Improved veterinary care has allowed our pets to live longer lives, but with increased longevity comes the changes associated with older age. Our feline friends like to hide signs of illness or pain. It is our responsibility to help them as these afflictions start to affect their quality of life.
Cats experience arthritis just like anyone else. Unlike some of our other pets they hide their pain by decreased activity (instead of limping). This may include sleeping more, not jumping up to their favorite areas, or just not moving as much. While we cannot fix arthritis there are ways to make their lives easier. Provide stairs or improvised stairs that will allow them to access their favorite elevated places. Some cats will like a heated bed. This will work somewhat like we would use a heating pad for sore joints.
Some cats will respond well to supplements for arthritis such as glucosamine or omega-3 supplements. Although if your cat is difficult to medicate, sometimes we need to balance the need for the supplement versus quality of life and how much it will help.
Make sure they are able to access their food, water, and litter boxes. If these things are kept on different levels make sure your pet is able to use the stairs easily, and if not move them to areas the cat is able to reach them. If you are trying to encourage your cat to drink more water most cats prefer their water dish not to be near the food.
Older cats may start to experience cognitive dysfunction as they age. If you notice your cat starting to vocalize at odd times, staring into space, or other odd behaviors this may be a sign of cognitive dysfunction. First thing would be to take them to your veterinarian to ensure that there is no underlying illness that needs to be treated. If this does not seem to be the case talk to your veterinarian to determine what may be the best course of action to help your feline friend. We cannot cure cognitive dysfunction but some supplements may help with the associated symptoms.
These are just a few of the problems that older cats may face. Remember regular veterinary care is important for your cat especially as they get older. This way we can monitor for early signs of disease that your cat may hide from you. Discuss with your veterinarian how often your pet would benefit from veterinary checkups.
Dr. Jennifer Ivankovig is a 2004 graduate of Purdue University. She has special interests in exotics and feline medicine.