Senior Care For Cats
Many of our cats will live into their mid to late teens and some even into their twenties. Their ancestor the African Wild cat doesn’t have a supportive social structure, so cats are expert at hiding weakness or illness. This means that our cats will hide signs of illness despite pain and discomfort. Therefore, signs of disease can be incredibly subtle in cats.
As your cat ages, they may become less active, lose weight, sleep more and interact less. When this happens, we need to rule out treatable disease rather than assuming they are simply ageing. Taking your cat to the vet can be stressful for you and your cat, but in our cat-only practice we endeavour to keep your cat calm and do all we can to improve their quality of life, explaining everything to you as we go along.
Older cats are prone to several health problems: kidney disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism to name a few. In this blog we will focus on two other really common diseases which cause discomfort and are easily confused with ageing: osteoarthritis and dental disease.
Cats are graceful, active and athletic. Despite this, a recent study showed that 40-90% of cats over 3 years of age have signs of arthritis on x-rays. They rarely limp on one leg like a dog, so it is easy for vets and owners to miss this disease. As a result, osteoarthritis is underdiagnosed and undertreated.
Osteoarthritis usually affects the elbows, hock, hips and stifles (knees) in the cat. The cartilage which cushions the joints degrades with age and wear and tear resulting in painful movement and inflammation. This causes chronic pain. Arthritis can occur earlier, or be more severe, in previously injured or deformed joints and in obese cats.
Observation at home is vital to the diagnosis of arthritis. Changes in behaviour can be incredibly subtle. You may notice a hesitation or reluctance to jump up or down. You may notice that your cat is spending more time indoors, no longer venturing up the stairs or using the catflap. Perhaps they stop jumping onto a favourite windowsill or use a series of steps to get to a high food bowl rather than jumping up.
Their posture may change. Some cats who have always sat symmetrically now struggle to do so and always have one leg extended, or never lie with folded elbows. A long rest may be followed by difficulty rising and stiff movement.
Grooming can be difficult for arthritic cats, so the coat becomes unkempt, greasy and matted. Some cats may obsessively groom easily accessible areas around joints if they are painful.
You may notice a change in their demeanour, they may become irritable or reclusive. Some cats resent being stroked, they may move way or even howl. Acute pain can make them suddenly bite or nibble at painful areas.
Toileting can become a problem if they struggle to get into their litter tray. You may notice urine and faeces around the tray or in inappropriate places.
Regular senior cat health checks allow us to discuss any changes with you. We can also carry out a full orthopaedic examination, checking all their joints for inflammation or restricted movement. In this way we can build up a picture of any joint disease and how to manage it.
Osteoarthritis can be successfully managed by a multi-modal approach.
We can advise you on environmental changes at home, to increase accessibility, promote pain-free movement and reduce the discomfort of the disease.
We may advise a particular diet or supplement tailored to your individual cat to treat their painful joints. Weight management is exceptionally important, so regular accurate weighing is helpful. Portion control and puzzle feeders can help to mentally stimulate your cat while reducing intake and improving joint disease.
Physiotherapy can also be prescribed in some cases. Safe, long term anti inflammatory and analgesic medication can be used to improve quality of life and reduce pain.
This combination of management options can revitalise a cat with joint pain and extend their life considerably.
Unfortunately, dental disease is common in cats. Studies show that between 50 and 90% of cats over 4 years old have some form of dental disease. The incidence and severity of dental disease increases with age. Early disease is more easily managed, most diseases are preventable or treatable with routine dental care and simple intervention.
Regular dental examinations mean that disease can be treated promptly. Older cats should be checked every 3-6 months. This is advantageous for a number of reasons.
Dental disease causes toothache, which we all know to be horribly uncomfortable. Management of dental disease prevents chronic pain.
As cats age, they develop health conditions which can make anaesthetising them for necessary dental treatment more worrying. Early intervention means less anaesthetics and less time under anaesthetic for simpler procedures. If dental disease is untreated, many teeth will be affected and long surgical procedures necessary to alleviate painful disease.
Dental infections can lead to serious illness as bacteria enter the bloodstream. These bacteria can damage the heart, liver and kidneys causing organ disease.
We know that cats hide pain, so it is difficult to diagnose dental disease without thorough oral examination. A cat with toothache may appear quiet or irritable, interact less with you and other pets, sleep more and play less. As disease becomes more severe they might eat less, lose weight and stop grooming themselves. You may see them drooling, pawing at their mouth, bleeding from the mouth or eating on one side.
We can advise about home dental care for cats who tolerate tooth brushing. Tooth brushing is invaluable in reducing dental disease, as plaque is removed and tartar prevented. Both plaque and tartar can cause gingivitis which can go on to cause periodontitis, where teeth become loosened and infected. This is a major cause of dental disease and it is ideal to brush your cat’s teeth if you can. Cats are particularly susceptible to tartar accumulation if they have short faces, retained temporary teeth, overcrowded or abnormal teeth.
Unfortunately, some dental disease is not prevented by brushing. Cats are susceptible to tooth resorption, it is thought to affect 70% of cats over 5 years old. Holes appear in the teeth, usually at the gumline where a small amount of gum is seen encroaching on the crown. These lesions used to be called FORLS (feline odontogenic resorptive lesions). Resorption causes extremely sensitive and painful teeth which require extraction. If untreated they can result in painful tooth fracture where the root is hidden under the gumline.
Fractured teeth can also occur through injury. Fractures may affect the nerves in the tooth and cause pain, so fractured teeth should be assessed under general anaesthetic and removed if necessary.
Regular checks and prompt treatment mean less invasive and shorter treatment procedures. As early disease is reversible, we can help with teeth cleaning and diet choices. When necessary thorough pre-operative assessment, tailored anaesthetic protocols and careful monitoring will ensure that your cat’s dental treatment is safe and effective. Treating dental disease improves quality of life significantly by reducing chronic pain and preventing organ disease.
Find out more by dental treatments for your cat by reading Marmalade’s story here.