By Dr. James Bianco
Felines are considered senior citizens as they approach the age of nine or ten. It is at this time that we begin to see the changes in them that are directly related to the aging process. It is important to note that a cat ages approximately 5 years for every 1 year of human life. For example: a 19 year old feline is considered to be between 92-95 years of age.
The changes that you might begin to see as your cat ages are weight loss, increased drinking, a loss of muscle definition along with a decrease in appetite. These may be related to the normal aging process, but are much more likely a result of an underlying change in organ function or serious disease.
Bi-annual examinations are essential in identifying unfavorable trends in health such as blood sugar (glucose) levels, which can be an indication of the onset diabetes. We also find older cats with weight loss suffering from decreased kidney function or an over-active thyroid condition called hyperthyroidism. Unfortunately, these problems are all too common but can be successfully treated if caught early.
The veterinarian’s examination can be important in identifying abnormal growths on the skin along with abnormalities in normal abdominal organ structure. Many times an early diagnosis and surgical intervention can mean the difference between life or death.
Blood tests are also essential as our cats age. We use them to identify the early onset of kidney dysfunction which many times can be treated with a diet change and fluid administration. With proper treatment, most cats diagnosed with renal disease go on to live normal lives. We have patients that have lived beyond 20 years of age with kidney disease but were identified and treated accordingly.
Hyperthyroidism which is usually seen in cats that are losing weight slowly over time can be treated with medication, surgery, or iodine isotope therapy which is curative. Diabetes in cats is sometimes a transient disease that can be corrected with diet alone. We can also treat this disease successfully with insulin.
Cats are tough customers that do not show early signs of disease like dogs or humans. They are survivors that, through evolution, have adapted themselves not to show weakness in a hostile environment. Exposing weakness or disease in the wild can be dangerous as other predators take advantage. We have treated numerous cats in advanced states of disease that appeared to be normal to owners. Identification of problems was diagnosed because of physical examinations and diagnostic procedures such as blood testing and x-rays.
In conclusion, cats can live a long life. Life span is directly related to their genetic make-up, nutrition, and proper medical care. Yearly examinations are the most important thing that you can do to ensure that your beloved feline may live a long a healthy life.