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Monitoring Your Senior Cat for Signs of Disease
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith
Senior Care
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Man holding older catAs your cat ages, the likelihood she will develop various changes in the function of her body systems increases. Some of these will be normal changes due to the aging process, others may be indicative of disease. To be more easily alerted to possible signs of disease early in the disease process:

  • Groom, check and clip nails, look for any lumps, bumps, or non-healing sores; are there any abnormal odors, any change in size of abdomen, or increased hair loss?
  • Monitor behavior: is there a change in sleep patterns, tendency to be around people, easily startled, sleeping in an abnormal or unusual position?
  • Monitor activity and mobility: is there a difficulty with stairs, bumping into things, sudden collapses, seizures, any loss of balance, any lameness or change in gait?
  • Look for any changes in respiration: is there noticeable coughing, panting, or sneezing?
  • Provide home dental care: brush your cat's teeth, regularly examine the inside of her mouth; is there excessive drooling, any sores, bad breath, are the gums swollen, yellow, light pink, or purplish?
  • Monitor food consumption: how much is being eaten, what type of food is being eaten (e.g.; does your cat leave the hard kibble and only eat the canned?), any difficulty eating or swallowing, any vomiting?
  • Monitor water consumption: drinking more than usual or less than usual?
  • Calico cat in litter boxMonitor urination and defecation: note color, amount, consistency, and frequency of stool; note color and amount of urine; any signs of pain while urinating or defecating, any inappropriate elimination (urinating or defecating outside of the litter box)?
  • Measure weight every 2 months using a mail or baby scale, or the scale at your veterinarian's office
  • Monitor environmental temperature and the temperature at which your cat seems most comfortable
  • Schedule regular appointments with your veterinarian

Some of the more common signs indicative of diseases are shown in the table below. Remember, just because your cat has a sign of a disease, does not necessarily mean she has the disease. What it does mean, is that your cat should be examined by your veterinarian, so a proper diagnosis can be made.

Signs and Symptoms of Common Diseases in Older Cats Associated Diseases
Behavior Changes Pain associated with arthritis or other conditions
Loss of sight or hearing
Liver disease
Hepatic lipidosis
Kidney disease
Weakness or excercise intolerance Heart disease
Anemia
Obesity
Cancer
Changes in activity level Hyperthyroidism
Arthritis
Pain
Obesity
Anemia
Heart disease
Diabetes mellitus
Kidney disease
Liver disease
Hepatic lipidosis
Cancer
Weight gain Obesity
Weight loss Cancer
Kidney disease
Liver disease
Gastrointestinal disease
Decreased food consumption
Hyperthyroidism
Hepatic lipidosis
Dental disease
Heart disease
Inflammatory bowel disease
Coughing Asthma
Other respiratory disease
Cancer
Increased thirst and urination Diabetes mellitus
Liver disease
Kidney disease
Hyperthyroidism
Vomiting Kidney disease
Liver disease
Gastrointestinal disease
Inflammatory bowel disease
Hyperthyroidism
Diarrhea Gastrointestinal disease
Sudden changes in diet
Inflammatory bowel disease
Kidney disease
Liver disease
Inflammatory bowel disease
Seizures Epilepsy
Cancer
Liver disease
Kidney disease
Bad breath Dental disease
Oral cancer
Kidney disease
Lameness, difficulty rising, change in gait Arthritis
Obesity
Diabetes mellitus
Urinary incontinence/inappropriate elimination Kidney disease
Pain from arthritis
Inflammatory bowel disease
Bladder stones
Cancer
Senility
Lumps, bumps Cancer
Benign tumors
Appetite changes Diabetes mellitus
Cancer
Liver disease
Kidney disease
Stress
Pain
Reaction to medication(s)
Dental or oral disease
Hyperthyroidism
Hepatic lipidosis

 
References and Further Reading

American Association of Feline Practitioners. Academy of Feline Medicine Panel Report on Feline Senior Care. 1998.

Becker, M. Caring for older pets and their families. Firstline. August/September 1998: 28-30.

Epstein, M; Kuehn, NF; Landsberg, G; et al. AAHA Senior care guidelines for dogs and cats. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 2005; 41(2):81-91.

Fortney, WD (ed). Veterinary Clinics of North America Small Animal Practice: Geriatrics. W.B Saunders Co, Philadelphia, PA; 2005.

Harper, EJ. Changing perspectives on ageing and energy requirements: Ageing and energy intakes in humans, dogs and cats. Waltham International Symposium on Pet Nutrition and Health in the 21st Century. Orlando, FL; May 25-29, 1997.

Hoskins, JD. Geriatrics and Gerontology of the Dog and Cat, Second Edition. W.B Saunders Co, Philadelphia, PA; 2004.

Hoskins, JD; McCurnin, DM. Implementing a successful geriatric medicine program. Supplement to Veterinary Medicine; 1997.

Landsberg, G; Ruehl, W. Geriatric Behavior Problems. In Hoskins, JD (ed.) The Veterinary Clinics of North America Small Animal Practice: Geriatrics. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 1997: 1537-1559.

Ogilvie, GK; Moore, AS. Critical Issues in Senior Pets: Disease Prevention, health and wellness. Veterinary Forum 2006 (Dec):40-46.

Overall, KL. Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals. Mosby-Year Book, Inc. St. Louis, MO; 1997.

Thompson, S (moderator). Roundtable on pediatric, adult, senior, and geriatric wellness at every stage of life. Veterinary Forum; 1999 (January);60-67.

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