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The senior cat

By Evidensia 17/12/2019

Content of the article

The article was written by a veterinarian at Evidensia

The senior cat – sick or just old? Getting old is not a disease, but it may be that your cat needs a little extra follow-up and preparation. When cats get old they can change their behaviour. Sometimes behavioral changes can be a sign that your cat is ill. So how can we best care for our aging cat so that it has a good and long life?

When is a cat really old?

As a rule of thumb, a cat is considered mature from 7-10 years of age, as senior from 10-14 years of age and as geriatric when it is over 15 years of age. . It is not uncommon to see cats that live 20 years and older.

Sooner or later, your cat will be over mid-life. The aging process is a natural biological process that proceeds slowly and gradually. The body's ability to maintain the physiological balance decreases, and the susceptibility to diseases increases with ageing.

What are the signs that we have got an aging cat?

  • Altered metabolism leading to a change in weight
  • Stiffer joints and pain in the body
  • Problems with teeth and gums
  • Worse vision and hearing
  • Problems with digestion
  • Change in fur quality
  • Cognitive problems
  • Changing behavior

Change in metabolism – intake of food and drink

When a cat gets older, its metabolism changes - that is, its energy needs change. In general, a cat's energy needs increase as it gets older, and it uses more energy to maintain its weight. An older cat thus has an easier time becoming underweight than a young cat. At the same time, you see an ever-increasing number of overweight cats. Follow the vet's advice about feeding your senior cat, it is important to have a tailored diet so that the cat stays healthy and in the right condition for as long as possible. An older cat should not eat food intended for young cats.

It is a good idea to encourage the cat to drink water. This can be done by placing several water bowls in different places in the house, or by getting a cat fountain. Also remember to change the water regularly, so that it is always fresh and tempting!

Many diseases that are common in senior cats can cause a reduced appetite and food intake. Older cats also have a reduced sense of smell and taste, which can contribute to a reduced appetite. The vet can give advice on what kind of feed you should use, and give you good tips for measures around feeding. Many types of wet food have a good taste and can be tempting for the cat. A good tip is to get the cat used to eating wet food at a young age, so that it is used to the texture and taste if it becomes necessary to use wet food when it gets older. Wet food is also a great way to get the cat more fluids.

The senior cat needs a tailored diet to stay healthy and in the right condition for as long as possible

Joints and muscles

Stiff and painful joints are not uncommon in our four-legged friends. Our cats are masters at hiding pain, and it can be difficult to detect if the cat has pain in the bones, joints and muscles. A cat with chronic pain will often have gradual changes in behaviour. If the cat withdraws more, sleeps more or shows signs of aggression and irritation, it may be a sign that it is in pain. The same applies to a cat that suddenly does not jump up onto the sofa or windowsill where it used to get up without problems. A cat with pain in the joints may have problems washing itself properly, which can lead to poorer fur quality and the formation of fur clumps.

There is no reason why a cat should walk around with such pain as we now have a lot of knowledge about how to alleviate this.

Teeth and gums

Sometimes our aging cat will get a lot of tartar. Tartar forms on the animal's teeth, which in turn can lead to gum disease. On the tartar that forms, there are good growth conditions for bacteria. Bacterial growth in the oral cavity will be an additional burden on the cat's immune system.

TR (Tooth Resorption - formerly FORL) is a dental disease that unfortunately affects many of our cats. TR is usually discovered when the cat comes to the vet to have tartar removed. In a cat affected by TR, pits form in the enamel of affected teeth. The pits are the result of the tooth enamel being dissolved or resorbed. TR is very painful for the cat. However, most cats are good at hiding pain. Non-specific symptoms can be: the cat becomes less cuddly, sleeps more, sneezes more often, shakes its head, loses weight or drools more than usual. Some also see that the cat only chews on one side of the mouth. But it is often difficult for the owner to see that the cat is in pain. We do not know why some cats get TR, and the disease cannot be prevented. It is a progressive disease, and it is important that the cat is followed up closely with regular teeth cleaning and dental X-rays. There is no other treatment than extracting the affected teeth.

