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Aging Cats, from Will Draper, DVM

04/13/2011

  • Will Draper, DVM:

    This is Agnes, who is 18 years old, and one of the questions we get a lot on the Vet Community Board is, "at what age is my cat considered old," and I have talked to you guys and know you all have -- some of you have cats who are getting a little older. What would you feel like is a senior cat?

  • Anne Wingo:

    I would think from probably 10-12, you would consider getting older.

  • Will:

    That’s a good answer -- 10 has become a guideline a lot of times for veterinarians. In my practice, we consider 8 at the point where we start screening for certain issues -- kidney disease is a very big one. Diabetes is pretty common in older cats.

  • Will:

    Unfortunately, cancer is something that you see from time to time, but very commonly, as cats get older, somewhere up near Agnes’ age, they start to have issues with their thyroid, and suffer from hyperthyroidism, which is very, very common in older cats. And fortunately, very easily treated with either oral medication or radioactive therapy, sort of a chemotherapy, if you will, to cut down on activity of their thyroid gland.

  • Otto Ojevaar:

    When the cat gets this old, how frequently would you recommend taking the cat to the vet?

  • Will:

    Very good question! We typically recommend an annual visit up until we consider them senior. Like I said, at 8 years of age -- after that point, we generally will recommend biannual visits, every six months. It depends on the pet. An outdoor cat is going to be more prone to certain medical issues than an indoor cat. ... They're exposed to certain viruses and parasites that indoor cats just are not. Eighteen years old, 15 years ago, seemed ... very old for a cat. Now, 18 years old for a cat is a lot more common.

  • Anne:

    One question that I had, I noticed with my older cat, she seemed to get disoriented, and I wonder, can older cats get like Alzheimer’s or a dementia?

  • Will:

    "Like Alzheimer’s" is a good answer, dementia is more of what it is, they start to lose some sense, some brain function, and will forget things that they have known their entire lives, and will get lost in the house. See somebody they have known their entire life, and look at them as a stranger. It’s common as they get older. It tends to be more with cats who are getting up closer to 20, but it is something that we see. And one of those things where you want to keep the quality of their life good, because there is not very much you can do for it.

  • Otto:

    How can you make your old cat’s life a little easier?

  • Will:

    Older cats have certain dietary restrictions that younger cats don’t. They need a lower protein diet, because their kidneys, as they age, will not process protein as well as it did when they were younger. You have to think about their activity levels. They will start having issues with arthritis. So you might want to make life around their house easier. If they tend to jump up and down and off of things, try to figure out ways to make that easier for them. As in the case with Agnes, another thing that older cats tend to have an issue with, since they do not brush their teeth, is really bad dental disease. Agnes just went through a procedure where she had a lot of her teeth pulled, and that’s pretty common with older cats. It makes it easier now; Agnes doesn’t have to suffer with the pain of dental disease. If you've ever had a toothache, you know how horrible that can be. I am sure Agnes now gets a lot of can food, which I am sure she loves. ... You want to do things to keep the quality of their life, which is going to help with the quantity of it.

Pet Health and Nutrition Advice

Veterinarian Will Draper gives tips on the best nutrition and health care for your dog or cat.
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