Adolescence and into the quieter, closer moments of maturity. We consider cats over 7 to be “mature”, though with good care and genetics, many cats can live to be in their late teens or even 20′s. Though we cannot cover all the aspects of caring for an older cat in one article, we would like to point out some of the more important things you can do to help your cat live a long, happy life. An excellent book that covers the older cat care in more detail is “Your Older Cat” by Susan Easterly (Fireside Publishers). First, we would like to address diet. We strongly recommend a quality senior food for all cats over 7 years of age. Our clinic stocks Hill’s Science Diet, I-VET diets, Eukanuba and Royal Canin. We recommend these diets because we have spoken personally to the nutritionists and feel they are very label only, as terms and percentages can be very misleading. It is very important to discuss diets at the time of your older cat’s routine annual (or preferably every 6 month) physical exam visit. Mature cat diets should generally be lower in protein and salt content, but there are many other factors to consider, based on your individual cat’s needs and body condition. Cheap store brand foods and generics are full of poor quality fillers that can lead to poor coats, weight loss or gain, and even damage to kidneys and liver from improper levels of nutrients. It is worth spending the extra money for a high quality food for your older cat to avoid many common problems. Home-made diets are favored by some, but it requires diligence and much work to properly balance the diet, and some essential nutrients like Taurine are critical and not found easily in the grocery store! Talk to us before you make decisions about this important part of your cat’s care!
Second, regular veterinary care is critical in helping your cat reach a ripe old age. We strongly recommend a physical examination every 6 months for older cats, as many subtle changes in your cat’s behavior, weight, drinking and eating patterns can be indicators of early organ problems. Most of these can be detected before your cat becomes ill from the condition by doing a discounted senior packages that include all of these things. The bloodwork and urinalysis are critical in picking up early kidney changes. If caught early, we can often extend your cat’s life by years by changing the diet to one specially designed for such problems, and using medications to control high blood pressure or other metabolic issues that accompany kidney disease. Heart disease can be more difficult to diagnose in older cats, but certain tell tale signs on the physical examination may help us detect this condition. Other tests such as ultrasound may be required. Thyroid conditions and diabetes can also be discovered early by the testing, allowing for successful control or treatment before your cat becomes critically ill. Again, if detected early, many of these conditions are very treatable, if not always curable. Arthritis is another condition that is often missed in cats, as they may only show subtle signs, such as not wanting to jump up on the counter, or grumbling when their back is touched in certain places. We have several types of chewable and powdered glucosamine supplements to help this condition (never use any pain killers for your cat without consulting your veterinarian-many products, such as Tylenol are extremely toxic to cats in even tiny amounts!!) Lastly, but most important of all, is for you to pay attention to the subtle signs and changes you may see in your older cat that may be clues to issues or problems with his/her health. Watch for poor hair coat, excessive mats or dry, rough appearance. Notice if your cat is spending more time at the water bowl or sink, crying for no apparent reason, or if the litter box is wet all the time. Feel your cats body regularly and notice if he or she seems more “boney”. Don’t ignore these signs, but bring them to the attention of your veterinarian, as these can help us detect and treat cat health problems early. Also, try to avoid stressful situations whenever possible, as older cats like a steady routine and stress can exacerbate underlying problems like urinary and bowel diseases. If you do bring a new pet into the household, or have to move to a new house, watch carefully to make sure your older cat is not suffering from the changes. You know your feline friend best, especially if they have been with you for many years, and noticing the changes in their patterns of eating, drinking and activity is critical.