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January 15, 2022 |0 min read

7 Common Health Problems in Older Cats

Written by

Sharilyn Vera

Is your cat getting a little long in the tooth? With proper diet, exercise, and some lucky genetics, felines frequently live into their teens or even twenties. Unfortunately, with age, your cat becomes increasingly at risk for several diseases.

So what are the most common older cat health problems?

We’ll be taking a close look at the seven most common health problems for elderly felines, including renal disease, diabetes, and arthritis but there can be many other signs your cat is getting older. Read on to learn about older cat health problems and preventative measures to ensure your cat enjoys all nine of their lives.

#1 Heart Disease

Heart disease isn’t just the most deadly disease for American humans. It’s also a common issue for senior cats. While heart disease may be more common in dogs than cats, it’s still a frequent concern for older felines.

There are two distinct categories of heart disease:

  • Congenital heart disease – Some kitties have the genetic misfortune of being born with heart disease. Congenital heart disease is usually identifiable when cats are very young, though some cats may not show signs of it until they’re fully grown. Typically, this isn’t the heart disease that older cat owners will be concerned with.
  • Adult-onset heart disease – Whether due to related hereditary issues, diet, physical activity, or other factors, older cats’ heart muscles may begin to function improperly. Adult-onset heart disease may develop at any time and is particularly common in senior cats.

In the case of a heart disease diagnosis, your vet may recommend active treatments. If the disease is not directly impacting your cat’s overall well-being, no action may be necessary except regular monitoring for progressing symptoms. Otherwise, medication or surgery are options for helping your cat heal from the disease.

Keep an eye out for the common symptoms of heart disease in cats, including:

  • Low appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Paralysis or collapse
  • Heavy or fast breathing

Proceed immediately to your trusted veterinary professional if you begin noticing any of these symptoms. Heart disease is a manageable condition, especially when it’s found and treated early in its development.

#2 Chronic Kidney Disease

Also known as renal disease, this condition almost exclusively affects older cats and can cause serious health side effects.

The kidneys act as a filter for your cat’s blood, removing waste materials while regulating minerals. Additionally, the kidneys produce urine and help your cat conserve water to remain hydrated. 

Kidney disease is a progressive illness and can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages. If not discovered through blood tests or urine analysis, you may be unaware of the disease until your cat begins displaying some of the following symptoms:

  • Bad breath
  • Hair/coat problems
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent urination(your cat may develop litter box problems, so keep an eye out for those signs)
  • Vomiting or diarrhea 

While kidney damage may be difficult to reverse, there are plenty of treatments to stop the progression of the disease and allow your cat to live a normal, happy life. Depending on your veterinarian’s recommendations, you can expect treatments such as:

  • Diet change – Low phosphorus and low protein diets are ideal for older cats affected by chronic kidney disease. This can mean an inexpensive change in food that can still be prepared easily at home.
  • Phosphate binders – To minimize the level of phosphates in your cat’s blood, oral medications known as phosphate binders may be implemented into your cat’s daily routine. 
  • Potassium supplements – Kidney disease often leads to potassium deficiency. By providing potassium supplements, you can help your cat’s stiff or weakened muscles, as well as their damaged hair.
  • Vitamins – Specifically vitamins A and B are frequently scarce in cats suffering from kidney disease. Due to their water solubility, these vitamins are flushed out of the system due to the kidney’s inability to produce concentrated urine.

Antibiotics, blood pressure medication, and other treatments may be provided, depending on the severity of the disease. Ultimately, early discovery and veterinary expertise are your two biggest allies when fighting against chronic kidney disease.

#3 Hyperthyroidism

The result of an enlarged thyroid gland, hyperthyroidism leads to excessive production of thyroid hormones. This produces common health issues such as:

  • Increased thirst and appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Hyperactivity
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

Hyperthyroidism is usually discovered through a hands-on examination of your cat’s neck. The swelling of the gland itself and various blood tests can confirm the condition.

If your elderly cat develops hyperthyroidism, it isn’t a cause for too much concern. You can greatly reduce symptoms through treatment options, including:

  • Radioactive iodine therapy – No, you’re not creating a super-cat mutant. This therapy frequently cures hyperthyroidism. While the injection is relatively simple and does not require anesthesia, it will still necessitate specialized veterinary service and a few days of hospitalization.
  • Medication – There are several antithyroid drugs that your veterinarian can prescribe for your cat. These oral medications can be administered twice a day alongside your cat’s food and help combat thyroid issues.
  • Surgery – The thyroid gland itself can be removed, completely eliminating the need for further treatment. This may be a last resort, as the risks for the surgery increase relative to your cat’s age. 

Other therapies could include treating the primary cause of hyperthyroidism, like heart disease or high blood pressure, or changing your cat’s diet to eliminate iodine. 

