Senior Care: Seeing Old Cats Early And Often

By Kim Campbell Thornton

“Cats get up every morning and say, ‘I’m going to pretend to be well today no matter what.’ ”

That quip from Susan Little, DVM, board-certified in feline medicine, led into her talk “It’s Not Just Old Age: Optimizing Health Care for Senior Cats,” presented earlier this month at the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas.

A cat’s golden years occur in three stages: mature (7 to 10 years), senior (11 to 14 years), and geriatric (15 years and up). This period can be the most rewarding for cat owners—who may be aging right along with their pets and thus can identify with their ailments—as well as for the veterinarians who care for them.

Old age is when veterinarians may begin seeing cats more often, as owners recognize that their pets need more care than perhaps they received during their prime years when they seemed healthy and invincible. It’s an opportunity to not only ensure quality of life for aging cats but also to preserve the human-animal bond.

The difficulty is that veterinarians must work harder to detect disease early in cats. The statistics are sobering. By several metrics, cats are sicker than dogs by the time they are examined by a veterinarian. Decreased food intake is seen in 53 percent of cats, compared to only 35 percent of dogs. Less than half of dogs seen had lost weight by the time the owner noticed signs of illness, but 57 percent of cats had lost weight by the time the owner brought them in.

To counter these trends and achieve success, Dr. Little recommends what she calls the four pillars of a preventive health care visit: a comprehensive medical history, a thorough physical exam, key assessments, and disease screening. Persuading owners to bring cats in more frequently—twice a year instead of annually—is also important.

Present the facts: early disease detection typically means easier management, less costly treatment, better outcomes, and better quality of life for the cat—which means happier quality of life for the owner. In the next post, how Dr. Little gathers information from owner and cat.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.