Naturally Rockford: Pet Talk: Helping your cat during the natural aging process

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COLLEGE STATION—If Whiskers seems to be losing that spring in her cat-like step, don’t panic—it’s all part of the natural aging process.

Dr. John August, a veterinarian specializing in feline medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, says there are several things you can do to help your cat flourish in his or her senior years.

“An indoor cat usually lives 17 to 18 years, and we usually start to see signs of aging diseases around the age of 10,” August says. “The most common and under-diagnosed disease for elderly cats is degenerative joint disease or arthritis. A lot of people think that their cats are slowing down because they’re getting older, but they may have a painful joint disease.”

Tooth and gum disease, chronic kidney disease, various forms of cancer, hypertension, hormonal disorders, diabetes and overactive thyroid are also diseases prone to older cats. “It’s also important for elderly cats to have their blood pressure checked regularly,” advises August.

Increased veterinary visits are usually necessary for elderly cats.

“We are finding that annual examinations are not enough for elderly cats,” he notes. “A cat that has no other medical problems should have two routine wellness exams a year, and cats who show signs of problems should have more.”

Your senior cat also needs a new diet, he adds. “Cats should be fed diets that are suitable for their life stage,” says August. “Senior diets are more easily digestible and chewable. They have slightly lower amounts of protein, phosphorus and salt.”

He says there are several things around the house that you can do to help your cat in his or her golden years. “Food and water bowls should be placed in easily accessible places, and you should provide a litter box with shallow sides,” August advises. “For truly elderly cats who have lost a lot of muscle and are thin, you can buy a pet-suitable heating pad.”

Some elderly cats, because of arthritis or other medical problems, may not be able to groom themselves properly, says August. “For any cat, a good regular brushing makes the cat feel good and gets rid of any loose hair that the cat could take in, resulting in stomach irritation.”

Minimizing stress around the house is also something that will help your senior cat.

“If cats like to sleep up on beds or windowsills, you might think about providing an easy way to get to those areas,” he adds.

If you notice that Fluffy is losing that spring in her step, it might be time for a visit to the veterinarian. Regular exercise is very beneficial to your senior animal, but most cat owners know this may be a difficult task. Instead August advises: “Senior cat owners should promote interactivity with their cat. Its golden years can be a happy time for both you and your cat.”

from the May 2-8, 2007, issue

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