We all love our kitties and wish that they could live forever. The good news is, with proper health care, love and affection, and knowing what age-related changes to expect, your kitty can live longer than previously thought. Eight years old used to considered middle-aged whereas it’s nothing for our furry friends to live well into their teenage years and even into the early 20s.
The first thing to stress about aging in cats is that aging itself is not a disease. There are some normal changes that your cat will undergo as their birthdays start to stack up. There are also some abnormal changes that could indicate an underlying disease that we need to pay close attention to.
Normal Signs of Aging in Cats
Watch the Cat’s Weight
Unlike most animals and even humans, a cat’s metabolism doesn’t slow down as they age. Instead, kitties’ digestion and absorption of fat can decrease, warranting an increase in calories and fat in your kitty’s diet. However, this doesn’t mean that you should feed your senior cat free choice. Still measure out the proper amount of food to maintain a healthy weight, just be aware that the type and amount of fat may need to change to keep weight on.
Notice the Cat’s Nails
Senior cats also can start showing thicker, more brittle nails. You may notice the nails starting to sliver or flake and curl towards the pad. Your kitty’s feet may need a little extra attention to make sure the nails don’t grow into the foot pad and cause an infection.
Once kitties get into their golden years, their joints don’t hold up like they used to. Arthritis is a common issue related to aging in cats. Arthritis presents itself by decreased movement, especially jumping and climbing. You may notice that kitty doesn’t want to climb into a high-sided litter box anymore. They might also decline their favorite perch on the windowsill or arm of the couch in favor of a spot on the floor. Stairs can also present an issue.
In order to help your senior cat accommodate for sore joints, make sure you place things within reach so that kitty doesn’t have to jump up or climb to get to food, water, bedding or the litter box. Make sure there are low-sided litter boxes on all levels of your home and you can even provide stairs to help your pet get to their favorite spot. Glucosamine chondroitin can play an important role in maintaining joint health. This supplement helps maintain joint fluid viscosity to properly lubricate achy joints. This product requires time to build up in the system, so you won’t see results immediately but it will help in the long run. Also, exercise helps increase flexibility and maintains muscle tone. Encourage light exercise every day by playing with your kitty.
Losing the Luster
You may notice that Fluffy’s once shiny, thick hair coat is becoming thinner and duller as the years go by. Minor changes are normal due to a decrease fatty acid absorption and decreased grooming due to arthritis. You can help decrease these changes by supplementing fatty acids and helping your kitty groom more often. Grooming helps remove old hairs and increases oil gland secretions leading to a healthier looking coat. It also gives you a chance to check your cat for any lumps, bumps or other abnormalities.
Aging leads to the slowing down of more than just kitty’s movements, it also slows down the gastrointestinal tract. Add that to a decrease in water consumption and you have a kitty that leaves fecal marbles instead of normal bowel movements. Help your kitty and encourage water consumption by providing clean water in easy to get to areas, increasing fiber content in the diet by adding canned pumpkin or green beans, or by using a supplement like Cat Lax to grease the passageway.
Other Signs of Cat’s Aging
Aging cats may also experience decreases in vision and hearing. They also have trouble regulating body temperature and may seek warmer environments than what they used to. Kitties can still function normally as long as you don’t rapidly change things for them, such as moving furniture, food bowls, etc. Provide a warmer bed free from drought and let your purry pal determine what is comfortable for them.
What’s Abnormal about Cat’s Aging?
There is a fine line between normal and abnormal aging. The above listed normal aging changes can easily become abnormal changes if they go too far. For instance, a little weight loss is normal, but significant weight loss can be more serious and should be looked into.
If you notice your cat constantly hovering over the water bowl, it may be a sign of kidney disease. Decreased kidney function is an almost certain aging effect. Unfortunately, kidney failure is a very common disease found in older cats. The main symptom that owners report is an increase in water consumption and urination. As the disease progresses, the cat loses their appetite, may vomit, lose weight, and develop an acetone odor to their breath.
Kidney disease is diagnosed with a blood test by your veterinarian. There is no real treatment as kidneys can’t be fixed. The only thing to do is to try to maintain as much function as possible by providing fluids as needed and to change to a low protein diet to decrease the work required by the kidneys.
Increased thirst can also be a sign of diabetes. In addition to increased water consumption, diabetes can also present with rapid weight loss, poor hair coat, decreased appetite and sticky looking urine. Again, diabetes is diagnosed with a blood test and controlled by a low carbohydrate diet and insulin.
If instead of a picky appetite, your kitty turns into a bottomless pit, hyperthyroidism could be the culprit. This disease is caused by an overproduction of thyroid hormone due to a diseased thyroid gland. Thyroid hormone is responsible for metabolism, so too much hormone leads to weight loss and a ravenous appetite. Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed with a blood test and can be treated with a food change, medication, or surgery.
Just a Few Other Signs
As the body gets older, it loses its ability to fight infection as well as it used to. This can commonly be seen in the mouth and so dental disease can be a real problem. Older kitties may require more frequent dentals and more thorough dental care, and medications to keep the teeth, gums, and mouth healthy.
Lumps and bumps can pop up on the kitty’s skin as they age. Most of the time these bumps aren’t harmful, but they should always be checked by a veterinarian to be sure. Another significant lump is lymphoma, mainly intestinal lymphoma. Older cats are more at risk for developing cancerous tumors, so no lump should go unchecked.
As your kitty ages, he remains just as loveable as when he was a kitten, but he will require some close attention. As a rule, older kitties should visit the veterinarian for a wellness check at least once a year and that is if everything seems normal to you. If your elderly cat is showing anything abnormal or acting out of sorts, he should see the veterinarian right away.
With proper care and a focus on the quality of life, your kitty can live a long, happy, healthy life well into their teenage years.