Instinct tells cats that when they feel unwell or something isn’t working right, they hide it. This means that they disguise illnesses and also signs of getting old. Once a cat reaches seven, they are classed as senior and can start to see some of the signs of old age but what should we as owners be watching for?
Problems with eyes
Vision issues with older cats can either be as a result of their age or as a secondary condition of another illness. The most common eye illnesses in cats are cancers and glaucoma as well as trauma or injury. They can also be an indicator of a condition such as elevated blood pressure or hypertension. If there are engorged retinal blood vessels in the eye or in the most severe cases, a detached retina, this can lead to loss of vision or blindness.
Signs of eye problems that need a vet’s visit include:
• Pawing at the eye
• Excessive blinking
• Blood vessels showing on the whites of the eye
• Pupils that stay dilated when in bright light or are different sizes
• Bumping into items around the house
• Cloudiness or debris at the front of the eye
Changes in a cat’s body may be a sign of a health problem either relating to old age or not. A sudden change in weight is a key indicator of a problem as even one pound different could be as much as 10% of their body weight. Weight loss can be an indicator of diabetes, cancer, hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. It may also be a sign of dental disease.
Dental disease in cats is similar in principle to humans – tartar builds up and periodontal disease can set in. Between 30-70% of adult cats will suffer from a poorly understood condition called feline tooth resorption, where their teeth literally dissolve. It is very painful but can go unnoticed, as the visible crowns above the gum line appear normal while the roots are crumbling away. Dental problems can also stop cats eating due to the pain and this can lead to weight loss.
The kidneys are one of the leading causes of health issues in older cats. It may be an increase in drinking and urination as the kidneys stop working as efficiently. This can then lead to a loss of appetite and weight as toxins build up in the blood. Kidney failure is irreversible but by catching it early, dietary changes can be made to slow down the process. Cats can also suffer with a lack of urination due to kidney disease or a urethral obstruction. This is considered an emergency and a vet should be seen immediately.
Osteoarthritis is a condition familiar to many people, particularly as we get older, and studies have shown that cats quite frequently get it too. It works differently to in dogs with less limping and a fuller range of movement than seen in canines but a reluctance to jump is one of the most noticeable changes. They may struggle to climb in and out of the cat litter box, not groom themselves properly and be lethargic as well as losing their appetite. A vet can often provide proper feline painkillers to help them manage with the condition but never give them a human drug, as this will likely prove fatal.