Sarah A. Balaguer, DVM, MS
Responsible senior cat care is not only extremely rewarding but it can also provide the opportunity to bond with your cat like never before. It is common that pet owners will bring their dogs for annual physical examinations but often mistakenly believe that the cat in the household does not require the same attention. Preventative veterinary care can prolong the life of your cat and greatly enhance their overall quality of life. Being proactive during their younger years can aid in early disease detection during routine veterinary visits. Over the years, your cat’s norm can be established such as core body temperature, healthy body weight, and monitoring of an abnormal physical exam finding such as a heart murmur.
Monitoring your older cats’ daily routines is essential for early disease detection. Cats rarely exhibit obvious clinical signs of illness until a disease process is quite advanced and thus affecting their prognosis in the end. Knowledge of their regular eating habits, activity level, body conformation, and elimination patterns are crucial to help identify minor changes early on. For example, arthritic cats will not outright display that they are painful but rather they may no longer jump up on higher surfaces around the house as they once did.
Providing such information to your family veterinarian can prompt the suggestions of taking radiographs to rule out an orthopedic disease. Older cats can lose muscle mass due to kidney disease or a digestive disorder and this can be confused with arthritis pains as the cat will display similar clinical signs related to their weakness from muscle atrophy. Blood tests can help to distinguish one disease process from the other. Based on the cat’s physical examination and diagnostic test results, appropriate therapy can then be selected such as daily joint supplements, an appropriate life stage dietary change, pain medication, or even home fluid therapy.
Older cats commonly present for sudden or chronic weight loss due to a variety of different diseases. Weight loss due to chronic vomiting is often erroneously associated with a hairball by owners when in fact this may be an early sign of liver or gastrointestinal disease. Periodontal disease can lead to severe oral pain and thus anorexia and weight loss. Excessive water consumption and weight loss are common in cats with Diabetes mellitus or chronic kidney disease. Remember, early detection is the key in successful management of most disease processes. Please be your senior cat’s care advocate and have them examined by your family veterinarian today.