The aging process in cats is gradual and varies among individuals, but most cats are considered to be “mature” at 7 years, “seniors” between 11 and 14 years, and “geriatric” at 15 years of age and older. Many cats can live into their late teens and early twenties with good home and veterinary care, however, it is important to recognize and understand the common aging changes your cat may undergo. Some physical and behavioral changes are a normal part of aging but others may be associated with early signs of disease. Three of the most frequently diagnosed diseases in senior cats are hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. Arthritis is common in older cats, but often goes unrecognized.
An endocrine disease characterized by the excessive production of thyroid hormones by enlarged thyroid glands in the cat’s neck. Increased thyroid hormones can act on nearly all organs in the body, potentially leading to widespread effects such as high blood pressure, heart enlargement, and damage to the eyes, kidneys, and brain. Common signs may include weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, changes in appetite, excessive thirst, hyperactivity, increased urination, and a greasy or matted haircoat. Most diagnoses are confirmed by elevated levels of thyroid hormones in the blood.
An endocrine disorder caused either by insufficient production of the hormone, insulin, by the pancreas (type 1) or by an inadequate response of the body’s cells to insulin (type 2). Cats with diabetes are able to utilize energy (glucose) from their food, leading to elevated levels of sugar in their blood and urine and resulting in weight loss. Other common early signs may include excessive hunger, thirst, and urination, progressing to poor skin and haircoat, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness. Because some of these signs can occur in a number of different senior cat diseases, it is important to measure glucose levels in the blood and urine to accurately diagnose diabetes.
Chronic Kidney Disease
Kidney Disease is characterized by a decrease in the ability of the kidneys to perform their normal functions, including removing waste from the blood, producing urine, and regulating body fluid volume, composition, and blood pressure. Kidney disease often may begin in middle aged cats but develop into a chronic problem and progress to complete kidney failure in senior cats. Clinical signs of kidney dysfunction include increased thirst and urination, vomiting, bad breath, weakness, weight/muscle loss, poor quality haircoat, and decreased appetite. Blood and urine samples should be tested to monitor kidney function and identify various stages of kidney disease. Kidney disease can also cause or worsen hypertension.
A chronic disease process characterized by joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness that very commonly affects middle-aged and senior cats. Joint inflammation in general can be secondary to joint instability, infection, trauma, immune-mediated disease, or metabolic disturbances, but in aging cats, osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, develops as a result of progressive, irreversible join cartilage deterioration. Cats with early signs of osteoarthritis may seem more reluctant to move around, stiff or lame after prolonged rest or excessive exercise, or generally irritable when touched. On physical exam, the vet may notice joint swelling, stiffness, thickening, and even muscle atrophy depending on how long the cat has had joint pain. Radiographs, examination of joint synovial fluid, and response to anti-inflammatory medication and supplements can help support a diagnosis of arthritis in cats.
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Best wishes for healthy aging with your favorite feline!