We previously featured high-sided litter boxes to help you contain the mess inside the box rather than all around the box. Even though all of these boxes have lower entrance areas, they may still be too high for senior cats, especially cats with arthritis.
Arthritis is a common condition that affects as many as 3 in 10 cats. It is often not diagnosed in cats because it is difficult to recognize even for the most dedicated cat guardian. The signs can be subtle, and since cats are such masters at masking pain, it often remains untreated. Only 7% of cats with arthritis receive treatment.Continue Reading
I frequently get questions from readers who are looking to add a new cat to their family. How do I find a cat that will be a good match for my cat? Should I get a cat who’s the same age as my resident cat, or should I get a kitten? Male or female? Will the resident cat accept the newcomer? I wish I could give definitive answers to all of these questions, but the reality is that while you can do some homework, ultimately, each cat’s unique history and personality will determine the outcome, but the following information can help you have a clearer idea of your situation. And these questions are even harder to answer when it comes to deciding whether to get a companion for a senior cat. Continue Reading
Feline hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, is usually seen in older cats, and is most often secondary to an already existing disease such as kidney failure, heart disease, or hyperthyroidism. Accurate diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent serious consequences.Continue Reading
Cats are living longer and healthier lives, thanks to improved veterinary care, better nutrition, and the fact that most pet cats are indoor cats. A cat is usually considered a senior between the age of 11 and 14, cats older than that are considered geriatric. Senior cats usually require more care then younger cats, and when problems occur, they can often be more serious or more difficult to deal with.
November is Adopt-a-Senior Pet month. If you’re looking to add a new feline family member, don’t overlook the joys of adopting an older cat. Jane Harrell, executive producer at Petfinder.com, lists 10 reasons senior cats rule, and I agree with all of them. With a senior cat, you know what you’re going to get: the cat’s personality is already formed, so you’ll have a better idea of how she’ll fit into your family. Senior cats are usually already trained in the ways of living with humans. They’re purr-fect if you’re looking for a snuggle buddy. And most importantly, since senior cats are often the last to get adopted, you’ll literally be saving a life when you adopt one of these mature felines.
My own experience of adopting an older cat came with Buckley, who was most likely somewhere between eight and ten years old when I fell in love with her. Even though she was only with me for three short years, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a single moment.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to three senior torties from around the country who are looking for their forever homes to live out their golden years.Continue Reading
Living with a senior cat has rewards as well as challenges that are a bit different than those encountered when living with a younger cat. Pain is, of course, something we don’t want to see in any of our pets. However, senior cats are more likely to develop conditions and illnesses that create pain and discomfort. Arthritis is a common but often unrecognized disorder in older cats. In one study, 90 percent of cats over 12 years of age showed radiographic (X-ray) evidence of arthritis*.
Unfortunately, recognizing arthritis in cats is challenging at best. Many of our cats hide their pain very effectively. While we may sometimes see our older cat limping or favoring one leg or another, more often than not our arthritic cats simply become less active. They spend more time sleeping and resting. They may be reluctant to jump onto surfaces that were easily accessible previously. In fact, many of us mistake these symptoms of arthritis for normal aging. Too often, we simply assume that it’s normal for an older cat to sleep moreContinue Reading
Finding a companion for an older cat requires some forethought, and is frequently not quite as simple as finding an adorable kitten at the local shelter, bringing her home, and introducing her immediately to the older resident cat. Kittens may not be a good match for many senior cats, especially cats who are dealing with health issues. If, after careful thought, you decide to have a kitten join your older feline in residence, slow and steady introductions will ensure a smooth experience for everyone.
Beyond the unsure nature of socialization between cat and kitten, there are also potential health concerns with an immediate introduction. When taking a new kitten home, the first stop should be a veterinarian’s office to make sure he is feline leukemia and FIV negative, free of parasites, and otherwise in good health.
The following tips will help you introduce your new kitten to your older cat.Continue Reading
At least not in human years. Conventional wisdom used to be that cats age seven human years for every feline year. The limitations of this calculation become particularly obvious on the high and low ends of the age spectrum. With advances in veterinary care, some cats now life well into their teens and even into their twenties, which, using the old paradigm, would make a 15-year-old cat 105 years old, a 20-year-old cat 140 years! On the low end of the age spectrum, a 9-month-old kitten would be the equivalent of a 5-year-old child. If you’ve ever had a 9-month-old kitten, you know that they act much more like a teenager than a young child.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recognizes that there is a better way to classify feline life stages. Individual cats and individual body systems age at different rates, and while any type of age grouping is inevitably arbitrary, they felt that the new age designations take physical and behavioral changes that occur at different ages into account (for example, congenital defects in kittens, obesity prevention in young cats). Of course, aging is a process that is influenced by many factors, including diet, preventive care, genetics, and environment.
