Signs your cat has arthritis in its joints include being slow to get up, having joints that creak when the cat stretches, and having less mobility.
Observe your cat’s eating habits and check its teeth.Try to watch your cat when it eats and look for signs of dental disease. Notice if it seems to have difficulty eating or doesn’t have much interest in its food. Check its teeth weekly for signs of decay.
- Since older cats are at a higher risk of developing dental diseases, you should brush its teeth daily with a cloth or cat toothbrush and toothpaste designed for cats. Don’t use human toothpaste to brush your cat’s teeth.
- Look at your cat's gums to see if they're pink and healthy. When you depress the gums, they should refill within 2 seconds.
- Dental disease is more insidious than just decayed teeth that need to be pulled. If left untreated, it can cause systemic disease and illness.
Check your cat’s eyes regularly.Older cats are prone to developing cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachment, and other eye conditions. Check its eyes every week or two for white or cloudy lenses, dilated pupils, or redness in the white area around the lenses. Observe your cat’s mobility and take note if it often bumps into objects.
- Test your cat’s eyes by taking a favorite toy and asking your cat to track it. The cat should be able to follow it and tell if the toy is closer or further away.
- Take your cat to the vet as soon as possible if you see any irregularities in its eyes. If it seems to have trouble seeing, avoid moving furniture around to make it easier for it to navigate its environment.
Watch for signs of hyperthyroidism.Overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, is a common disease in older cats that can lead to hypertension, kidney problems, and heart disease. Symptoms include weight loss despite having an excessive appetite, sudden increase in energy, diarrhea, vomiting, and increased urine volume.
- Schedule a vet exam if you suspect your cat has hyperthyroidism. Blood work will offer an accurate diagnosis and help you and your vet decide if medication is necessary.
- If you catch this condition early, it can be managed with prescription medication and diet changes.
Look for signs of kidney disease.While common in older cats, signs of chronic renal failure, or kidney disease, vary widely. Symptoms could include increased urine volume, weight loss, lack of appetite, and vomiting.
- These symptoms could be related to kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or heart disease, which are all common issues in older cats. Bring your cat to the vet if you observe these symptoms. Only the vet can make an accurate diagnosis and determine the best treatment plan.
- Older cats can also get kidney stones or a blocked urethra, which can cause pain when your cat urinates as well as blood in the cat's urine.
Looking for Behavioral Issues
Consider if increased aggression is due to pain.Cats tend to hide health issues, but behavioral changes often accompany underlying medical issues. If your cat becomes uncharacteristically fearful, anxious, or aggressive, it might be experiencing pain or discomfort associated with a health problem.
- If your cat becomes fearful or aggressive, schedule a vet visit and observe its mobility, eating habits, urination, and bowel movements. Feel its body for lumps, sores, and other abnormalities, and report anything suspicious to the vet.
Look for signs of cognitive dysfunction.Disorientation, confusion, getting lost, decreased activity, anxiety, and increased meowing are all signs of cognitive dysfunction, or senility. While often related to senility, these symptoms can also point to pain or an underlying medical condition.
- Take your cat to the vet to rule out medical causes. If the vet determines your cat has developed cognitive dysfunction, ask them if they recommend medication. You should also take steps to make your cat’s surroundings more comfortable and easier to use.
Make your cat’s environment more accessible.If your cat’s litter box has high sides, switch it out for a lower one to make it easier to use. If it shows signs of senility and has trouble finding its litter box, consider adding boxes in other locations (in addition to keeping any existing boxes where they are).
- Avoid changes in food, water, and litter box placement. Make sure your cat can access these items, as well as its bed and toys, without having to go up or down stairs.
Minimize changes in your elder cat's life.Old cats don't adapt to change as well as young cats do. Not only that, it can be harmful to the cat if it's suffering from health troubles such as reduced eye sight. Your cat will thrive more if you keep its home and routine stable.
- Ideally, changes should be made slowly as you notice your cat's demeanor changing and as your cat ages.
Consulting with a Vet
Bring your cat to the vet twice a year.You should schedule a vet visit as soon as possible whenever you observe signs of health problems. Even if you don’t notice anything out of the ordinary, it’s best to bring your cat to the vet every six months.
- Since cats typically try to hide their health issues, regular vet exams will help you catch any issues as early as possible.
Talk to the vet about switching from dry to wet food.Older cats are prone to dehydration, so it’s best to feed them wet food instead of dry. In addition, make sure your cat can easily access clean, cool water at all times.
- Ask the vet if blood work and physical examination show any dietary deficiencies, like low iron or fiber. Ask them if they recommend adding supplements or other dietary changes.
Ask the vet to show you how to physically examine your cat.Weekly physical examinations at home will help you spot symptoms of common health issues. You should check your cat’s eyes, teeth, ears, and skin for any abnormalities. You should also feel its body for signs of cancer, like lumps or bumps, particularly those that increase in size.
- Ask the vet, “Can you show me how to perform a home examination on my cat? Do you have any tips for examining my cat without upsetting it? Do you have a home examination checklist on hand?”
- Ask your vet to show you your cat’s lymph nodes when they are normal in size, so you can notice when they are enlarged, which indicates illness or infection. This will also help you differentiate those from a cancerous lump.
Ask the vet if they recommend any medications or pheromones.During regular checkups and emergency visits, ask the vet about medications that can help your cat’s condition. Prescriptions are available for common conditions including senility, thyroid issues, kidney disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Your vet might also recommend calming pheromones, like Feliway, to help ease anxiety or senility.
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