Get Older Too
veterinary care, an indoor lifestyle, cooperative genes and a pinch of
luck, cats can sometimes live to the age of twenty years or more.
Aging, however, brings with it both physical and behavioral changes
which, if ignored, may challenge even the most well-meaning of human
As cats grow old, their bodies change internally as well as externally.
Almost all body systems are affected by aging. Lifelong activity leads
to joint inflammation or osteoarthritis, which can stiffen and slow
cats as it does humans. Important physiological functions taken for
granted over the course of a decade may start to slow or malfunction.
Kidney disease is a common affliction of old cats, as is
hyperthyroidism (an oversecretion of thyroid hormone due to cancer of
the thyroid gland). Each of the senses deteriorates eventually, leading
to impaired vision, hearing, and abilities to taste and smell (which
may, in turn, result in decreased appetite).
While the physiological changes of older cats can often be detected
through blood and urine analyses and other quantitative tests,
behavioral changes may be difficult to measure. The brain is
paradoxically both the most complicated and the most poorly understood
of all body systems. Like any other part of the body, it is susceptible
to the long-term deterioration of aging. Recent recognition of
cognitive impairment in old dogs and cats has led to an increased
understanding of this surprisingly common problem. Cats, like dogs,
people and other animals, begin to show some degree of memory loss and
disorientation as they grow old.
Although there are individual differences, elderly cats can seem
confused and can show that confusion or cognitive impairment in
characteristic ways. Many cats, for example, will begin to urinate or
defecate outside the litter box. They may jump off their owners laps
rather than sit for petting, or might pace through the house yowling
loudly for some unidentifiable need. Such behavior changes have long
been dismissed as normal aging; there is evidence, however, that the
degree of physical change in old brains corresponds with the degree of
impairment, and that some animals age more successfully than others.
How can you best prepare for the changes your cat may experience as she
ages? First, talk to your veterinarian about his or her particular
program for older pets. Many veterinary hospitals already have in place
a senior pet program to accommodate their large population of aging
patients (and, of course, the higher the quality of veterinary
medicine, the larger this population will grow!). At some point,
screening tests for blood chemistry (including kidney function), urine,
heart and thyroid function are advisable, as well as close monitoring
of body weight and condition. Depending upon your individual needs,
your veterinarian may suggest more frequent visits (for example, two or
three times rather than once per year). In addition to physically
measurable changes, be sure to discuss behavior changes including
litter box habits, appetite and any signs of confusion or irritability.
Establishing a baseline (for example, at the age of 9 or 10 years) for
both physical and behavioral health is an ideal way to keep track of
the changes that may appear in time.
Given the physical limitations that accompany aging, it is often
helpful to make simple accommodations before they are needed. An
additional litter box or two, perhaps close to your cats preferred
resting area, is usually appreciated and used. Extra grooming can
compensate for tired bones and stiff joints. A soft bed on the floor
may be more accessible than that old perch on the sofa back. With some
care and attention, your cat can age happily and with the same quality
of life she has always known.
Cat Article courtesy of I-Love-Cats.com
Please note: The
information provided here is meant to supplement that provided by your
Nothing can replace a complete history and physical examination
performed by your veterinarian.