Caring For Your Aging Cat: 9 Common Conditions & What To Do
November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month–celebrating old cats. Adopting a mature kitty can mean years of furry love–Seren nearly lived to celebrate her 22nd birthday, and still rules my heart from beyond the Rainbow Bridge. She inspired my work in countless ways, and also gave me first-hand (paw?) experience for caring for aging cats.
And Seren inspired me every day when my own creaky joints acted up. Getting older is NOT for weenies, but it’s not a sentence for chaining yourself (or your cat) to a rocking chair. These days, Karma-Kat has reached “middle age” but we’ve already begun some of these old cat health aids. Learn what’s considered “old” in cats in this blog post.
Of course, cancer also affects our old pets, and we see a higher incidence of breast cancer in Siamese cats. But there are also some simple and/or inexpensive ways from the book that owners can help keep an aging cat happy and healthy.
9 Old Cat Health Conditions
About 75 percent of senior cats have arthritis. When creaky joints hurt, she can’t perform cat-yoga stretches to groom herself and may become matted. Place kitty’s bed under a lamp for soothing heat to loosen up creaky joints. Gentle massage works well, and over-the-counter supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine-type products also help.
Does the water bowl run dry? Does your cat urinate a lot? Diabetes could be an issue. High protein diets can reverse diabetes in some cats—your vet will determine this. Meanwhile, add litter boxes on each floor and both ends of the house so kitty has quick access to the facilities.
Old cats often get fat, which aggravates arthritis and can lead to obesity. Slim tubby tabbies by setting the food bowl on top of a cat tree so she must move to eat. And place a portion of her meal inside a puzzle toy so she must “hunt” to shake out the food. I use cat puzzle toys for Karma-Kat to keep his furry tail moving.
Deaf cats often become more vocal and “holler” from the next room when they can’t hear you. Use vibration or visual cues to alert your deaf pet to your presence. Stomp your foot when you enter the room, for example, or flick lights on and off to avoid startling the cat. Learn about living with deaf pets.
With age, cats lose their sense of smell so that food is less appealing and they snub the bowl. Heat makes odors more pungent. Zapping the food in the microwave for 10 seconds may be all that’s necessary to stimulate a flagging appetite.
Constipation develops when the cat’s digestion doesn’t “move” as well as in youth. Added fiber can promote regularity. Many cats love the flavor of canned pumpkin, a natural high fiber treat. Buy a large can, and divide into single servings in ice cube trays, and freeze—then thaw just what you need. Once or twice a week should be enough to keep kitty regular.
Seventy-five percent of cats have dental problems by age two, and the risk increases 20 percent for each year of your cat’s life. Commercial “dental diets” can be helpful, as can chicken or malt-flavored pet toothpaste. Offer a taste of toothpaste as a treat—the enzyme action breaks down plaque even if kitty won’t let you brush her teeth. Also, entice your cat to chew by offering thumb-size hunks of cooked steak. For toothless cats that have trouble eating dry foods, run small amounts of dry food in the blender with low-salt chicken broth for a softer alternative.
Blind cats adjust so well and the loss is so gradual that you may not notice a problem—until you rearrange the furniture. So status quo your décor to help your cat can remember a mental map of the household. Place baby gates at stairs or other danger zones to protect blind cats from a misstep. Offer fair warning with sound cues about your location to prevent startling the blind cat. Scent can help identify important landmarks for the cat. Try dabbing a bit of mint on wall corners or tying catnip toys to furniture. “Bell” the other pets so the blind cat knows they’re near. Learn more tips for helping other-abled pets.
Senility—yes, cats can get kitty Alzheimer’s, especially those over 14 years. These felines become confused, forget where to potty, cry, and may not recognize you. It’s heartbreaking for pets and owners alike. The drug Anipryl from your vet temporarily reverses signs in a percentage of cats, but the supplement Cholodin FEL also works pretty well. Delay the onset of senility in all cats by exercising the feline brain with play, games and puzzles.
What are some other “home care” tips that have worked well for YOUR “golden oldie” kitty? Have you discovered some awesome care product that makes life easier for you, and more comfy for your pet? What are the “old cat” issues that you deal with? Please share!
Every year, I write about our old cat needs. While Karma-Kat has just reached middle age (and still acts like a kitten!), cats age at different rates. When do you consider your cat old? Is your old cat a senior kitty by age 8, or 13, or…when? For cats, what is old? Here are 8 reasons to consider adopting a senior citizen pet.
