Caring For Your Older Cat
The Aging Process and its Effects on Older Cats
Cats age rapidly during the first two years of their lives. With disease, predation, and exposure to the elements adversely affecting the life span of the modern cat's ancestors, the rapid onset of puberty ensured that the species was properly propagated. Following the first two years of life, the aging process slows down, only to again accelerate as the cat enters into its final years of life. Many of the physical and mental changes associated with aging become readily noticeable during this last trimester of life. A noticeable loss in muscle mass, a slight cloudy and sunken appearance to the eyes, and/or a slight stiffness in the gait are just a few of the changes expected-changes that rarely warrant much ongoing attention from pet owners. However, in addition to these outward signs of aging, it is important to remember that changes are also occurring within the organ systems of the cat's body. And as you may expect, these changes will eventually have an effect on organ function. If not readily recognized and subsequently supported through proper diet and medication, premature organ failure could result, significantly shortening the pet's life. Through regular checkups and appropriate preventive diagnostic tests, your veterinarian can evaluate organ function within your cat's body and determine which, if any, supportive measures are necessary.
Aging is the progressive deterioration of metabolic, physiologic, and anatomic structure, function, and efficiency within the body. To begin, the aging process in the cat is marked by a steady decline in the metabolic rate. In a broad sense, metabolism refers to the aggregate of all the chemical activities within the body. These chemical reactions both consume energy and produce energy. If the body's metabolic rate is at its normal level, the production and consumption of energy within the body will be in balance. Imbalances can occur, however, if the rate of metabolism slows, as it does as a cat matures. The effects associated with a slowing metabolism include sluggishness with an increased preponderance toward sleep, a growing intolerance to temperature fluctuations, and rapid tiring after exercise The immune system also begins to lose its effectiveness with age, creating an increased susceptibility to disease organisms and tumor development. For this reason, older pets must be kept current on their vaccinations. The ability of the body to break down and to eliminate drugs is also reduced with age. As a result for those pets taking medications for preexisting rriedical conditions, periodic dosage reviews and adjustments are needed as they mature Finally, as metabolism slows, caloric needs decline as well. Appropriate dietary adjustments are needed to avoid obesity and other adverse health effects.
With age, it becomes increasingly difficult for the heart to pump blood effectively throughout the body. Furthermore, the blood vessels begin to lose their elasticity. This, combined with a reduced heart output, contributes to a rise in blood pressure which in turn places even more strain on the geriatric heart. However restrictions on sodium and fat content, combined with the administration of special medications designed to increase cardiac efficiency and to reduce blood pressure, can be employed to help counteract these aging effects on the feline heart.
As the metabolic rate slows and the blood vessels in the skin become less elastic and lose their ability to dilate and contract in response to temperature fluctuations, temperature intolerance may become noticeable in the older cat. This tends to be magnified by a loss in the skin's insulating ability. Older pets will often seek out the warmth of an owner's lap or the coolness of a bare floor more often than usual. As a result of these physiological changes, you should take special care in maintaining relatively constant temperature and humidity within your pet's environment. If elderly cats are allowed to roam outdoors, sweaters and cover-ups designed for cats should be considered if temperatures are below 45°F (7.2ºC). On the contrary, when outside temperatures exceed 85ºF (29.4ºC), it is vital to provide your cat with a generous source of clean, fresh water and, if confined to an outside enclosure, unlimited access to shade.
age, the capacity of the lungs to provide proper flow and exchange of oxygen
to the body decreases. As with reduced heart function, such changes lead
to weakness and exercise intolerance. Furthermore, chronic disease and
scarring affecting the lung tissue of older cats can also impair blood
circulation within the lungs, placing even more burden on an already functionally
compromised heart. Behavioral changes, nighttime confusion, and other signs
of senility in cats can often be attributed to reduced oxygen flow to the
brain caused by poor heart and lung output.
