According to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary College and the American Association of Feline Practitioners, “the percentage of cats over six years of age has nearly doubled in just over a decade, and there is every reason to expect that the “graying” cat population will continue to grow.”
The Winn Feline Foundation quotes surveys that indicate the segment of “geriatric” patients in most veterinary practices approaches 10 to 20 percent of the practice population.
This statistic goes for indoor, companion cats. Petwebmd.com compares this to the ferals, that have a short-life expectancy, as little as six-years (for unaltered toms it can be as little as three). That is due to accidents, diseases, parasites, the trials of securing food, and the stresses of multiple and frequent pregnancies, and cruel human actions. all contribute to this shortened life.
As with humans, senior cats have special needs. The Winn Feline Foundation cites the most common causes of death in aged cats as being:
- Renal Failure
- Infectious disease
In contrast, the most frequent causes of death among older dogs are:
- Cardiac failure
- And renal failure
The Winn Feline Foundation cites common chronic diseases of older cats include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Renal insufficiency
- Diabetes mellitus
- Dental disease
- And feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection.
Paws’ feline family has experienced some of these. Smokey Blue, who lived to be almost 20, had hyperthyroidism. Victory, who made it to 18, dealt with renal insufficiency, and was put on a special diet. Both had dental issues with a number of teeth being removed. I recall one vet telling me that cats could fare quite well even if they lost all their teeth because their gums were so tough. Paws has not researched this to see if this still holds true.
Diet, exercise, human interaction, metabolic rate, mental stimulation, and nutrition are all key to keeping senior cats healthy. Sounds amazingly similar to human needs as we age. Some advocate going to twice a year annual veterinary exams. Since cats advance at a comparable rate of seven years to every one human year, that would make sense. With a weakened immune system, a twice a year visit could well extend kitty’s quality of life and overall life span.
Paws went to the experts to find out what happens as cats age, and found a very informative piece of information compiled by Cornell University’s College of Veterinary College and the American Association of Feline Practitioners, outlining many of the physical and behavior changes that occur in senior cats. Here are some of the highlights.
What happens as my cat ages?
- Older cats’ immune systems have more difficulty fending off foreign invaders. Chronic diseases can further impair that immune function.
- Dehydration, a consequence of many diseases common to older cats, hampers blood circulation as well as their immune systems.
- Their skin becomes thinner and less elastic, has reduced blood circulation, and is more prone to infection.
- Older cats groom themselves less effectively which can lead to hair mats, skin odor, and inflammation.
- Their claws of can become overgrown, thick, and brittle.
- Older cats, like humans, can develop a form of memory loss and senility, leading to wandering, excessive meowing, disorientation, and isolation.
- Hearing loss is relatively common for older cats.
- Aging is also accompanied by many changes in the eyes. A slight haziness of the eye lens and a lacy appearance to the iris (the colored part of the eye) are both common age-related changes to the eyes, but neither seems to significantly decrease a cat’s vision. However, several diseases-especially those associated with high blood pressure-can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat’s ability to see. Paws’ mom recalls her vet recently talking about this with now senior-cat, Clyde.
- Dental disease is extremely common in older cats and can hinder eating and cause significant pain and weight loss.
- A decreased sense of smell may be partially responsible for a loss of appetite and lack of interest in eating.
- Feline kidneys undergo a number of age-related changes that may ultimately lead to impaired function; kidney failure is a common disease in older cats, and symptoms differ from cat to cat.
- Degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, is common. While the majority of arthritic cats don’t become overtly lame, they may have difficulty getting to their litter box and food and water dishes, particularly if they have to jump or climb stairs to get to them.
Older cats, like humans, tend to get less exercise as they age, much because of their sedentary lifestyle. This reduces muscle tone and bone and joint strength and can lead towards obesity. However, not all senior cats become portly. Paws’ has found this to be about 50/50 with her feline seniors.
One sure way to tell that kitty is undergoing the effects of aging is through the skin and hair which tend to become drier with age. Brushing more frequently will help remove debris and improve distribution of natural oils in the skin and coats. If necessary, you can bathe your senior cat with mild hypoallergenic, nondrying shampoo. Long-haired cats may have more problems with hair mats as they age, and they may need to be clipped to make it easier for the owner to groom the cat.
The ASPCA suggests starting your cat on a senior diet at about seven years of age. This is when a cat is considered getting mature and heading into their senior years. “The main objectives in feeding an older cat should be to maintain health and optimum body weight, slow or prevent the development of chronic disease and minimize or improve clinical signs of diseases that may already be present.”
Paws for Reflection talked about nutrition in a recent post, Good Nutrition Essential for Senior Cats & Hill’s® Science Diet® takes it very seriously. We encourage readers to check it out.
Whatever your take on what’s the best diet for your special feline friend, there’s no argument that senior cats need a little more tender, loving care from their humans to ensure a better of quality of life as they age.
Have you experienced any health issues with aging cats? What do you think is the best way to care for them? Do you take your cat to the veterinarian for twice a year check-ups? Do you give them a little more lap time? Please share your thoughts and stories.