November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. I have to admit, there’s something special about old cats. This post first appeared in 2012, and has been updated several times. Now that Seren-Kitty has gone to Rainbow Bridge, this post is in Seren’s honor and for all the golden oldie senior cats that rule our hearts (whether here or waiting for us at the Bridge.)
SEREN & OLD CATS
Seren went to the Bridge in December 2017, and would have celebrated her 22nd birthday on February 1st. I wanted to celebrate old cats and talk a bit about what is old age for cats. Some cats age more gracefully than others, and despite her longtime senior status, Seren continued to act like a youngster and keep Magical-Dawg and Karma-Kat in line, up nearly to the last week of her life. Now Karma-Kat has reached senior kitty status.
Siamese as a breed tend to live longer, and it’s not unusual for healthy cats to live into their late teens or even early twenties. Of course, Seren was a found kitten, and we’re not sure what her heritage was, but she continued to maintain clean teeth, good appetite, normal litter-ary habits, sound heart and no lumps or bumps. After her bout with the schneezles, and losing one canine (fang) tooth, she continued rockin’ and rollin’ like nothing could stop her. I thought she’d live forever. *sigh* If you have a senior kitty, here are some tips for helping to keep old pets comfortable during their golden years.
What is considered old for a cat? The question of what is old is complicated by the impact of genetics, environment, and individual characteristics. Consider human beings: one person may act, look and feel “old” at 65 while another 65-year-old remains an active athlete with a youthful attitude and appearance. The same is true for our cats.
“I think that actually varies a lot, and it’s getting older every year,” says Rhonda Schulman, DVM, an internist at the University of Illinois. “It used to be that eight was the major cutoff for the cat that was geriatric. Now we’re moving to the point that’s a prolonged middle age.” According to Guinness World Records, the oldest cat on record was Creme Puff owned by Jake Perry of Austin, Texas. Cream Puff was born August 3, 1967 and died August 6, 2005 at the age of 38 years and 3 days.
A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of their lifespan, says Sarah K. Abood, DVM a clinical nutritionist at Michigan State University. However, since we can’t predict what an individual cat’s lifespan will be, the beginning of old age is a bit arbitrary. Certain families of cats may be longer lived than others, in the same way that some human families enjoy a much greater longevity than others. The lifespan of your cat’s parents and grandparents is a good predictor of how long you can expect your cat to live. People who share their lives with pedigreed cats may be able to access this information through the cat’s breeder.
PREDICTING LONGEVITY IN OLD CATS
Longevity of unknown heritage cats is much more difficult to predict. Even when felines are “part” Siamese or Persian, for example, these felines may inherit the very worst, or the very best, from the parents. The majority of pet cats are domestic shorthair or domestic longhair kitties of mixed ancestry, and the products of unplanned breeding. That by itself points to a poorer-than-average level of health for the parents, which in turn would be passed on to the kittens. Siblings within the same litter may have different fathers, and can vary greatly in looks, behavior, and health. When all is said and done, one should expect the random-bred cat-next-door kitty to be neither more nor less healthy than their pedigreed ancestors—as long as they all receive the same level of care and attention.
“If you get a kitten, it is very likely you will have this cat for the next 15 to 20 years,” says Dr. Abood. That means the last 25 percent would be 12 to 15 years. To simplify matters, most veterinarians consider cats to be “senior citizens” starting at about seven to eight years old, and geriatric at 14 to 15.
Here’s some perspective comparing cat age to human age. “The World Health Organization says that middle-aged folks are 45 to 59 years of age and elderly is 60 to 74. They considered aged as being over 75,” says Debbie Davenport, DVM, an internist with Hill’s Pet Foods. “If you look at cats of seven years of age as being senior, a parallel in human years would be about 51 years,” she says. A geriatric cat at 10 to 12 years of age would be equivalent to a 70-year-old human.
CHERISHING OLD SENIOR CATS
Veterinarians used to concentrate their efforts on caring for young animals. When pets began to develop age-related problems, the tendency among American owners was to just get another pet. That has changed, and today people cherish their aged furry companions and want to help them live as long as possible. Now there are many things you can do for common cat aging conditions.
