As with people, certain diseases become more likely as cats age. Kidney and heart disease, cancer and diabetes are among the ones that are of greatest concern.
Cancer is a major killer of senior cats, with leukemia, sarcomas and mammary cancers being the major culprits. Warning signs depend on the cancer, but can include a new lump, sores (especially in exposed areas of white cats), weight loss, lethargy, and vomiting. Treatment also depends on the type of cancer, but may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.
Kidney disease is very common in older cats. The condition may take months to years to develop, but usually doesn’t show any outward signs until the disease is fairly progressed. Signs include excessive thirst and urination, weight loss, appetite loss, vomiting, and lack of self-grooming. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with urine and blood tests, and can prescribe treatment that may include a special diet, medication, appetite stimulants, and subcutaneous fluids.
Heart disease is also seen more often in senior cats. Signs include difficulty breathing, coughing, loss of appetite, lethargy, and rear end weakness. A veterinarian can diagnose the condition by listening to the heart and with more extensive tests such as EKG, radiographs or ultrasound. Treatment may include a special diet and medications.
Diabetes mellitus is caused by the body’s inability to either produce sufficient level of insulin (Type 1) or use insulin efficiently (type 2). Type 2 diabetes is more common in obese cats, and seems to strike males more often. If your cat is losing weight or has lost appetite, is vomiting, becoming dehydrated or weak, having breathing abnormalities or declining skin and coat condition, he may have diabetes. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition and place your cat on a special diet for weight reduction and control of blood sugar levels. Your cat may also be placed on injectable or oral medications. Although treatment will entail diligent monitoring of your cat’s condition, he can live a long and active life once the condition is brought under control.
Hepatic lipidosis, also called fatty liver disease, is more common in older cats, often when they lose weight rapidly. Warning signs include loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, and abdominal swelling. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition and prescribe treatment.
Hyperthyroidism, defined as increased levels of thyroid hormones in the body, is fairly common in older cats. Signs include weight loss, increased thirst and urination, changes (usually increase) in appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and hyperactivity. Your veterinarian can diagnose it with blood tests, and can prescribe medicine, surgery to remove the thyroid gland, or radioactive iodine treatments.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often associated with other conditions such as kidney disease, heart disease, or hyperthyroidism. It can also make certain conditions, such as kidney or heart disease, worse, and can contribute to blindness. Signs include rapid heartbeat or signs of vision loss such as pupils that don’t respond to light. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with special equipment. Treatment may include a special diet or medication.
Skin infections may develop because older cats tend to groom less and because the skin is thinner, with reduced blood circulation. Older cats may have diminished immune function. Signs include skin pustules, redness and sores. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition and treat it with medication.
Cognitive dysfunction, somewhat similar to human Alzheimer’s disease, is seen in some older cats. Signs include aimless wandering, excessive meowing, confusion and disorientation. Your veterinarian may be able to treat the condition with drugs.
Dental problems are extremely common in older cats. Bad breath, bleeding gums, loose teeth, recessed gums, and reluctance to chew are all signs. Your veterinarian can examine your cat’s mouth and extract any infected or painful teeth, and may also prescribe medication.
Arthritis is sometimes seen in older cats. Signs are limping, difficulty getting up, and reluctance to run or jump. It can be especially evident after a day of unusual exercise. Your veterinarian can prescribe drugs that can help ease the pain.
Dehydration, while not a disease, occurs more often in older cats and can damage their health. Feed wet food and place additional water bowls around the house.
Your senior cat should see his veterinarian every six months for a check-up, or more frequently if there are noticeable changes. Many diseases, if caught in their early stages, can be stopped before they do extensive damage.