#4 Arthritis

Joint pain is a part of old age for cats and humans alike. While some pain is usually unavoidable, cat arthritis can have a negative impact on your senior cat’s overall quality of life. 

Arthritis results from the wearing down of joint fluid and cartilage, causing bones to scrape against one another. Cat arthritis may be caused by general aging, injury, or increased weight.

 If you’re concerned that your cat may be suffering from arthritis, check for common symptoms like:

  • Limping
  • Struggling with stairs
  • Avoiding jumping
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty using the litter box (keep in mind, you might need to get new cat litter more frequently!)
  • Low activity levels

While arthritis isn’t curable, it can be treated with a variety of pain medications and rehabilitative therapies. Additionally, you can look for ways to make your aging cat more comfortable with soft bedding, raised dishes, and ramps.

#5 Vision Problems

Have you ever seen a cat with glasses? While senior cats are unlikely to don a pair of bifocals, they are still susceptible to various vision problems, including:

  • Cataracts – When the lens of the eye becomes clouded, obstructing light from entering the eye.
  • Glaucoma – The result of fluid pressure on the eyeball causing vision impairment and pain.

Conjunctivitis, retinal detachment may also cause severe vision damage. Frequently, vision problems in elderly cats are the result or side effect of infections or diseases.

Eyedrops and surgery can be efficient treatment options at stopping the progression of vision impairment and even reversing the damage. If a cat’s vision problem is left unchecked, it will likely progress to full blindness. Avoid the worst by keeping an eye on your cat’s vision.

#6 Diabetes

Feline diabetes is a common condition for many aging cats. The disease occurs when a cat’s pancreas can no longer create the hormone insulin. Without insulin, blood glucose levels skyrocket causing potential health issues like weight loss and limb numbness.

While technically incurable, diabetes can be managed or even reversed through common medical treatments available today. If your cat is diagnosed with this condition, you can expect to explore any of the following treatment options:

  • Specialized diet – Obese cats are 4 times more likely to develop diabetes, so if your cat is prediabetic it’s best to try and get their weight under control. Additionally, if your cat has been diagnosed as diabetic, a low carbohydrate diet can assist with their blood sugar regulation.
  • Insulin injections – Because diabetic cats cannot produce insulin, it’s your job as a loving pet owner to provide them with injections of the essential hormone. Injections are given under the skin every twelve hours and can be given with a very small needle, minimizing your cat’s discomfort.

#7 Dental Diseases

Plaque and tartar build-up occurs in cats of all ages, but after a lifetime of eating, senior cats are more prone to harmful dental diseases.

Gum disease occurs when tartar hardens, causing inflammation, redness, and allowing further bacteria to propagate through the gums. The effects of gum disease can include:

  • Dental pain – The hard, calcified tartar deposits and resulting inflammation can lead to serious pain around teeth and gums. If your can is hesitant to eat or is finding difficulty chewing their food, it’s likely the result of a serious oral health problem. 
  • Tooth loss – When gums become highly infected, it can cause tooth decay or even the loss of individual teeth. 
  • Stomatitis – A cat-specific dental disease that results in drooling, halitosis, and the inflammation of the entire mouth. Stomatitis is the result of an exaggerated immune system response to oral bacteria and can require tooth extraction to treat.

Despite the severity of these various dental diseases, the best protection for your cat is early and regular dental maintenance. That means at-home brushing, regular veterinary appointments, and the occasional professional cleanings. Keeping your cat’s teeth in tip-top shape is essential for providing the quality of life every senior kitty deserves.

Pretty Litter: Keep an Eye on Your Cat’s Health

It may be a little scary thinking about all the health problems your elderly feline friend is susceptible to. That said, knowledge is power, and the more you understand about health risks, the more you can do to ensure the best possible life for your kitty. That’s why we made Pretty Litter. It’s also never too late to learn how to litter train an older cat. Or, if you need to know how to litter train a kitten, we have you covered there too!

Early discovery and consistent monitoring are key to prevention, and Pretty Litter makes it easy with our color-changing silica litter. Plus, with our simple cat litter subscription service, there’s no worry about running out. Visit our website today to find out why so many senior cat owners are choosing Pretty Litter.

Sources: 

Companion Animal Clinic. 7 Common Health Problems in Senior Cats. https://www.companionanimalclinicvirginia.com/blog/7-common-health-problems-in-senior-cats/

Pet MD. Seven Most Common Illnesses in Senior Cats. https://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/lhuston/2013/july/seven-most-common-illnesses-in-senior-cats-30574

Cornell Feline Health Center. Feline Diabetes. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-diabetes

Pet MD. Stomatitis in Catshttps://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/mouth/c_ct_stomatitis

Written by

Sharilyn Vera

Sharilyn is a proud cat owner, long time storyteller and researcher. Her work spans beloved podcasts, television shows, media outlets, and independent documentaries. She likes to strike a balance between education and comedy, which you can hopefully tell when you read her articles!

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