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Care of your senior cat...
12 February 2016
With the shorter days and cats spending more of their time indoors, the winter is a good time to spot subtle changes in their habits and behaviour which may not have been obvious before. Keeping an eye on your cat, especially your older cat, may give you clues if anything is not quite right.
Be alert for any changes in your cat’s appetite – whether this is for the ‘better’ or worse. Some conditions seen commonly in older cats can manifest as an increase in appetite rather than a decrease, so both are significant things to notice. It is also worth noting whether their preferences for different food types have changed – cats that have always eaten dry food and now prefer wet, or just lick at gravy, may be trying to tell us they have some oral discomfort or dental disease.
Increased water intake (often accompanied by an increase in urine output) can be an early warning sign of a number of conditions we see in older cats – for example, kidney disease, diabetes or hyperthyroidism. Blood and urine tests, and sometimes further investigations, can be necessary to diagnose the problem. Many of the conditions will be treatable.
The signs of osteoarthritis in cats are generally much more subtle than in dogs, who are quicker to let us know there is a problem. They tend to develop a more generalised ‘stiff’ gait rather than any obvious lameness. Owners will often notice that they are more hesitant to jump up onto laps and surfaces, however, it is not uncommon for people to simply report that their cat has become less active, increasingly grumpy, or reluctant to be handled. On clinical examination we often find that there is a degree of muscle loss over the hind legs and pelvis, as the cats are using these muscles less due to joint pain. There are excellent medications now available to help control the pain and inflammation associated with this condition, so do book an appointment to see us if you’re concerned.
Sometimes weight loss can be rapid and obvious, but in older cats it is often more insidious. It is worth paying attention to things like how they feel when you pick them up, and whether their bones feel any more prominent than they used to. Weight loss can be generalised, or in conditions like osteoarthritis, you may notice that they seem to have lost a disproportionate amount of condition over the back end. There are hundreds of possible causes of weight loss, many of which can be easily treated.
Winter is a nice time to notice subtle changes in toileting habits as cats often use their litter trays more when it is cold outside! Look out for changes in the frequency or volume of urination, or the presence of any blood. Likewise try and keep an eye on the consistency of faeces and note any changes, or the presence of blood or mucus. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is not uncommon in older cats and can result in persistent or intermittent diarrhoea (and sometimes vomiting). If a cat who has always been well litter-trained suddenly starts missing the tray or having accidents in the house this is also worth mentioning.
We are always happy to see any of our patients for a check-up and a chat to make sure that everything is okay with them, especially our older patients – it is never a waste of time and will give you a chance to raise any questions or concerns you may have. Let us know if you would like to make an appointment - just call us on 0121 712 7070.
For further information on senior cats please see our Looking after your Senior Cat Information Sheet.