Living with a cat can be a complex, sometimes overwhelming event. This is especially true as your cat becomes older. Here are 5 questions you need to ask to help you better understand your cat's health as he or she ages.
How do I know how old my cat really is?
Every cat, like people, experiences aging differently. Some older cats act like they are young and some younger cats start acting like they are old. Between 7 and 12 years of age, many cats begin to show physical changes related to age.
Many people believe that 1 cat year is equal to 7 human years. This is not entirely accurate. Physiologically, cats age at a faster rate than people. A one-year-old cat is similar to a 16-year-old human and a two-year-old cat is like a person of 21. Each year thereafter, a cat year is worth about four human years. Going by this formula, a ten-year-old cat is similar to a 53-year-old person in age. A 15-year-old cat would be similar in age to a person of 73.
What happens as my cat ages?
Aging is a natural process. Although many physical changes come with advancing years, age is not a disease. Many of those physical changes that affect an older cat cannot be corrected but they often can be controlled. Recognizing and reducing factors that may be a health risk is the key to making sure your cat has the healthiest and highest quality of life possible. This includes identifying diseases as early as possible, correcting or slowing down the progression of disease, and improving and maintaining the health of your cat's body systems. This calls for constant observation of your cat's behavior.
Your cat's aging process comes with many physical and behavioral changes. For instance, your cat's immune system may become less effective. Dehydration may diminish blood circulation and immunity. The older cat may groom themselves less effectively which can result in hair matting, skin odor and inflammation. Hearing loss, dental problems, arthritis, diabetes and cancer are all examples of conditions that become more prevalent in cats as they get older.
Is my cat sick, or is it just old age?
Many owners of older cats often notice changes in their cat's behavior, but make the mistake of associating these changes with aging and do not report the changes to their veterinarian. Examples of these changes may be failure to use the litter box, changes in activity levels, and alterations in eating, drinking, or sleeping habits. Don't automatically attribute all such changes to old age. There may be an underlying medical condition and you should always consider this possibility first. Changes in behavior can be brought about by disease or by any condition that causes pain or impairs mobility. These changes should be brought to your veterinarian's attention.
How can I help keep my senior cat healthy?
One of the most important tools you have to help keep your older cat healthy is close observation. Closely monitoring changes in your cat's behavior is important to identifying and treating possible health concerns. It is easy to perform a mini-physical examination on a weekly basis especially if this is simply an extension of the way you normally interact with your cat. For instance, while you are stroking your cat's fur, you can check for abnormal lumps or bumps, and evaluate the health of the skin and coat. Your veterinarian can show you how to exam your cat and what to look for. Some additional steps that you can take to help keep your cat healthy are daily brushing to remove loose hair and help prevent hair balls, making sure your cat receives a nutritional diet to prevent obesity, regularly engaging your cat in moderate play or exercise, and reducing environmental stress in your older cat as much as possible. Again, your veterinarian can help you in this.
How can my veterinarian help?
Just as closely observing your cat for possible problems is important, so are regular veterinary examinations. Your veterinarian may wish to examine your older cat more frequently than a younger cat. This is especially true if your cat has a known medical condition. With regular veterinary checkups, disorders can be found and treated early. This will help your senior cat stay in the best possible health for the longest possible time.
Your cat is a loving and important member of your family. By asking these 5 questions and appropriately following up on the answers to these questions, you can help provide the best possible life for your friend.
Merle Zunigha has owned, or rather has been owned by, cats for over 30 years.