Like humans, cats are living longer and longer with each passing decade. Advances in medical science, nutrition, and preventative healthcare have played a major role in this increased longevity. Cats in modern society also have an increased value placed on their health and wellbeing, leading to better care and medical attention. With this greater life span, cats also face a whole new set of health concerns that are uncommon in younger cats.
When is a Cat “Old”?
A senior animal is defined as one who has reached 75% of their expected lifespan. A modern indoor cat has an average life expectancy of 12-14 years at birth. This means a cat is considered senior somewhere between 9 and 10.5 years. Just like a person, however, cat is only as old as it feels! Some cats may start to show signs of aging and age-related disease as early as 7 or 8 years; others remain youthful until their late teens.
Diseases of Geriatric Cats
Older cats are prone to a range of diseases less common in younger animals. Among the most common of these is arthritis, which is often found in the lower back but can occur in all joints. Arthritis pain can severely impact the quality of life of your aging friend, but can be well managed with dietary supplements, anti-inflammatories, and pain killers.
More life-threatening diseases of older cats include heart disease, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and cancers. The most common form of cancer in cats is lymphoma; however other tumors can also occur. Other common conditions like cataracts and high blood pressure can also have impacts on quality of life and require careful management.
Keeping Your Cat Young
Keeping your cat young is a lifelong job. Good nutrition, regular vaccinations and preventative healthcare, management of a healthy weight, and ensuring good environmental enrichment are essential for cats of all ages and will help ensure that aging is a smooth process.
Regular veterinary exams are important to ensure all organ systems are functioning well and that all steps are being taken to ensure your cat lives a long and comfortable life.
A full exam on a geriatric cat includes inspection of:
- Weight and body condition
- Skin and coat quality
- Mouth, gums and teeth
- Eyes and ears
- Thyroid gland
- Heart and lungs
- Joints and muscles
- Any changes in condition from previous examinations
A great source of information on aging in cats can be found at the American Association of Feline Practitioners Website: http://www.catvets.com/public/PDFs/ClientBrochures/FriendsforLifeBrochure-Purina.pdf
If you are the owner of an aging cat, come stop by the Cat Clinic and chat with one of our veterinarians or knowledgeable support staff. Our Senior Cat Wellness appointments include blood pressure measurement, a full retinal exam, and a consultation on your cat’s specific needs and changing requirements.
Written by Dr. Matthew Kornya