The following chart was developed by the AAFP’s Feline Advisory Bureau, and may give you a better indication of where on the human age spectrum your cat falls:
Why is this important? Cats need different levels of health care at different ages. The AAFP recommends a minimum of annual wellness exams for cats of all ages, with more frequent exams for seniors, geriatrics and cats with known medical conditions. I recommend bi-annual exams for cats age 7 and older. Cats are masters at hiding discomfort, and annual or bi-annual exams are the best way to detect problems early. Once a cat shows symptoms, treatment may be much more extensive, not as effective, and will also cost more.
According to this chart, Allegra and Ruby are both Juniors. Allegra is almost two in feline years, and Ruby is almost a year, which makes her fall right into the middle of the teenage years in human years. Yup – I’d say that’s an accurate assessment!
Older cats that become ill typically try to hide how they feel. They also tend to become more seriously ill more quickly, and take longer to recover. “The earlier we see these animals, the more we can do something for them,” says Sheila McCullough, DVM, an internist at the University of Illinois. It is vital to pay attention to your cat as she ages, to catch problems before they turn serious.
A good way to keep in mind the special needs of your aging cat is simply to use the acronym L.O.V.E. That stands for Listen With Your Heart; Observe for Changes; Visit the Veterinarian; and Enrich the Environment.
Listen With Your Heart
Never discount that odd “feeling” that something’s different, not right. Listen with your heart and your cat will shout louder than words how she feels. That’s when you make the extra visit to the veterinarian and explain your concerns. “It’s more of an intuitive thing,” says Susan G. Wynn, DVM, a holistic veterinarian in private practice in Atlanta. Because of the love and close relationship you share, you have an advantage when it comes to “knowing” when something’s wrong.
A change in behavior is the number one way your cat tells you she’s feeling bad from either a physical problem or an emotional upset. Changes in behavior may be sudden and obvious, or may develop slowly and subtly over time.
Think of these changes as a feline cry for help. You need to have a good grasp of what’s normal for your cat in order to be able to recognize this shift in the status quo. That includes regularly observing your cat for changes.
Regular veterinary visits are a must. Any time you have an intuitive feeling or a more concrete observation that something’s not quite right, validate your concerns with a veterinary visit.
Finally, the environment your cat lives in impacts everything about her. When she begins to age, you have to make appropriate enrichments to her nutrition, exercise, grooming needs, and home life. Don’t forget to enrich her mind as well as her body. Follow the L.O.V.E. plan to keep her healthy and happy throughout her golden years.
Observe for Changes: Home Health Alerts
Healthy aging cats see the veterinarian only a couple of times a year. You live with her every day, and you know your cat best. In almost all cases, you will be the first to notice when something is wrong.
Close proximity to your pet allows you to immediately notice any changes that can point to a potential health problem. The major disadvantage to this closeness is that you may overlook subtle changes, or those that have a slow, gradual onset. Veterinarians call sudden problems “acute” and those are the easiest for owners to spot. But conditions that develop slowly over a long period of time, called chronic problems, are more insidious. Changes of a chronic nature creep up on you, day by day, in such small increments that you aren’t likely to notice anything’s wrong. By the time a problem becomes obvious, the disease may have been simmering for months or even years, and the damage may be permanent.
“The classic emergency I see is the 12-year-old cat that is feeling badly, and deteriorated over the last 24-48 hours,” says Steven L. Marks, BVSc, an internist and surgeon at North Carolina State University. “The assumption is that the pet has become sick in the last two days when in fact, chronic renal failure has been going on for months and maybe years. Now the body can’t compensate anymore and the pet’s suddenly sick and it’s an emergency.”
One of the best ways to stay on top of things is to create a log of your cat’s normal behaviors. A home health report card provides you with baseline measures against which to compare even the subtle changes in your cat’s health. For example, monitor how much your cat weighs. “Even a small amount of weight loss, an ounce or two, will really catch my attention in an elderly cat,” says Susan Little, DVM, a feline specialist in Ottawa, Canada. Should your cat at some point in the future be diagnosed with a particular condition, a home health report card also can help you measure how well the treatment works. That in turn helps the veterinarian make informed decisions if adjustments to the therapy are needed.
