Making silver years golden for your cat!

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Dr Ashwani Kumar
When you have shared your home with a cat for many years, she becomes an integral member of the family, and you develop strong emotional attachments. But, as she ages, she needs the most. Here’s how to take care of your senior kitty.
 
Cats are very good at disguising their problems, so as they age, you need to be even more attuned to changes in their everyday activities and behaviors. Early detection of problems is the key to improving your cat’s longevity and quality of life.
 
How long will my cat live?
There are many formulas for calculating a cat’s age in relation to human age. An old standby is that seven cat years are equal to one human year. Actually, in her first few years, a cat does a lot more growing up than us. So the first few years of a cat’s life are equivalent to more than seven human years, and the later years are equivalent to fewer. Pet parents want to know what the life expectancy for their cat is, and in general I tell them it is between 13 and 15 years, especially if the cat stays indoors. However, we have many 19- and 20-year-old patients, and our oldest is 24! If a cat goes outside, her life expectancy is shortened because of the increased risks outdoor cats face. She is exposed to more diseases and dangers, such as poisons and cars. There are many different opinions on when a cat is “old.”
 
Care of your lovable senior kitty
Cats need the most care when they are kittens and when they are seniors. Middle-aged cats are usually healthy and take pretty good care of themselves and can get by with once-a-year visits to the vet for their physical exams. Regular veterinary examinations will objectively note small, gradual changes, which can add up to significant changes over a period of time. Even if you’ve lived with your cat for years, you may not notice subtle changes that occur in her conformation and health as she ages. A preventative health care program for healthy animals may include a complete history and physical exam and some diagnostic testing, including a CBC, blood chemistries, viral testing, urinalysis and measuring blood pressure. I think it’s beneficial to start a program like this around nine years of age. By establishing baseline values on body condition and organ function, you can detect changes as the animal ages. If a cat has an illness, she should be monitored at least every six months.
 
Diseases to watch for
Although you may not like to think about it, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the kinds of problems a senior cat can develop. As with any disease, early identification and treatment can help slow the progress of the disease and prevent related maladies. There are six diseases that are particularly common in senior cats: Hyperthyroidism, Chronic renal failure, Hypertension, Cancer, Diabetes mellitus and Inflammatory bowel
disease (IBD). Liver disease, heart disease, neurological diseases and lung disease are also found in senior cats, but their frequency is greater in geriatric humans than in cats.
 
Keeping your old friend comfortable
As different parts of the body wear out, it may be difficult for a cat to maintain her regular activities. If you have an older cat, you want to be sure to make things as easy as possible for your old friend.
 
Care for vision & hearing loss: It is common for vision and hearing to be impaired as a normal part of the aging process, although it is unusual for a cat to go completely blind solely due to aging. If vision is compromised, the animal can usually see better in daylight than at night. She will do better if important items such as food bowls and the litter box are always kept in the same areas where she can easily find them. Although it is best to keep all cats indoors, it is extremely important to do so if your cat is deaf. Complete deafness occurs occasionally in older cats. You should not let a deaf cat outside alone, because she will not hear noises that would normally alert her to danger, such as the sound of approaching cars.
 
Never forget the importance of water: Because kidney disease is so common in older cats, maintaining good hydration can make a big difference in how an older cat feels. At my clinic, we teach many pet parents how to give their cats fluid injections under the skin at home to help maintain or improve their pet’s hydration. It is difficult to make a cat drink under the best of circumstances, but it is even harder when the animal is dehydrated and weak.
 
Nutrition for your senior pussy cat: Because they are not building muscle and are less active than younger cats, senior cats need less protein and fewer calories. As a cat ages, the digestive and absorptive processes of the gastrointestinal system can become less efficient. Many companies produce “senior” or “geriatric” diets formulated for these situations.
Softer foods that require little or no chewing may help an older cat. For a cat with a poor appetite, dense foods that provide a lot of nutrition in a small quantity can be appropriate. It is always important for a senior cat to eat and at least maintain her body weight.
 
Take care of their oral health: Dental disease is common in older cats and can affect how much and what a cat will eat. Dental health should be assessed at each veterinary visit, and the diet changed to accommodate the cat’s dental function.
 
Arthritis… bane of every cat: It is inevitable that joints will develop at least some mild arthritic changes over time. Arthritis, or degenerative joint disease (DJD), can cause pain and restrict a cat’s movement. If a cat cannot get around well, she may not be able to perform her normal functions. Arthritic cats who spend time outdoors are in danger because they cannot run and jump as well as they might land in a dangerous situation. When joints hurt, it is more difficult to jump down from places the cat has jumped up on. It is a good idea to start keeping an older, achy cat indoors for her own protection.
 
Kitty comforts…your first priority: Older cats can lose body fat and muscle. They can become less insulated against cold temperatures and can develop calluses and “bed sores” when bony parts rub against hard surfaces cats lie on. Be sure your cat has something soft and warm to lie on, such as a towel, throw rug or kitty blanket that will keep her more comfortable.
 
Bugs and pests…keep them away: As horrible as it sounds, insects like to take advantage of weak animals. Older cats may not be able to move away or scratch when insects bother them. Check your older animal for fleas and use flea control when needed. If the cat goes outside, monitor the areas she sleeps in and make sure ants are not bothering her. Also check to make sure that flies are not bothering an outdoor cat. Flies can lay their eggs on animals who don’t move, and the eggs will hatch into maggots about 12 hours later.
 
(Dr Ashwani Kumar Singh, BVSc & AH is a veterinary physician & surgeon based  in Kanpur).