Geriatric Cats
(Care and Recommendations)

On average, cats age five times faster than humans. The average life-expectancy of a cat is 14 years and depends upon many factors: genetics, nutrition, environment, and vaccination history, to name a few.

Once a cat has entered the pre-geriatric years (6-7), steps should be taken by the owner to help ensure that the pet might obtain the most enjoyment from its remaining years. The following are four basic recommendations in caring for an aging cat.

  1. Annual or bi-annual comprehensive physical exam and diagnostic work-up:

A well-known phrase in veterinary medicine states: "For every one problem missed by not knowing, nine others are missed by not looking." A comprehensive physical exam by a veterinarian on a yearly, or better yet, twice yearly basis, will help to ensure that any health problem the animal is experiencing might be discovered early. The earlier a problem is discovered and therapy initiated, the better the chance of a favorable outcome. While many illnesses are incurable, if detected early and the proper treatment initiated, even incurable illnesses may be successfully managed for several months to years before causing deterioration and death.

A diagnostic work-up refers to tests performed as an aid in detecting disease. While the physical exam is very helpful, it cannot completely evaluate the function of many body systems. Blood tests such as the complete blood count (CBC) and blood (serum) chemistry profile are extremely useful in evaluating the function of many body systems. Other laboratory tests often utilized in a diagnostic work-up include urine analysis (U/A), radiography, and fecal tests. See Section D for information on the above tests.

An annual or bi-annual visit to the veterinarian will also give the doctor the opportunity to assess the need for weight management, dental care, vaccinations, and to discuss any apprehensions or questions the owner may have regarding his or her petís oncoming geriatric years.

  1. Diet:

As animals age, their bodyís nutritional needs change as well. Geriatric animals generally require fewer calories and less protein. Increased fiber may help maintain proper function of the digestive system. Most pet food companies offer a reduced calorie or senior diet made especially for aging pets. It is recommended that owners make a permanent switch during the pre-geriatric years to a diet specially formulated for the older cat, and that the recommendations for feeding be followed. Obesity from overeating or from a diet too rich in calories is one of the surest ways to put the health of a pet at risk. See A575 for additional information on nutrition.

  1. Elimination of stress:

Geriatric cats do not adjust to physical and emotional stress as well as younger cats. Most domestic animals thrive on daily routine and often develop biological clocks with incredibly precise punctuality! Change in routine, temperature, and diet (hence the recommendation above to switch during the pre-geriatric years to a senior diet) can all contribute to emotional and physical stress. Boarding and hospitalization are particularly stressful to the geriatric cat; home-care under the supervision of a veterinarian may be more healthy for a geriatric pet than lengthy stays at a clinic or boarding facility.

Development of long-term, healthy habits will contribute to the emotional and physical well-being of a cat. These healthy habits might also be known as "de-stressors" as opposed to those things previously listed which contribute to stress. Healthy de-stressors include play time, brushing/grooming, and reinforcement of good behavior with praise and nutritious treats.

  1. Be an alert pet owner:

Many diseases of geriatric animals are due to slow, almost imperceptible deterioration of body organs or systems. Unless an owner is extremely observant, many of these conditions may go unnoticed until the problem has deteriorated into the final stages. Careful observation of behavior, mobility, hearing, vision, hair coat, appetite, thirst, urination habits, defecation habits, weight changes, and other aspects of the petís daily routine, will help the owner notice differences or abnormalities if and when they do begin to surface. Early diagnosis and initiation of treatment may be of critical importance to the petís future and quality of life. See page A30 for additional suggestions.

In summary, owners must be aware that cats age much faster than humans. However, if given special care and attention during the geriatric years, pets can live healthier, happier, and longer lives.