Modern cats age seven and older can still live full, happy and healthy lives. Age is not a disease. Age is just age, says Sheila McCullough, DVM, an internist at University of Illinois. “There are a lot of things that come with age that can be managed successfully, or the progression delayed. Renal failure cats are classic examples.” It’s not unusual for cats suffering kidney failure to be diagnosed in their late teens or even early twenties.
“I had a woman with a 23-year-old cat who asked should she change the diet. I said, don’t mess with success!” says Dr. McCullough. These days veterinarians often see still-healthy and vital cats of a great age.
“I think if the cat lives to 25 years, I shouldn’t be doing anything but saying hello,” says Steven L. Marks, BVSc, an internist and surgeon at Louisiana State University (now at North Carolina State University). “If you’ve ever had a pet live that long, you want them all to live that long.”
What about your senior cats? Does he or she act like a senior? What age did you notice a change, if any?
Seren’s aging changes meant her dark Siamese mask turned gray, with white hairs surrounding her eyes. Arthritis made it hard for her to leap as before. Her claws thickened so she could no longer retract them, and she “clicked” while she walked on hard surfaces–I kept them trimmed for her. In her last four months, she needed extra potty spots as she couldn’t quite anticipate getting to the right place on time. But I’ll forever be grateful for the nearly 22 years we shared together.
Hyperthyroid cats is a fact of life for people lucky enough to have an old cat. Most of y’all who read this blog know that Seren-Kitty is a senior citizen girl, and as such she’s at risk for hyperthyroid disease. At her last checkup, we ran tests to check and–thank goodness!–she’s normal and doesn’t have that issue. That makes this Mother’s Day a happy one for this “cat mom.”
Old Cat & Hyperthyroid Concerns
That’s not the case with many older cats. There are a couple of causes of the condition, with about 95% of cases due to a benign tumor on the cat’s thyroid, which is highly treatable. I write about feline hyperthryoidism signs, diagnosis and treatment in my CAT FACTS and also my COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT books. (Both are way-cheap in the Ebook versions *s*).
Learning about cat care issues is an ongoing passion at my house. Maybe you know a “cat mom” that needs some solid information to keep her cat-babies healthy and happy.
Do you have an aging cat? Has your kitty shown telltale signs of problems? Seren-Kitty had thickened claws from arthritis, and needed regular claw trims. Or maybe your feline kid has been diagnosed and gone through treatment for feline hyperthyroidism. Please share your experiences in the comments–it could help other “cat moms” out there!
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE:Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I recommend nothing unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Deaf dog? Or maybe deaf cat? Seren became deaf. By age 17, she could still hear some things, but her hearing continued to deteriorate, especially in her last year with us.
It used to be I could call Seren to come watch the bunny on the patio, and she’d run from anywhere in the house. She’d always been a loud-mouth kitty, talking constantly and responding to our conversation, so she always had the last word. But her voice was always pleasant, almost a sweet mew. With her loss of hearing, her voice became louder, more strident, and she often cried especially at night with long drawn out yowls when she couldn’t hear to find us.
It’s not surprising. Aging cats commonly suffer hearing loss. I cover deaf dogs and deaf cats plus other aging pet issues in my old cat care book and aging dog book.
HOW WELL DO PETS HEAR?
In her youth, Seren (like all normal cats) heard much better than people. However, youthful pets hear better than middle-aged and older animals. Some cats are born deaf, or are genetically predisposed to deafness. For example, blue-eyed white cats can be born with a condition that results in deafness at an early age.
Hearing is something that cats are better at than dogs–but don’t tell the dogs! Normal dogs typically hear the same low-pitched sounds as humans, as well as frequencies as high as 100,000 cycles per second—people can only hear sound waves up to 20,000 cycles per second. Cat hearing is even more acute. Your cat can hear sounds in a 10½-octave range—a wider span of frequencies than any other mammal. That allows your cat to hear nearly ultrasonic rodent squeaks.
At least, Seren used to hear those mousy voices. Not anymore. Oh well, she never caught a mouse, anyway!
With age, the delicate structures of the inner ear begin to lose their sensitivity to vibration. This normal age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, develops in every pet that lives long enough—just as it does in aging people. We’re going to be in BIG trouble if Seren lives another 10 years and I’m losing my hearing, too.
Hearing loss can be accelerated by damage from loud noises. Dogs that hunt and are exposed to gunshots for years and years are more prone to damage. Chronic ear infections may also result in hearing loss.
