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aging cat

Caring for your aging cat.
by Bob Bamberg

When I was a kid, you didn't often see a geriatric cat. Very few of them were kept as indoor cats, so they were often struck by cars. As an eight year old, my neighbor's cat was run over right in front of me creating an image that's vivid in my mind even today, over 60 years later.

They also very rarely saw a veterinarian. And even when they were sick, most people did the best they could to nurse the cat back to health. If it passed away, they got another cat. Goodness knows there were plenty of them around since very few females were spayed and "Free Kittens" signs on mailboxes were frequent. It was a different era.

Today, the phenomenon known as the humanization of pets puts cats right up there with the spouse and kids as far as status within the family is concerned. They're mostly kept indoors now, and they regularly see a vet, even for wellness visits.

They're also fed better diets nowadays, thanks to advances in our knowledge of feline nutrition. At the vet clinic, the doctors utilize equipment and protocols unavailable even a generation ago. They're spotting trouble before it gets out of hand.

All of these factors have extended the lives of our cats while we weren't even looking, so to speak. All of a sudden, we're faced with a geriatric cat, and all that that entails, and we're ill-equipped to deal with the situation. Not many of us have had the experience before.

How do you tell when your cat is considered a senior cat? After all, it's not uncommon for them to live into their early twenties now, and a lot of them don't show dramatic signs of aging. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) provides this guide:

Mature to middle-aged, 7 to 10 years;

Senior, 11 to 14 years;

Geriatric, 15-plus years.

When they reach the "mature to middle aged" level it's a good idea to schedule semi annual checkups. Because their life span is so much shorter than ours, they age much quicker than we do, and things happen much more quickly.

Our doctors often don't see a big change in our health status from one year to the next, but for a cat (or dog, for that matter) significant changes can occur from one visit to the next. Early detections often results in better outcomes.

It's important to keep a keen eye on your senior cat and report anything out of the ordinary to your vet, even if it seems trivial to you. Changes in behavior can often be an indication that something's going on inside that needs attention.

Aging brings some obvious signs, such as reduced activity and labored movement, but there are a number of conditions elder cats are susceptible to that won't be readily discernable, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, periodontal disease, kidney disease and retinal disease, to name a few.
Along with semi-annual check-ups, maintain your cat's regular care such as parasite control, vaccinations, healthy diet, and exercise. Your geriatric cat can still lead the good life and with proper care, age with the grace that we all hope for.

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