As your cat reaches old age, her health, nutrition, and exercise needs change, requiring adapted routines and more frequent checkups.
The catch is, your cat may not help you spot these budding health issues. Instead, she may deliberately hide them. That’s why it’s important to be observant around the house, as well as conscientious about scheduling regular veterinary checkups. With a little preventive care and regular checkups, you can help ensure that your senior cat stays happy and healthy.
Know When Your Cat Qualifies
With many cats living into their teens and even twenties, it’s easy to understand why owners wonder: When is a cat truly a senior citizen? While many believe that your individual cat is only as old as she feels, most cats reach senior status somewhere between 11 and 14 years old. Here are the typical age ranges at which senior feline citizens reach various life stages, according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP):
- Mature to middle-aged: 7 to 10 years
- Senior: 11 to 14 years
- Geriatric: 15+ years
Watch Out for Senior Health Issues
Because your cat’s immune system isn’t quite as resilient as it once was, it’s important for you, the conscientious cat parent, to keep an eye out for any signs of developing health issues. Here are a few of the more common senior health issues to watch for.
- Cognitive disorders
- Dental disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Heart disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Kidney disease
- Retinal disease/vision problems
Schedule Regular Wellness Exams
Just as it does with humans, the importance of regular wellness check-ups increases along with your cat’s age. Most experts agree that senior cats should be examined by a veterinarian at least once every 6 months. The purpose is to accomplish the following goals:
- Promote the longest and healthiest life possible.
- Recognize and control known health risks for older cats.
- Detect any signs of disease at their earliest, when they are the most treatable.
During a routine wellness exam, your vet may ask you a variety of health-related questions as he or she tries to obtain your cat’s complete medical history. These questions will often focus on whether your cat has experienced any health or behavioral changes since her last visit.
Your vet will also assess you cat’s overall appearance and body condition by listening to her heart and lungs, checking for signs of pain, testing for muscle tone, and feeling for tumors or other abnormalities in the neck or abdomen. In addition, a vet will typically peek inside the cat’s ears, eyes, and mouth for any signs of disease. A routine exam should also include the following tests to check your cat for signs of illness:
- Blood pressure
- CBC (complete blood count)
- CHEM screen (liver and kidney function)
- T4 (thyroid function)
Most veterinarians agree that this baseline laboratory testing should be conducted at least once a year in mature cats (7 to 10 years old) and more frequently in senior or geriatric cats. Additional tests may be recommended based on the results of routine screening tests. While additional testing may be necessary for some cats, this set of lab tests, performed regularly, can help your vet monitor any developing trends in your cat’s overall health.
Monitor Your Cat’s Health
Not only is your cat unable to tell you exactly what’s wrong, most felines are very good at hiding signs of illness. Often times, senior cats appear to suddenly fall ill once their ability to compensate for the disease is overwhelmed. Considering that cats age much faster than humans do, it’s important that you pay close attention to any signs of injury or illness between regular exams.
Unexpected weight loss or gain can sometimes serve as an early sign of an underlying illness. Weight management itself can be a major health issue. Cats that become overweight or obese are at greater risk of diabetes, osteoarthritis, and other conditions.
In addition, pay attention to any unusual changes in your pet’s behavior (e.g. unusual cries) or daily routines, such as grooming or litterbox habits. Behavioral problems can sometimes signal underlying health issues.
Keep Up with Basic Care
Don’t think that just because your cat gets more frequent veterinary exams that you can cut back on your routine wellness care such as parasite protection, dental care, nutritional management, and vaccinations. These routine preventive measures continue to be important as your pet ages.
Perform a Comfort Check
Make sure your old friend is still able to easily access her food and water dishes, bedding, and litterbox. If it seems that your cat is having trouble getting to something, it may be time to rearrange things for her. Don’t forget to give your senior cat plenty of attention and affection!
This article was reviewed by a Veterinarian.
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