As an owner, it is important to pay attention to your cat's dental health. Pay attention to changes in the cat's usual behavior, and make it a habit to look the cat in the mouth. Daily brushing and properly formulated feed can reduce the formation of tartar. However, we cannot get rid of the tartar that we can already see on the teeth with toothpaste and food. Then the cat has to go to the vet, who can remove tartar in a gentle way.

Are you unsure whether your cat has a dental problem? Remember that we always have a free dental check!

Sight and hearing

Older cats have poorer vision and hearing. This can lead to several challenges, and it is important that we as owners are aware of these. Poorer vision and hearing can make older cats more vulnerable to dangers, such as collisions. It can also make the cat more insecure and easily startled.

It may be a good idea to have a small night light around the litter box and water station to help the older cat.

Behavior and dementia

An aging cat can show various behavioral changes that should be addressed and taken seriously. Many changes in behavior can be seen in the context of pain, which can often be treated in a simple way.

A cat can get dementia and similar symptoms just like humans. Many notice that the cat changes to become more vocal - it may complain more for no apparent reason. The cat may defecate outside the litter box, or forget how to use the cat flap. Although this may be a sign of cognitive dysfunction, it is important to take the cat to the vet to rule out other types of illness. If other illness is ruled out, the vet will be able to help you with arrangements, so that the cat functions as best as possible at home.

Kidney failure

Chronic kidney failure is unfortunately a common disease in older cats, where the function of the kidneys is impaired and does not function optimally. . This is a disease that worsens over time and gradually makes the cat sicker. Typical symptoms are nausea, reduced appetite, increased thirst and weight loss. Chronic kidney failure is an incurable disease, but can be delayed with medication and a specialized diet if it is diagnosed at an early stage.

Health examination of the aging cat

For older cats, it is important to have close follow-up with a veterinarian so that diseases can be detected and diagnosed at an early stage, and prevention and treatment can be started. It is therefore a good idea to see a vet for a senior check-up once a year from when the cat is 7-10 years old. A senior check includes a thorough examination of the cat from nose to tip of tail. It should also be accompanied by a blood test and a urinalysis.

Common diseases in the senior cat

When the cat gets old, the immune system also weakens and they become more exposed to a number of diseases and discomfort. The most common diseases we see in older cats are:

When should I see a vet?

If your older cat changes behavior or shows symptoms of illness, do not hesitate to contact a veterinarian. It is in the cat's nature to hide pain, so you should look for small changes in behavior. No two cats are the same. Some become more clingy and seek closeness, while others withdraw and may show clear signs that they want to be left alone.

It is important to take even small changes seriously. A cat's poor appetite should never be ignored, as the cat can quickly become very ill if it goes without eating.

Contact a vet if you see any of these signs in your senior cat:

  • Sudden aggression towards people or other animals in the household
  • Dispose of in unusual places (outside the checkout)
  • Backs off
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Weight change
  • Poor appetite
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Increased desire to drink
  • Bad breath
  • Has a limp or has difficulty jumping up in e.g. sofa or window
  • Changed breathing pattern
  • Licks a lot in unfamiliar places on the body, especially on the stomach
  • Lumps and swelling
  • Fur loss or changed fur quality

The sooner you take your cat to the vet, the better. Together you can find out what can be done for your particular cat.

Enjoy the time!

When our cat has grown old, it can be beneficial to prepare our everyday life and home for the cat. An older cat should always have a warm place to lie down. It should not be let out for long periods when the weather is cold, and should always have the opportunity to come inside when it wants to. If the cat has problems jumping, you can help by setting up a ramp, stool or similar that the cat can use as extra help. Older cats should have all their resources available on the same floor – food, water, sleeping space and litter box.

Keep the cat active! Both mental and physical training to keep the cat in good shape is beneficial. Ask the staff at your animal clinic for tips and advice.

As all cat owners are aware, there comes a day when we have to make the difficult decision to put our four-legged friend to sleep. Maybe it's an acute or serious illness, or maybe it's just the sum of the elderly animal's ailments. It may be a good idea to make up your mind about this, so that you don't have to make hasty decisions in a stressful and urgent situation. Your vet can advise you on when it's time to let your cat off the hook, and will always try to go the extra mile if you have special requests.

But until that day comes - enjoy the time you have together!