Over the past couple of years, I have had the privilege to work with some of the best cat rescues in the Colorado Springs community.
This has allowed me to gain insight into a few of the more challenging aspects of rescue operations - including caring for and adopting out senior cats. The top concerns I have heard considering adoption of an older cat are providing health care and what illnesses to watch for as the cat ages.
Only a few cat guardians provide for regularly scheduled wellness exams. And as a cat ages, it is especially important to get fecal and urinary tests and blood work and dental checks done. While the average life expectancy of cats is 12-15 years, a cat might live 20 years or longer. If your cat is 10 or older and it's been more than six months since its last vet appointment, I suggest scheduling an appointment now.
Studies have shown cats are much like their guardians when aging. In addition to conditions such as arthritis, dental problems, hearing loss and vision loss, other potentially more serious diseases can strike older cats with compromised immune systems. Onset of joint issues can be slowed by proper nutrition and weight control, and glucosamine treats are made for cats (such as Glyco-Flex II or Zukes HipAction feline chews) to help maintain mobility.
Cats often will compensate for early hearing or vision loss, so guardians need to be attentive to behavioral changes such as startling at or ignoring normal household sounds or misjudging heights. Hearing or vision loss is likely irreversible, but remember that felines are resilient and will adapt to these conditions.
Diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure and heart problems can be frightening at first glance, but these conditions also can be treated successfully, allowing your cat to continue with a relatively normal life.
Excess weight can contribute to a number of conditions, including arthritis, diabetes and heart disease. Feline diabetes is more prevalent in older, obese cats. The No. 1 cause is an improper diet. Common signs include excessive thirst and urination, vomiting and weight loss (which should be apparent in overweight kitties) due to insulin issues. Depending on the type of diabetes, it might be controlled by dietary restrictions or daily insulin shots.
Feline hypertension (high blood pressure) is typically associated with either kidney disease or hyperthyroidism. Unlike humans, stress does not seem to be a factor in feline hypertension. Hyperthyroidism, also known as "hyperthyroid disease," is a common malady in older cats and can appear as an increase in appetite coupled with a loss of weight, diarrhea and general weakness. This condition can lead to heart issues if left unchecked. Depending on the severity, these conditions can be controlled by daily medication although thyroid issues might need surgical intervention.
While caring for a geriatric kitty no doubt takes more preventive effort, with a keen eye to subtle health changes and a good partnership with your veterinarian, providing for cats in their golden years can be relatively carefree and gives these older companions a chance at a loving, full life.
Albertson co-manages Happy Cats Haven, a rescue and adoption center at 1412 S. 21st St. Call 635-5000 or visit happycatshaven.org.