It can be surprising that our beloved feline friends, who still act like kittens, might actually be considered “middle-aged,” “senior,” “geriatric,” or, gasp, “old.” Aging cats have a higher risk of developing a long list of health problems. Many feline disorders become more prevalent in cats when they reach age 7. At Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center, we work to promptly identify and address any of these problems that your Senior cat may develop, and help them spend their “golden years” in the best possible health and happiness.
Early intervention is often the key to success in treating or managing these disorders. We recommend that cats age 7 and older be medically evaluated twice a year, rather than the annual wellness evaluation that is sufficient for most younger cats.
Common Health Challenges for the Aging Cat:
- Arthritis and mobility impairment
- Periodontal disease
- Heart problems
- High blood pressure
- Thyroid disorders
- Visual and auditory impairment
- Thickened or ingrown nails
- Intestinal disorders
- Kidney, liver, and pancreatic problems
- Respiratory difficulties
- Chronic pain
Preventive Care for Older Cats
Since many of the health problems common in older cats are very slow to develop, symptoms of these disorders may not appear until disease is advanced. Because early intervention is often the key to success in treating or managing these disorders, we recommend that cats age 7 and older be medically evaluated twice a year, rather than the annual wellness evaluation that is sufficient for most younger cats. It is important to understand that cats age much faster than humans do. To put this in perspective, twice a year visits to the vet for your Senior cat would be comparable to you visiting your doctor every two years. These regular evaluations allow your experienced cat doctor to help you and your kitty to enjoy your lives together to the fullest!
Performing these evaluations regularly helps us establish what is normal for your cat, which allows us to recognize more quickly and accurately if your cat's health is changing. Regular visits also keep your kitty accustomed to visiting with us, which helps make each visit a happy experience. It's also very important for us to get to know you and to understand your needs and desires, so we can help you in whatever way is best for you; your kitty can't be completely happy unless you are, too!
Senior Cat Vaccination Standards:
A common question about preventive Senior cat care pertains to vaccination. Vaccination is medically contraindicated in the presence of active disease, so for many Senior cats, vaccination is an undesirable risk. Other methods of mitigating the risk of exposure to contagious diseases can be reviewed with your feline veterinarian. A piece of good news here: protection from many vaccines lasts much longer than the manufacturer-recommended revaccination interval! Antibody tests are available for some of these diseases to gauge current protection, and cats who exhibit protective antibody levels do not need additional vaccination. Rabies Exemption Certificates, valid in Colorado and a few other states, are often issued for elderly cats for whom a rabies vaccination is contraindicated or would not be well tolerated.
Senior Cat Wellness Evaluations:
A Senior Wellness Evaluation allows our experienced feline veterinarians to detect problems in early stages, problems that often have not yet manifested any clear or obvious external symptoms. Our recommended senior wellness evaluation includes:
- Prior to the visit, a review of your cat's entire medical history
- A complete review of your cat's behaviors, especially those that may have changed
- Blood pressure readings
- Full physical examination of every part of the body
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Full biochemical profile
- Thyroid profile
- Weight measurement and charting
- Nutritional evaluation
- Immunity and Vaccination Need/Risk evaluation
For kitties with special needs or ongoing health problems, a senior evaluation may also include any additional diagnostics or treatments required to address those specific issues.
Cat Behavior Reviews
Our kitties can't tell us how they feel, but often their behavioral changes can do that for them. Your feline veterinarian is trained and experienced in recognizing signs of many different health problems, based on changes in your cat's behaviors. Even very subtle changes in things like appetite, weight, energy, mobility, irritability, sociability, and sleeping habits may give your veterinarian important clues about emerging health problems.
Managing Chronic Incurable Disorders
Many chronic diseases of senior cats are not curable, but nearly all are manageable, whether for a long time or a short one. If your veterinarian finds that your kitty has a problem that cannot be cured, then your cat vet will review management options with you in detail, taking into account also any specific stressors or challenges in your home that may affect what choices are reasonable and possible for you. After all options have been discussed, we will help you in whatever way you feel is best for you and your cat.
Working closely together with our compassionate feline veterinary team through your cat's Senior years will help make it easier to work through end-of-life decisions. This is always a very difficult time, and our entire team will be here for you to help you through it, with gentle, loving medical care and compassion for you and your family.
One of the most common and underdiagnosed problems for the older cat is arthritis. We often don't see clear and obvious signs that arthritis is present, because cats manage the problem by restricting their own activity. This voluntary activity restriction has given rise to yet another of society's misconceptions about cats: that “cats just get less active when they get older.” Nope! Most of these cats are less active because they are arthritic or chronically ill.
A subtle sign of arthritis in the older cat is when the kitty no longer jumps up on surfaces such as counters or shelves as he or she once did. Many arthritic cats just stop trying. Others try, but will exhibit very subtle behaviors such as a hesitancy before jumping up, or “feinting” before jumping up, or when jumping down, “walking down” a vertical surface before taking the jump.
There are medications and complementary therapies to help with arthritis. Your cat vet can discuss all these options with you. The Assisi LOOP® technology is very helpful for many cats, as is cold laser treatment, acupuncture, and physical therapy.
Approaching the End-of-Life Care
Regular visits and communication with your cat veterinarian through your cat's Senior years will help prepare you for making end-of-life decisions for your kitty. These decisions are always difficult, and we are here to help you through them.
Some end-of-life decisions are made long before life actually ends. If your kitty has an incurable, terminal disease, an early end-of-life decision may be to change our treatment goals from “cure” to “optimizing quality of life,” whatever that involves for your individual cat. This is a hospice decision. Your feline veterinarian can help you review the many choices that can be made here, based on multiple factors such as your cat's specific challenges, response to treatments, and budgetary constraints. It is always helpful to have a plan in place, however emotionally tough it is to have to make that plan.
Your cat vet will also work closely and compassionately with you to determine when that end-of-life moment has arrived. Our entire team will be there for you when the time comes to let your kitty go.
Euthanasia at Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center is performed in our large, beautifully furnished Comfort Room, which has plenty of space for the entire family. The procedure is painless, and you can be with your kitty before and after for as long as you need.
We can arrange for private cremation for your kitty with return of ashes, or general cremation, if you prefer. If you desire other options such as burial, a funeral, aquamation, or any other alternative, we can provide all the necessary information.
Helping Senior Cats
At Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center, we are here to help your kitty age peacefully and comfortably by offering thorough and compassionate Senior medical care. Your aging furry friend relies on you and on us to provide love and support as they move into their golden years. Your experienced feline veterinarian and our whole cat-loving team can help you provide that support for your cat; and that can help provide peace of mind and comfort as you navigate those difficult waters.