Old age is NOT a disease
… but with age comes certain diseases
What is a "senior"? Cats are "seniors" once they are 7 years old. Cats are considered "geriatric" (senior seniors) after the age of 12.
Most cats over the age of 10 have some arthritis. Often cats do not limp. Signs of joint disease include not being able to jump like they used to, not grooming as well as they used to and being stiff when getting up after laying down.
We can't "cure" bad joints, but we can reduce the pain:
Glucosamine – helps joint lining … but is not much of a pain reliever in cat arthritis
NSAIDs – Metacam is the most commonly used anti-inflammatory in cats … it has a small risk of GI upset (vomiting or diarrhea) and we should assess kidney health with bloodwork and/or urine before using … used properly at a low dose metacam can be very safe
Buprenorphine (opioid pain reliever)
Gabapentin (neurologic pain reliever)
Steps/ramps (make it easier for your cat to get around your home)
When the kidneys are no longer functioning properly, the level of some chemicals build up in the blood (urea, creatinine, phosphorous) & the urine becomes dilute (the kidneys usually concentrate the urine). This is Chronic Kidney Disease (CRD).
Causes of CRD:
Toxins (like antifreeze or lily exposure)
Genetics – born with a defective or deformed kidney
Age - If a cat lives long enough, the kidneys will eventually have disease
Symptoms of CRD:
Urinating large volumes
Blood in the urine
Vomiting more than usual
High blood pressure
We can’t make the kidneys normal again but we can often help the cat feel better:
- Fluids – if the cat is vomiting a lot and/or not eating, fluids are often needed … these can be subcutaneous (under the skin) or intravenous (in the vein)
- Diet – low protein diets can help cats if they have high phosphorous and urea
- Phosphate binders – powders or liquids - especially helpful for cats who will not eat renal / kidney diets
- Potassium supplement – this electrolyte is often low in CRD cats
- Antacid – Pepcid/famotidine for vomiting
- Appetite stimulant – Mirtazapine – by mouth 1-2 x per week if the patient is not eating well and is losing weight
Senior cats (like all cats) should be fed a diet that is best for their medical needs and their weight.
If a cat has CRD, a renal diet may be best. If a cat has intestinal disease, a gastrointestinal diet may be best. I say “may” be best because the world’s best diet cannot help a cat if they won’t eat it. I often try the diet that is medically best for a cat … if they won’t eat it I figure out a nutritional plan B and C and so on.
Most senior cats need more calories (not less) than they did as an adult. They should not have the protein in their diet reduced unless they have renal disease.
The calories your cat need to eat each day depends on their Body Condition Score (BCS). Normal is 5/9. A lower number is thin (3/9). A higher number is overweight (8/9). Make sure your vet does a BCS on your cat. And make sure they touch your cat to get it. Some people see a fluffy cat and think they are fat … if you can feel the spine and hips they are actually thin.
Overweight cats need fewer calories per kilogram of kitty. Thin cats need more. The amount the company recommends on the bag is not always right for your cat.
Most cats benefit from eating canned food every day. How much and what type will vary from cat to cat. If your cat won’t eat chunks and gravy, try pate. If your cat won’t eat chicken flavor, try a fish flavor. Cats often do become fussier about food with age because they do not smell the food as well as they used to.
Other Senior Concerns
Seniors are also prone to constipation (especially if overweight and/or eating 100% dry food), deafness, high blood pressure (which can cause sudden blindness), matted hair / ingrown nails, cancers, senility / dementia, and heart disease.
IF you have any concerns about your cat ask your veterinarian!