Cats over 10-12 years of age are considered Senior and need to be carefully monitored at home for signs of illness such as weight loss, increased water drinking or urination, increased or decreased appetite. Here are some of the disease processes we commonly see:
In older cats, especially those without regular dental check ups and care, dental disease can progress to the point where the gums are severely inflamed and bleeding. Teeth can even become abscessed and loose. This makes eating painful and can lead to chronic pain and weight loss. Generally, a veterinarian can examine the teeth and determine if they are a health issue. Untreated periodontal disease can lead to disease in other organs, particularly the heart and the kidneys. Treatment involves a preanesthetic blood and urine test, anesthesia, extraction of any severely diseased teeth, and ultrasonic cleaning and polishing of remaining teeth. If possible, the owner should follow up with an oral rinse a few times per week as a preventative.
Unfortunately, kidney or renal disease is very common in older cats. Owners will often see increased thirst and urination, weight loss, decreased appetite, and sometimes vomiting. Blood and urine tests are needed to confirm kidney disease. Early kidney disease can often be treated with a prescription diet alone. This is one reason why annual blood work in older cats can be very helpful at picking up health problems before they become clinical. More advanced kidney disease is treated with subcutaneous fluids, phosphate binders, anti ulcer medication, and sometimes vitamin/mineral supplements. Some dedicated owners even learn how to give subcutaneous fluids at home (its easier than it sounds!) Treatment can maintain a pets quality of life for a long time, sometimes for many years. Severe or acute renal failure is best treated with hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy for three to six days prior to the previously mentioned protocol.
Hyperthyroidism is another disease frequently seen in older cats. Affected cats tend to eat very well but lose weight. They sometimes become anxious and pace around meowing at odd hours. They also can drink more water and urinate more. A benign growth in the thyroid gland produces excess thyroid hormone and causes a drastic increase in metabolism, resulting in the symptoms. Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed with a blood test. Untreated hyperthyroidism is eventually fatal, because the hormone induces heart failure as the pet loses more and more weight. Caught early, there are less generalized effects on the body. Sometimes, if a value is borderline, a confirmatory test is required to measure the unbound level of the hormone in the blood. In either case, hyperthyroidism is treatable either with oral medication (methimazole) or radioactive iodine treatment. We would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of each treatment if your kitty was diagnosed with this disease.
Diabetes can be diagnosed in any age cat but does become more prevalent with age. The classic symptoms are increased thirst, urination, and appetite with severe weight loss. Overweight, sedentary cats are more at risk. Blood and urine tests are needed to diagnose this disease. Treatment is with insulin given by injection. Since a tiny needle is used, almost anyone can learn to give the injections. Treatment is very effective. We monitor treatment periodically with blood glucose curves. A blood glucose curve is a series of glucose readings using a drop of blood taken every few hours over the course of one day. Some owners are even able to learn to check their cats glucose level at home. The new glucometers (glucose measuring devices) are so much easier to use than in the past that we teach owners to do this if they are comfortable with the idea.
There are many other diseases in older cats, but this is a good introduction to the more commonly seen problems. Your Senior cat deserves special attention at home to monitor for symptoms, and we recommend annual exams and periodic blood and urine testing to try to catch disease processes early.