MAKING ACCOMMODATIONS FOR DEAF DOGS AND DEAF CATS
Deaf cats and deaf dogs can’t tell us that they’re hard of hearing, and they compensate by paying more attention with their other senses. In fact, strangers probably wouldn’t notice any difference in Seren. As long as she can see folks, she clues in very quickly on what’s going on. Deaf pets watch owners and other pets more closely, and cue off of their behavior to know that somebody’s at the door, for example. Seren alerts to Magic’s behavior when my husband comes home. Deaf pets also pay closer attention to vibration and air currents—the breeze made by an open door may cue them you’ve come home from work. Even when they can’t hear the can opener, the pet’s internal “clock” will announce suppertime.
So what do I do to make accommodations for my kitty? I make sure Seren can see me, and if she’s looking the other way, I tap the tabletop or stomp my foot so she feels the vibration. I don’t want to startle her, and this way she is alerted to my presence. If Magic should start to lose his hearing, he’s already learned many hand signals and probably wouldn’t miss a beat. Pets trained with clickers can instead learn to respond to the flick-on-off of a flashlight or a porch light switched on/off to call the dog inside.
Deafness also raises safety concerns. Can the dozing, deaf cat wake up in time to get away from an aggressive stray? Keeping all cats and especially deaf kitties inside is probably the safest option. Seren rarely went outside anyway, and then on a leash, so she’s not missing anything.
Seren is still happy and otherwise healthy. She still indulges in the “zooms” almost every evening, and enjoys putting the dog in his place. Have you ever had a pet with hearing loss? What were tips that helped you keep your pet happy and safe? Please share!
Do you know the signs of a cat urinary blockage? Do you know about FLUTD? Maybe you’re puzzled why your cat suddenly pees outside the box? Does he have a cat urinary blockage? How can I stop my cat from peeing on the carpet?
If you’re asking these questions, you’ve come to the right place. Feline lower urinary tract disorders (FLUTD) can cause deadly cat urinary blockage. It frustrates cat owners—and also the cats! A cat urinary blockage can be deadly, so it’s vital to recognize the signs of a feline urinary tract disorder.
Cat Urinary Blockage & Disorders
Your cat has always been faithful to the litter box. After all, you trained your kitten to use the litter box from the beginning. But suddenly your adult cat, Tom, leaves damp messages on the carpet, Sheba cries and squats right in front of you, and bloody urine puddles in the bathtub. This is different from urine spraying, and is a cry for help.
Some litter box problems can be easily solved with these tips. When your well-trained cat suddenly begins missing the mark, that can be a sign of a health problem. Any health issue requires veterinary help.
Cats with urinary tract disorders often spend lots of time just sitting in the box.
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorders (FLUTD)
Cats are known to suffer from a group of disorders, including stones, as a part of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease or FLUTD. Male and female cats are affected equally. Urinary bladder stones occur in only about 20 percent of cats suffering from LUTD.
Actual “stones” of pebble-size and larger can develop. More commonly the tiny mineral deposits (called urolithiasis) are microscopic to sand-size. A mucous-crystal matrix can plug the urethra and prevent the bladder from emptying and cause cat urinary blockage. Just think back to your childhood, remember a never-ending car trip with no bathroom access. Multiply that discomfort tenfold to understand how the blocked cat feels.
Signs of Cat Urinary Blockage
Signs of urinary stones may include any one or combination of a break in housetraining, dribbling urine, straining in the litter box or spending lots of time “posing” with little result, bloody urine or urine with a strong ammonia smell, crying during urination, or excessively licking the genitals.
Diagnosis is based on these symptoms, urinalysis, and/or X-rays to reveal stones in the urinary tract. Without prompt medical attention, the blocked cat will die when toxins build up in the bloodstream, the kidneys stop working, or the bladder ruptures.
FLUTD & Creating Kitty Urinary Crystals
Not all stones are the same. Crystals and/or stones form when specific minerals and organic substances are present in the urine in the right concentrations. In addition, the urine must be the right pH (acid/base balance). It also must stay in the bladder long enough for crystals to form. Consider pancake syrup in a pan–if it sits still long enough, crystals form. Therefore, formation of stones depends on volume of urine, concentration and type of minerals, frequency of urination, and genetics.
