Published on August 24th, 2017 | by Debbie Martin0
Caring for your Golden Oldie – Cats
The grace, agility and speed of movement of the cat are legendary. From the biggest wild cats to the smallest house moggy, our cats retain their athleticism and enthusiasm throughout much of their lives. But, much the same as with humans, cats can start to slow down and experience difficulties.
It may start off with an almost imperceptible change in habits. You may notice that it takes your cat just that little bit longer to get up after a sleep. The once lithe stretching routine is a little more stiff and laboured than it once was. Perhaps you may have noticed your cat looking longingly at the high perch where he would once have effortlessly jumped up to but now doesn’t seem to want to make the effort. As humans we accept the fact that as we age we will start to become stiffer and slower because our joints start to wear out. In short, we expect to develop arthritis and other ailments associated with ageing. Until recent years though, this condition was not associated with cats perhaps due to the fact that, like many creatures they tend to conceal any sign of pain or difficulty. Also, cats tend not to exhibit the kind of arthritis-induced lameness that we see in other animals. Instead we have tended to simply attribute any slowing down to old age or even laziness in our cats.
What are the signs of Arthritis in Cats?
Various studies have shown that a good proportion – some two thirds – of cats over the age of 12 will develop arthritis or some form of degenerative joint disease. This could take the form of spondylosis of the spinal joints in some cases. Osteoarthritis, the most commonly given diagnosis, can be either ‘primary’, that is arising from normal wear and tear of the joints, or ‘secondary’ which arises from a joint injury or genetic abnormality such as hip dysplasia.
Because cats don’t often vocalise their discomfort or show signs of lameness you have to be alert for signs of any changes in your cat’s behaviour or demeanour. Early signs can include things like:
- Unwillingness to jump, either up onto or down from surfaces
- If they do still jump they may only jump to a much reduced height than before
- Difficulty or reluctance to go up or down stairs
- Difficulty or reluctance to use a litter tray – you may notice the cat is unable to squat properly or climb into or out of the litter tray
- Stiffness and difficulty in getting up and stretching especially after sleeping. This can be made worse after exercise
- Reluctance to be handled or picked up; they may cry out when picked up
- They may hide away more than normal and they may avoid any kind of interaction with you or with other animals.
- They may not want to go out as much; reduced interest in normal activity and an increase in sleeping or resting may be simply a sign of old age but if combined with any of the signs listed above could be an indication of illness.
- Overgrown claws could also be a giveaway, indicating that the cat is no longer stretching out and exercising the claws due to pain and discomfort in the joints
- Another sure sign could be an alteration of the cat’s own grooming routine. It may be too difficult for him to clean himself and this could lead to a loss of condition, where the coat becomes matted and dirty. Conversely, he could ‘over-groom’ a particular area; constantly licking or chewing a part of the body that he can reach easily is often a form of displacement activity but can lead to sore patches.
If you are not sure whether your cat could have arthritis you can download information from the Cats Protection League which offers useful tips. Or you can download a checklist from International Cat Care – http://catcare.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/images/mobility/_check-list.pdf.
How is Arthritis Diagnosed?
In order to find out whether your cat has any kind of degenerative joint disease the best way is to take him to the vet. Your vet will most likely x-ray the cat and this will likely be under sedation as most cats are notoriously unwilling to lie still under any form of examination! Once your vet has given a diagnosis he may then prescribe anti-inflammatory painkillers. Never be tempted to give human medications such as aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen to your cat; these can have severe consequences including kidney or liver damage, stomach ulceration or even death. Cats are extremely susceptible to the worst effects of human medications.
Watch Your Cat’s Weight
Obesity is becoming a more common problem amongst our pet dogs and cats and is a condition that will make diseases like arthritis so much worse to bear. It can also exacerbate any respiratory or heart problems and can lead to diabetes. Health problems can start early if a young cat is overweight. To assess whether your cat is overweight you should be able to:
- See a definite waist when viewed from above
- Easily feel the hips, spine and ribs
If not, your vet can advise you on a suitable weight-loss programme for your overweight cat.
How to Make Your Elderly Cat Comfortable
Whether your cat has arthritis or not or is simply feeling the effects of old age there are several things you can do to make his life easier. Cats love to feel safe and secure when they sleep so a soft, Igloo-style bed is ideal, preferably in a quiet, draught-free part of the house. Make it easier for him to reach his favourite perches by building a series of steps or ramps that allow him easier access. Ensure his litter tray is easy to use by providing one which has a lower side for getting in and out of and make sure the cat-flap is easy to open. His food and water bowls could be slightly raised. Finally, pay extra attention to grooming him and trimming his claws.
All these, along with ensuring his diet contains essential fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin – and not too many calories – will ensure a happy and healthy old age for your cat.