Did you know that most veterinarians consider older cats to be senior citizens at seven- or eight-years-old? According to the American Animal Hospital Association, each year for a cat is equivalent to approximately five to seven human years. An eight-year-old cat is the relative equivalent to a 48-year-old person, a 12-year-old cat is similar to a 64-year-old, and a 16-year-old cat is similar to an 80-year-old.
Due to this accelerated aging, it makes sense that senior felines should visit the veterinarian more frequently. The American Veterinary Medical Association now recommends biannual wellness examinations for all pets, regardless of age. For elderly cats, twice yearly exams should be the bare minimum. Some cats require check-ups every three to four months depending on their physical condition.
During the physical exam the veterinarian will pay close attention to health conditions common to senior cats, including weight loss, oral disease and signs of arthritis. Your vet may also recommend a blood pressure measurement. Laboratory tests that should be performed annually on older cats include a complete blood count, chemistry panel, thyroid measurement and a urinalysis. The goal is to try to catch senior cat diseases early, such as kidney insufficiency, hyperthyroidism, and hypertension. The lab results will also help your vet make a diet recommendation appropriate for your feline companion.
Tell your veterinarian if you notice any of the following signs: weight loss, increased water drinking, larger urine clumps in the litter box, increased appetite, yowling (especially at night), bad breath, heat-seeking, or difficulty jumping up on things. Be sure to check out our page of common health conditions and symptoms that affect senior cats.
Arthritis: a normal, but painful, age-related change
Cats have evolved to hide any pain or discomfort so that predators won't eat them. As a result, the signs of arthritis are so subtle that an owner may miss them. These signs include pausing for a long time before jumping on things, moving stiffly after a long nap, urinating or defecating near the litter box but not in it, constipation, and limping.
The safest course is to assume all senior cats have some level of arthritis and discuss with your veterinarian nutritional supplements to slow the progression.
Glucosamine supplementation is safe and easy. Many people take this supplement for their own achy joints. Cosequin and Dasuquin are popular glucosamine products because they are sold as "sprinkle capsules," meaning you open the capsule and sprinkle the flavored powder on your pet's food.
For moderate to severe arthritis there is an injectible supplement called Adequan. This supplement is not labeled for use in cats so you will need to discuss the pros and cons with your veterinarian.
As with all supplements, there is no guarantee that they will work and you may not see results for four to six weeks. NEVER give your cat (or dog) human arthritis medications or pain-relievers; they can be toxic.
Arthritis pain tends to be worse when it is cold outside. There are now heated pet beds and microwaveable warming discs on the market to keep your cat toasty during the icy winter months.
Providing good preventive care and alleviating pain and discomfort are the cornerstones of senior feline health. Your goal should be to provide your geriatric feline companions with the quality of life that you will want someday in your own golden years.
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