Cats evolved as desert creatures, and consequently conserve water extremely well. They may urinate only once every 24 to 48 hours. That means urine sits in the bladder for long periods and becomes more and more concentrated. Cats also drink sparingly, and seem to prefer to get water from their diet rather than lapping from a bowl. These instinctive tendencies predispose felines to develop bladder stones. Some kinds of crystals like struvite can be managed easily with diet. Others like calcium oxalate stones are a challenge–and diets that prevent one actually promote the other kind. Yikes!
The cause of feline crystals often can’t be identified. Diet can play a role in the formation of certain types of feline stones. And because up to 70 percent of cats have repeated episodes of stones, diet has become the standard way to treat and in some cases prevent them.
Cat Urinary Crystals
A dozen years ago, 80 percent of feline bladder stones identified as struvite and developed in part due to alkaline urine. Pet food manufacturers learned to counter this by creating acidic urine (and therefore prevent struvite formation) by adjusting the formulation of cat diets. Bless their furry lil’ hearts! Nearly every commercial cat food on the market today has been designed to reduce the chance of struvite formation, by increasing the acidity of the urine.
When the diet has undergone expensive tests to prove this effect, the label may say, “for urinary tract health.” Honestly, though, all of the major cat food brands do pretty much the same thing. They just haven’t spent extra money on these tests and so legally can’t place a claim on the label.
The Struvite Solution?
A percentage of cats still develop struvite stones despite eating good foods. Special veterinary diets can dissolve existing stones and/or prevent formation of new ones, and most of the major pet food manufacturers offer therapeutic options. Therefore, if your cat hates the first food offered, ask about another therapeutic alternative. Diets only work if the cat eats them.
Cats that become blocked from urethral plugs–crystals mixed with mucus that get stuck in the urinary track–typically are unblocked with catheters to reestablish flow from the bladder. But repeated catheter use may cause scar tissue in the urethra that makes the problem even worse. Perianal urethrostomy surgery may be an option for these cats. The procedure shortens the male cat’s urethra—removes the penis—which creates a wider conduit for release of urine so the urethra doesn’t block as easily even if crystals continue to form.
More Urinary Crystals & Calcium Oxalate Conundrum
Today calcium oxalate stones are becoming most common. Struvite seems to affect younger cats while calcium oxalate more often impacts aging felines. In fact, some calcium oxalate uroliths, especially those in the kidneys, may not cause obvious health problems for months to years. As the cat ages, the bladder becomes less elastic and may not empty totally each time the cat urinates. Over time, this may lead to increased susceptibility to infections and large bladder or kidney stones.
The change in commercial diets to reduce struvite actually promoted a rise in calcium oxalate stones. These struvite-prevention diets increase blood-acid levels, which also tend to leech calcium from the bones. Calcium spilled into the urine can form calcium oxalate stones. Calcium oxalate stones most typically block the ureters–the conduits leading from the kidneys to the bladder–and if too big to pass, require surgery to remove.
FLUTD & Stopping the Stones
So, what can a cat lover do? Be alert for signs of distress. Consider a blocked cat a life-threatening emergency and see your veterinarian immediately. Do your best to reduce cat stress, since that can predispose kitties to repeated episodes.
If your cat has been diagnosed with FLUTD, your doctor likely will analyze the crystals (if present); determine if an infection is involved and prescribe medication and recommend an appropriate diet. Remember that an old cat with calcium oxalate crystals should NOT eat a food designed to prevent struvite, or vice versa. In addition to diet change, avoid giving any kind of mineral or vitamin C and D supplementation to cats, which can predispose to calcium oxalate formation.
Dilute With Water
Increase your cat’s water intake by feeding canned diets, which typically feature 70 percent water. Cats seem to drink more when the water remains fresh or running. Provide a feline drinking fountain, available from pet products stores. More water helps dilute the urine and encourages the cat to use the litter box more often. That way the bladder doesn’t remain full for long periods of time.
While filtered or bottled water isn’t routinely recommended, it probably won’t hurt and might help especially if it encourages your cats to drink more. Try flavoring the water with liquid drained from water-packed tuna or a bit of no-salt chicken broth. All’s fair in keeping cats healthy–sometimes despite themselves.
Seren was always remarkably healthy and (knock wood!). She never missed the litter box until she reached age 20 or so. Karma-Kat hasn’t had issues thus far, either.. What about your cats? Have they had problems missing the box? Crystal issues? What has been your kitty experience with regard to lower urinary tract issues?