Once you have your list and a benchmark description of “normal,” review the home health report card on a monthly basis to check for any behavior or physical changes. If your cat has been diagnosed with a disease for which she’s receiving treatment, a weekly or even daily check to monitor changes may be better.
Generate a list of as many of your cat’s normal behaviors as possible. The categories will vary somewhat from cat to cat. Be as specific as possible. Examples of categories follow, but don’t limit yourself to my suggestions. If your cat gets in the sink every day, for example, or enjoys chasing the dog, include that as a category and describe her routine. Any changes to routine might indicate a health concern that needs attention. For instance, if she wakes you every single day at five and then suddenly lets you oversleep, perhaps her joints hurt too much from arthritis to jump onto the bed.
Favorite Activity (games, how often, duration)
Vocabulary (reaction to known words)
Generate a list of your cat’s normal body functions. Be as specific as possible. Examples of categories follow, but don’t limit yourself to my suggestions. “I’d rather see a case that doesn’t need to be seen as an emergency than not see one that needed to be,” says Dr. Marks.
Urination and Defecation (color, increase/decrease, “accidents”)
Skin, Fur And Claws (dandruff, sores, shiny fur, mats, etc.)
Eyes (clear, watery, squinting)
Ears (clean, smell, scratching)
This post is an excerpt from Amy Shojai’s Complete Cate for Your Aging Cat, winner of the Cat Writers’ Association HARTZ Award (for best entry on aging cats) and MERIAL Human-Animal Bond Award. The updated, revised 2010 edition is now available in paperback, and Amazon Kindle Edition with “hot links” to the experts cited in the book.
Amy Shojai, CABC is the award-winning author of 23 dog and cat care and behavior books, and can be reached at her website http://www.shojai.com
In honor of Peaches, animal artist Bernadette Kazmarski’s cat who is turning 20 years old on May 1, a number of blogs are participating in the birthday celebration by posting articles about living with and caring for older cats.
Cats are living longer and healthier lives, thanks to improved veterinary care, better nutrition, and the fact that most pet cats are indoor cats; but even at that, not many live to the ripe old age of 20. The definition of an older cat is usually preceded by the term “senior” or “geriatric.” Cats are considered senior between the ages of 11 and 14, and geriatric over the age of 15. The following provides some pointers to help you keep your older cat happy and healthy.
Regular veterinary care
This is important at any age, but becomes particularly important as cats age. Typically, veterinarians recommend annual visits for healthy cats up to age 6 or 7, and bi-annual visits after that. I explained in a previous post what a senior cat wellness visit entails and why it’s so important.
Behavior and environment
Environmental needs may change as cats age. Cats often loose some mobility as osteoarthritis, a common ailment in older cats, begins to set in. It becomes important to make sure that they have easy access to the litter box. Some litter boxes may be too high for older cats to get in and out of comfortably. Make sure that beds are easy to access – if kitty can no longer jump up on beds or other favorite sleeping spots, consider getting a ramp or steps to make it easier for her.
Watch for subtle behavior changes such as increased vocalization, problems with elimination, or changes in routine. They may be indicators of medical problems and may require veterinary attention.
As cats become older, they’re typically less playful and less mobile, and weight gain can become a problem. Don’t turn to senior diets – while they are marketed as “light” and lower in calories, they are high in carbohydrates and contraindicated for cats, who are obligate carnivores. I previously wrote about weight management for senior cats. There is no reason to change a cat’s diet as she gets older. If you feed a healthy raw or grain-free canned diet, only minor adjustments in quantity should be required to keep your cat healthy through her senior and geriatric years.
Bi-annual vet exams should include a thorough examination of your cat’s teeth and mouth. Good dental health is one of the most important health issues for cats, especially as they get older. Dental disease not only causes pain and decreases quality of life, but it can result in damage to other organs such as kidneys and heart.
Depending on your cat’s lifestyle (indoor vs. outdoor), regular fecal examinations are recommended. Discuss parasite control with your veterinarian, but be aware that many of the leading flea and tick control products are pesticides. Look for natural alternatives instead.
Work in partnership with your veterinarian to evaluate risk, and determine whether there is a need for continued vaccinations. Consider blood tests in lieu of vaccinations to determine protection levels. For a comprehensive overview of feline vaccinations, click here.
Life with an older cat is a joy that is to be savored, and following these guidelines should help you keep your feline companion happy and healthy well into her golden years.