Like people, cats change as they get older. Cats are usually considered to be elderly, or 'geriatric', from about the age of 12. There are a number of diseases that are fairly common in these older cats, and they can even occur in some cats a little younger. Many owners think there is nothing that can be done if their cat is seriously ill. But most of these illnesses are treatable and can be cured, or at least the cat's life can be prolonged and it can be made free from pain. So it is worth knowing what symptoms to look out for, and when it is a good idea to take your elderly cat to the vet. Here are five of the most common ones...
Kidney disease is one of the most common problems affecting older cats, and even some which are only middle-aged; I had a cat who had it from age 8. Damage to the kidneys is irreversible and tends to get worse with time. However, modern drug treatments and some diet changes can slow down the progression of the disease and prolong the cat's life. So it is worth taking your cat to the vet if you see any symptoms which may be caused by kidney disease. The most common signs are increased thirst, passing more urine, poor appetite, and weight loss. Affected cats may also vomit a lot, have bad breath, have a poor coat condition, and exhibit lethargy and depression. Urine and blood tests can diagnose kidney disease, and there are special diets available for affected cats, which along with drug treatment may enable your cat to live a happy life for several more years.
The thyroid gland regulates metabolic rate, and it tends to become overactive and speed up the metabolic rate in some elderly cats. The commonest signs of an overactive thyroid are weight loss, increased appetite and thirst, and hyperactivity and restlessness. Cat may also vomit frequently, have diarrhoea, and a poor coat condition. Hyperthyroidism can be treated quite easily, either by tablets, surgery, or radioactive iodine; your vet will be able to discuss with you which option is the most suitable for your cat. Once the cat has been treated it will return to normal fairly quickly, and can carry on living a long and happy life. However, it is important that hyperthyroidism is diagnosed and treated, as untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to eye problems and even blindness. I had a cat which became blind in this way many years ago, when veterinary treatment was nothing like as good as it is now. This should not occur these days, so don't allow it to happen to your cat!
Cats can suffer from arthritis, or inflammation of the joints, in the same way as people can. It is extremely common in older cats, but often goes unnoticed because cats rarely show when they are in pain, and the owner just thinks that the cat is quite naturally slowing down and becoming stiffer with age. But arthritis is actually extremely painful, so if you recognise any of the symptoms, it is a good idea to take your at to the vet. The commonest symptoms are stiffness and reduced mobility with an unwillingness to jump or climb, difficulty grooming the back and tail, and reduced interest in playing. Cats may also appear grumpy and even aggressive, and may have trouble using the litter tray if the sides are too high. Arthritis cannot be cured, but there are drug treatments which can reduce the pain, and your cat may suddenly appear young and active again! It is also a good idea to make sure that the cat does not become overweight, as this can make arthritis worse.
Diabetes is a disease which affects the control of blood sugar levels, and it occurs in older cats, particularly those which are overweight, just as it does in older people. The symptoms include increased appetite and/or thirst, passing more urine, and weight loss. Cats may also exhibit lethargy or weakness, vomit frequently, and be prone to skin or urinary tract infections. Diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be treated successfully, particularly if detected in the early stages. Your vet will be able to advise on the bes way to treat your cat.
Cancer is not necessarily the death sentence it used to be, in either cats or people. But as with people, early diagnosis gives a better chanced of a cure. So it is a good idea to regularly check your older cat for lumps and bumps. But do not panic if you find one, as lumps are not necessarily malignant (cancerous); they can be benign or harmless tumours, or even something completely different such as a cyst or abscess. Other signs of cancer can depend on the organ affected, but they can include weight loss increased thirst, passing more urine, vomiting and diarrhoea, and poor coat condition. But cancers can often be cured, or the cat's life prolonged, either by removing the tumour or by radiotherapy or chemotherapy, which are being increasingly used in veterinary practice.
You will probably have already noticed that many of these common diseases have similar symptoms, such as weight loss, vomiting, poor coat condition etc. So if you notice any of these in your cat, do not try to diagnose the cat's condition yourself, but take it to the vet for some tests. In any event, it is a good idea to take your elderly cat to the vet more often than perhaps you would have done in the past. Cats cannot tell us if they don't feel well, or are even just a little off colour, and that feeling may be the start of a serious but treatable disease. So check sooner rather than later, and hopefully this will enable your cat to live a long and happy life well into its teens or even early twenties.