Pet Care

Geriatric care

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What is it?

As your cat gets older, you may notice that they start to slow down. They may have changes in their toilet habits, their temperament may alter, and they may become less able to jump or climb.

Why is it important?

Age related illness can have a significant negative impact on your cat’s quality of life. We as vets have the privilege to end a pet’s life peacefully and painlessly when they are suffering from an illness which prevents them from having a good quality of life.

Older cats are more likely to suffer from problems such as:

Kidney disease

  • Signs include drinking and urinating more, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, lethargy, poor hair coat, ulcers in the mouth.
  • Diagnosed through blood tests and urine tests, blood pressure can be taken.
  • Treatment is supportive, with medication to control blood pressure through the kidneys, and a phosphate restricted kidney support diet
  • Acute kidney disease – may need fluid therapy and careful monitoring.
  • Chronic kidney disease cannot be cured and will progress until it becomes life threatening. Medical treatment may help to slow the progression of the disease.

  • Hypertension

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) in cats may lead to blindness, disorientation, eye changes such as bleeding vessels, and seizures.
  • It is diagnosed by measuring blood pressure. Hypertension can occur secondary to other problems such as kidney disease, so blood tests are often recommended.
  • Treatment in cats is usually with tablets to lower their blood pressure.

  • Hyperthyroidism

  • The thyroid gland produces hormones which regulate the cat’s metabolism. Hyperthyroidism is caused by a tumour of the thyroid gland which produces too much thyroid hormone.
  • Hyperthyroid cats may become more anxious, they are usually drinking and urinating more. Weight loss, often despite an increased appetite, is a feature of the disease. Sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea occur.
  • Diagnosis - blood tests.
  • Hyperthyroid cats can be managed with medication to inhibit the overactive thyroid tissue. They require ongoing monitoring with blood tests as stabilizing an overactive thyroid can ‘unmask’ underlying kidney problems.
  • Sometimes a low-iodine food can help, but only if the cat has no other food sources (including treats, neighbours or mice!).
  • Long-term treatment options include radioactive iodine (very successful, but requires a period of hospitalisation in a specialist centre), surgery to remove the thyroid glands, or life-long medication.

  • Diabetes

  • Diabetes is a particular risk in overweight or obese cats. A recent study suggests it may affect 1 in 200 cats, and obesity is also on the rise. Obesity causes the body to stop responding to insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. The pancreas becomes less able to produce insulin, and blood sugar levels rise to dangerous levels. Diabetic cats are drinking and urinating more, they may vomit, and they lose weight, often despite a normal to increased appetite.
  • Diagnosis - blood and urine tests.
  • A calorie controlled diet is essential especially if the cat is overweight.
  • Treatment is daily insulin injections. 50-60% of cats may recover their ability to produce their own insulin if diabetes is treated early so ongoing monitoring is very important.
  • Owners must be aware of the signs of accidental insulin overdose - low blood sugar causing twitching, seizures, weakness, and confusion, so that a glucose source can be given rapidly (such as honey, applied to the gums).

  • Dental disease

  • Dental disease is a significant cause of pain and discomfort in older cats.
  • Signs of dental disease include a foul smell to the breath, drooling or increased salivation (you may notice this from saliva staining), dropping food or avoiding food, eating on one side of the mouth, pawing at the face, weight loss, inflamed sore gums, discoloured teeth.
  • Treatment is carried out under general anaesthesia, and may require extraction of diseased teeth, pain relief, and antibiotics if needed. Some cats may have chronic dental disease that cannot be cured and requires ongoing medical management.

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Arthritis is the term given to age-related degeneration of the joints, when the cartilage wears away and the body cannot replace it. Joint surfaces become roughened and the body tries to heal by laying down new bone, which further restricts joint movement.
  • Arthritis is a painful condition, and affected cats will be less likely to jump, they are often lame and stiff, less able to groom themselves, they may be more grumpy or aggressive due to pain, and they may miss the litter tray when going to the toilet.
  • Diagnosis is through examination and possibly X rays.
  • Management - pain relief, joint supplements, and making sure litter tray, food and water are accessible.

  • Cancer

  • Signs depend on tumour type, it may be a lump that grows bigger or an internal mass that causes weight loss, vomiting, or difficulty breathing.
  • Diagnosed by blood tests, imaging such as X rays and ultrasound, and biopsies.
  • Prognosis depends on tumour type and how aggressive it is. Internal tumours such as lymphoma generally carry a poorer prognosis, whereas superficial “lumps” can often be removed surgically.

  • How can I protect my pet?

  • Regular vet checkups.
  • Ensure your older cat has a comfortable environment, such as soft bedding, non-slip flooring, and easily accessible litter trays and food and water bowls.
  • Ensure clean fresh water is always available – do not restrict water intake even if your cat is drinking more.
  • Groom and clip nails regularly to avoid overgrowth and discomfort. It is common to see lameness and pain due to ingrowing nails and infected pads.
  • Feed an appropriate diet to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of obesity related illness.
  • Blood tests when recommended.
  • See your vet for a checkup as soon as possible if you notice any of the following signs in your cat: weight loss, cough, passing urine or faeces in the house, blood in the urine, vomiting or diarrhoea, drinking more, stiff or lame, bad breath, or you have noticed any lumps that are suddenly getting bigger.
  • Know when to say goodbye to an old friend. Assessing your cat’s quality of life with the help of your vet will enable you to decide when the time is right to put them to sleep if they are suffering from age related illness.