We all know the truth, cats don't live as long as people do. By the time cats are 7 years old, they are considered to be "senior pets," and from the time they turn 14 years old, they are considered "geriatric."
Just like people, as cats get older they need a little more help and care. Here are some things you can do to help keep your senior and geriatric cats happy, healthy, and comfortable. (A lot of these tips will look familiar to the Tips for Taking Care of Your Older Dog!)
- Annual physical examinations. Senior cats should have physical examinations at least once a year, and ideally every six months once they hit 14 years old. As cats get older, they are more likely to develop diseases like kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, and even cancer. Regular physical examinations with your veterinarian can help to diagnose these (or other) conditions early. Early diagnosis means we can work with you to develop a treatment plan that will work for both you and your cat to help your her feel better and have a better quality of life in her golden years.
- Annual blood and urine tests. Some diseases, like kidney or thyroid disease, are very difficult to diagnose with only a history and physical examination. In the very early stages of these diseases, you might not notice a big change in your cat's behavior, but the changes are already happening. Performing blood and urine tests once a year as your cat reaches senior status can help your veterinarian diagnose some of the serious diseases early. Early diagnosis means early treatment, and a better quality of life for your cat.
- Annual vaccinations. Just like people, as cats get older their immune systems don't work quite as well. It is very important to keep your senior cats current on their annual vaccines to help reduce the chances that they get sick from easily preventable diseases.
- Preventative medications. Continuing your regular schedule of heartworm, flea, and tick prevention is just as important for older cats as it is for younger kitties.
- Dental cleanings. Over time, plaque and tartar build up on your cat's teeth. This can give your cat awful breath, and can cause infections in her gums. Regular dental cleanings by your veterinarian can help to keep your cat's mouth and gums healthy, and her breath kitty-fresh.
- Proper nutrition. As cats age, their nutrition needs change. Once your cat is seven years old, she should be on a senior diet. These diets have fewer calories and a lower protein content. Older cats tend to be less active, so a lower-calorie diet is important to help them maintain a healthy weight. Older cats can also have some trouble processing protein, so a lower-protein food can help their body systems keep functioning well. If your cat has a medical condition, your veterinarian may recommend a special prescription diet to help manage her health.
- Help with jumping. Arthritis is the most common problem we see in senior cats. You might notice that your cat has trouble jumping up on the couch or bed where he used to spend a lot of time. (Of course, no one minds if they stop jumping up on the kitchen counter!) Small steps or ramps can be a big help for senior cats to help them get to their favorite places.
- Soft beds. Hard floors can be rough on old bones! Give your senior cats a soft bed or some fluffy towels or blankets to lay on so they don't need to lay on the bare floor. What's comfortable as a young cat isn't so cozy for an older cat.
- Pain management. The pain from arthritis can often be managed very well with medication. Sometimes, your senior cat can go back to acting like a young cat again if his arthritis pain is under control!
- Keep the litter box clean. As our cats get older, they might have a few accidents around the house. Many of the medical problems we see in senior cats can cause changes in their drinking and urinating behavior. Keeping a clean litter box will help you know if your cat is going more or less than normal. Bring this up with your veterinarian, as there is often a treatable medical problem to blame.
In addition to your regular annual exams, you should call your veterinarian if you notice any changes in your cat's behavior, appetite, drinking, bathroom habits, or weight. These can all be signals that your cat isn't feeling well and should be examined by a veterinarian. Cats are very good at hiding when they don't feel well, so any behavior change (especially hiding more than normal), should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Our senior pets are so important! They are such a big part of our lives, and of course we want to do everything we can to keep them happy and healthy. Even things that we think of as "just getting older" can be helped with a diet change, a little more exercise, or a medication when needed. With good care and regular communication, senior and geriatric pets can still live healthy, active lives.
When is the last time your senior cat had a check up? Call us if you have questions, or come in during our regular business hours. The Princeton Veterinary Hospital always accepts new patients, and does not require appointments.