As with people, certain diseases become more likely as cats age. Kidney and heart disease, cancer and diabetes are among the ones that are of greatest concern. Here are a few of the conditions your veterinarian will be watching for as your cat gets older:
1. Cancer is a major killer of senior cats, with leukemia, lymphosarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma and mammary cancer being common culprits. Warning signs depend on the cancer but can include a new lump, sores (especially in exposed areas of white cats), weight loss, lethargy and vomiting. Treatment also depends on the type of cancer but may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.
2. Kidney disease is very common in older cats. The condition may take months or years to develop, but it usually doesn’t show any outward signs until the disease is fairly progressed. Signs include excessive thirst and urination, weight loss, appetite loss, vomiting and lack of self-grooming. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with urine and blood tests, and can prescribe treatment that may include a special diet, medication, appetite stimulants and subcutaneous fluids.
3. Heart disease is also seen often in senior cats. Signs include difficulty breathing, coughing, loss of appetite, lethargy and, in the case of a blood clot, rear-limb weakness. A veterinarian can diagnose heart disease by listening to the heart and with more extensive tests, such as an electrocardiogram, radiograph or echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart. Treatment may include a special diet and medications.
4. Diabetes mellitus is caused by the body’s inability to either produce a sufficient level of insulin (Type 1) or use insulin efficiently (Type 2). Type 2 diabetes is more common in cats than dogs, and seems to strike males more often, especially if they are obese. If your cat is losing weight, vomiting, becoming weak or showing declining skin and coat condition, he may have diabetes. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition and place your cat on a special diet to help with weight reduction (if needed) and control of blood sugar levels. Your cat may also be placed on injectable or oral medications. Although treatment will entail diligent monitoring of your cat’s condition, he can live a long and active life once the condition is brought under control.
5. Hyperthyroidism, defined as increased levels of thyroid hormones in the body, is fairly common in older cats. Signs include weight loss, increased thirst and urination, changes (usually increase) in appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and hyperactivity. Your veterinarian can diagnose it with blood tests and can prescribe medicine, a special diet, surgery to remove the thyroid gland or radioactive iodine treatments.
6. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often associated with other conditions, such as kidney disease, heart disease or hyperthyroidism. It can also make certain conditions, such as kidney or heart disease, worse and can contribute to blindness. Signs may include an irregular heartbeat or murmur, or sudden vision loss. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with special equipment. Treatment may include a special diet or medication.
7.Cognitive dysfunction, somewhat similar to human Alzheimer’s disease, is seen in some older cats. Signs include aimless wandering, excessive meowing, confusion and disorientation. Although there is no cure for cognitive dysfunction, your veterinarian may be able to help reduce signs of the condition with supplements or medications.
8. Dental problems are extremely common in older cats. Bad breath, red or bleeding gums, loose teeth, recessed gums and reluctance to chew are all signs. Your veterinarian can examine your cat’s mouth, treat or extract any infected or painful teeth, prescribe medication if needed and discuss what you can do to care for your cat’s teeth at home.
9. Arthritis is sometimes seen in older cats. Signs are limping, difficulty going up or down stairs and reluctance to run or jump. It can be especially evident after a day of more exercise than usual. Your veterinarian can prescribe special diets, supplements, therapies and medications that may help ease the pain.
Your senior cat should see his veterinarian regularly. Many vets recommend a checkup every six months, or more frequently if there are noticeable changes. Many diseases, if caught in their early stages, can be managed before they do extensive damage.
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