10 Most Common Health Problems in Senior Cats

Age Gracefully

Aging is a natural process in both animals and humans. As they enter their senior years, cats develop a range of conditions that may not be easily noticeable to their owners.

Cats are hardwired to hide their illness — a trait they inherited from their wild ancestors that showed weakness to an enemy or predator can be fatal. Learn what to look for and what to do when you see a tell-tale sign of a problem.

1. Kidney Disease

Most cats develop some type of kidney disease by the time they reach the age of 10. Cats aren't crazy about drinking water, and dehydration is one of the factors that contribute to the development of kidney disease. 

Depending on the severity of the condition, cats may experience increased thirst or urination, vomiting or diarrhea, or weight loss. Diagnosing kidney disease in cats is possible with blood and urine tests. Vets often use medication and a long-term management plan for pet guardians to treat this condition.  

2. Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism, another common ailment, is a silent killer. Most pets affected by it don't show many symptoms, so the condition goes unnoticed for months. Increased thirst and urination are typical symptoms, as are increased appetite and weight loss. Medications such as methimazole can control these symptoms. Your vet may recommend a thyroid cat diet.

3. Diabetes

Los Angeles veterinarian Dr. David Bruyette says diabetes "[i]s a commonly encountered feline endocrine disease." It tends to affect overweight and obese cats and seems to be more prevalent in spayed and neutered pets. 

While type I diabetes is insulin-dependent, type II is not. In some cases, pregnant cats develop it. This disease's symptoms include increased urination and thirst, vomiting, weight loss, and poor appetite. Treatment consists of diet changes and insulin injections. With the right therapy, cats with type II diabetes improve over time. 

4. Dental Disease

Like senior humans, senior cats tend to have bad teeth. The primary reason is that cat owners fail to provide an appropriate dental cleaning routine because their pet is reluctant and tries their best to avoid it. 

Periodontal disease negatively affects a cat's health, including heart complications. Cats with recurrent stomatitis have difficulty eating, so they lose weight. Some medications control these health issues, but the best solution is to ensure your cat's teeth are cleaned properly.

5. Cancer

Older cats are more predisposed to cancer than younger ones. Although it remains a mystery in some ways, cancer is caused by three main factors — genetics, oncogenic viruses, and a cat's living environment.

Cats get tumors on their skin, lymph nodes, internal organs, mammary glands, parts of their digestive system, mouth, and nose. Injection-site sarcoma is a type of cancer caused by certain biological products, medications, or microchips. 

Numerous types of cancer affect this species, the most common being mast cell tumors, lymphoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. The earlier the cancer diagnosis, the better your cat's chances of being successfully treated. Current therapies include surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. 

6. Heart Disease

Most senior cats have high blood pressure, which causes heart disease. It also works the other way around. It's a vicious cycle. Untreated heart conditions lead to heart failure, so early diagnosis is paramount. Symptoms of heart disease include difficulty breathing and weakness. Many medications are used for treating heart conditions in cats, depending on the affected part of the heart.  

7. Inflammatory Bowel Disease

IBD is a complex condition affecting a cat's digestive system and intestinal health. Most often, the symptoms pet owners notice are weight loss and digestive distress in the form of vomiting or diarrhea. 

While it's more common in middle-aged cats of four to eight years old, it also affects seniors — especially those with inappropriate diets. Diagnosis involves the use of a stomach or intestinal biopsy. Vets treat IBD with long-term medication and dietary changes. Probiotics are helpful for some pets. 

8. Liver Disease

Multiple factors cause liver conditions in cats. An article from July 2023 by Beyond Pets Animal Hospital suggests the most common causes are infectious diseases, toxic substances, fatty liver, and inherent disorders such as a portosystemic shunt. Regardless of the cause, the symptoms range from chronic diarrhea and weight loss to jaundice, when the cat's visible mucous membranes become yellow. 

Blood and urine tests, X-rays, ultrasound exams, or a biopsy can diagnose the exact liver condition. Treatments range from medications and fluid therapy to surgery, nutritional adjustments, and long-term interventions for managing liver inflammation. 

9. Osteoarthritis

OA is one of the most common health issues of senior cats. It's not apparent, but it causes symptoms such as reluctance to jump or climb, reluctance to be touched, swollen joints, and reduced flexibility or mobility. 

Unfortunately, osteoarthritis is an irreversible degenerative disease. Its progression can be slowed, and the symptoms can be managed with senior-appropriate pain medication. Lifestyle and environmental changes positively influence cats with osteoarthritis. Losing weight is mandatory because it reduces extra pressure on the joints that causes pain. 

10. Cognitive Dysfunction

This is a form of dementia that most cats get around the age of 10. Like humans affected by the same condition, cats become confused about their whereabouts and start exhibiting unusual behaviors like yowling, not using the litter box, sleeping too much, and hiding for hours. 

Some anti-anxiety medication alleviates these symptoms. Cognitive dysfunction is another degenerative disease, so the treatment focuses on long-term management rather than a cure. 

Preventing Health Issues in Senior Cats

Senior cats need to be seen by a vet every three to six months, depending on their health and age. Diagnosing a condition as early as possible allows for more effective treatment, so keep up with your vet appointments. Pet insurance addresses the high costs associated with some procedures.

Change your cat's nutrition per your veterinarian's recommendations, and monitor their weight by weighing your pet weekly. Encouraging your cat to drink enough water is essential, especially if they're diagnosed with a urinary health condition. Cat fountains make water more appealing for most pets because the water is kept fresh. 

Be Aware of Your Senior Cat's Behavior

Although cats are masters of hiding symptoms of illnesses, paying a little more attention to their behavior goes a long way to preventing a potentially severe disease. Watch how your cat uses their litter box. Have there been any accidents recently? Are they drinking and eating enough? Do they have weight fluctuations? Do they see and hear as well as they used to?

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