Margaret C. Saiki, D.V.M.,
Over 20 Years of Experience!
Former Medical Director
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The Older Cat: What all owners should know

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The Older Cat: What all owners should know

Margaret Saiki


This is a first in a series of blog posts discussing the most common medical concerns I have when examining the older feline.


Cats are masters of hiding disease. If you think there is a problem with your cat it is better not to wait…. It is best to at least have them examined


One of the biggest issues for the feline species in particular, is that they are masters at hiding the clinical signs of their diseases. They are stoic in nature, sleep the majority of the day and have the great ability to mask even major disease processes and pain. Many times owners are do not become aware of a problem until the disease process has developed into their final stage. I personally have a rule of thumb that I advise my clients: If you even think there is a problem with your cat there probably is one. In other words, detecting a problem with your cat can be difficult even for those who have a very close association or bond with their cats.

The goal of this and upcoming blog articles is not necessarily to inform about all the technical aspects of specific diseases, but to inform readers about what I consider would be the most salient and therefore most useful information that owners need to know.

First I would like to mention some of the more common clinical signs pets owners should watch for.

•Changes in weight, especially weight loss

•Decreased appetite

•Increased water consumption

•Changes in elimination patterns (urine or stool)

•New lumps or bumps or swellings, or changes in existing ones

•Persistent cough

•Difficulty breathing or breathing heavily or rapidly at rest

•Sudden collapse or bout of weakness

•Difficulty climbing stairs or jumping

•Foul mouth odor or drooling



If I were to pick only two signs to watch for in the older cat it would be weight loss and increased consumption of water.


What happens as your cat grows older

  1. The immune system of older cats is less able to fend off foreign invaders. Chronic diseases often associated with aging can impair immune function even further.
  2. Dehydration, a consequence of many diseases common to older cats, further diminishes blood circulation and immunity.
  3. The skin or dermis of an older cat is thinner with reduced blood circulation. It is therefore more prone to infection.
  4. Older cats groom themselves less effectively, sometimes resulting in hair matting, skin odor, and inflammation. Older heavier cats or those with arthritis have even more difficultly grooming.
  5. The claws of aging felines are often overgrown, thick, and brittle. Owners need to watch that they do not grow into the pads of the foot.
  6. Aging changes in the brain contribute to a loss of memory and alterations in personality commonly referred to as senility. One can observe wandering, excessive meowing, apparent disorientation, and avoidance of social interaction.
  7. Hearing loss is common in cats of advanced age.
  8. Aging is also accompanied by many changes in the eyes. A slight haziness of the lens and a lacy appearance to the iris (the colored part of the eye) are both common age-related changes, but neither seems to decrease a cat's vision to any appreciable extent. However, several diseases-especially those associated with high blood pressure-can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see.
  9. Although many different diseases can cause a loss of appetite, in healthy senior cats, a decreased sense of smell may be partially responsible for a loss of interest in eating. However, the discomfort associated with dental disease is a more likely cause of reluctance to eat.
  10. Degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, is common in older cats. Although most arthritic cats don't become overtly lame, they may have difficulty gaining access to litter boxes and food and water dishes, particularly if they have to jump or climb stairs to get to them.



cat age chart



Lastly In upcoming blogs I will be discussing the most common medical diseases in the older cat. These medical conditions are so common that they should be closely monitored for as a cat ages. As a practitioner, I am particularly focused on these problems in those cats older than 8 years of age (50 years of age in human years). I am hopeful that with this blog series many owners will come to not only understand these conditions, but also help owners be the first line in the detection of these problems.

Feline Odontocastic Resorptive Lesions.

Feline Chronic Kidney Disease

Feline Hyperthyroidism


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