In response to the increased oxygen requirement of an older pet, the air within your pet's environment should be kept fresh, smoke-free, and well circulated. Secondhand smoke can pose a serious health risk to cats suffering from lung conditions. In addition, excess humidity allowed to build up within a cat's environment can adversely affect the rate of oxygen exchange within the lungs. As a result, atmospheric filters and dehumidifiers should be considered in high-humidity areas.
|General Changes Associated
with Aging in Cats
As the digestive system ages, its efficiency at breaking down foodstuffs for absorption into the body is reduced. For starters, periodontal disease (tooth and gum disease) commonly affects older cats and can lead to tooth loss. Routine veterinary dental checkups, combined with at-home dental care, are needed to help slow this progression and to preserve the important digestive function of the teeth. A reduction in salivary secretions in the older pet may lead to a diminished food intake and make swallowing difficult. In many instances, special medications designed to increase the amount of saliva produced and secreted may be needed. The stomach and intestines of older cats become much less tolerant to excesses and dietary fluctuations. Flare-ups of gastritis and colitis can become commonplace and warrant prompt medical attention -when they occur to prevent complications. Poor liver and intestinal function in elderly felines can predispose them to constipation. As a result, increased dietary fiber and mild laxatives are often needed. Finally, reduced pancreatic and liver function may decrease with age, interfering with the conversion of foodstuffs to usable nutrients, and making it more difficult for the body to neutralize and eliminate toxic wastes. Again, dietary adjustments made as a cat enters its senior years are the most effective ways to lessen the impact of these age-related consequences.
Within the urinary system, a reduced blood flow to the kidneys and overall age-related wear and tear create scarring and other undesirable changes that disrupt normal blood filtering and waste elimination. Subsequently, toxin and waste buildup within the bloodstream can lead to mental dullness, stomach ulcers, and other disturbances. Feeding elderly felines only high-quality diets and offering a clean (preferably filtered) source of water can help aging kidneys. In addition, good preventive dental care will also help keep bacteria to a minimum.
Reproductive performance and fertility in both the male and the female cat decline with advancing age. Mammary tumors and uterine infections increase in incidence as female cats enter their senior years. Although older male cats don't suffer from diseases and tumors of the prostate and testicles as often as their aged canine counterparts do, they are still at risk. The key to avoiding most reproductive disorders related to aging is to neuter cats, both male and female, at a very young age. If a cat is to be bred, neutering should be performed as soon as its optimum reproductive life is complete (usually around eight years of age) or once the decision is made not to breed the cat any further, whichever comes first.
A decreased blood and oxygen flow to the brain, combined with age-related degeneration of the nervous components of the senses (vision, hearing, smell, and taste) can lead to senile behavioral patterns in cats older than ten years of age. These pets become less and less tolerant to disruptions in normal daily routine as they mature. In addition, reactions to external stimuli become slowed, and as senility sets in further, abnormal behaviors, such as poor recognition of otherwise familiar people and surroundings, poor appetite, and excretory indifference, can result.
As the pet owner you can be supportive of these nervous system changes and sensory deficits 'in a number of different ways as they occur. For instance, maintaining consistent and recognizable surroundings is important. Invisible fencing devices or physical obstuctions can be used to render off-limits certain areas of the house or yard that may prove hazardous. Remembering to approach cats that are visually or mentally impaired slowly and audibly will help prevent startled and/or aggressive reactions. To adjust for diminished senses of smell and taste, rations may be warmed prior to feeding. Finally, increasing your vocal pitch can help compensate for your pet's diminished hearing caused by nerve deafness.
Aging is also accompanied by a degeneration of the endocrine (hormone-producing) glands within the body. Hormones are the mediators of many vital processes and reactions occurring within the body, and deficiencies or excesses can lead to a multitude of health problems. To identify any imbalances that may arise as a result of aging, such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus, and feline endocrine alopecia, routine blood tests designed to assess the various endocrine functions should be performed at least once a year in cats more than eight years of age.
The bones, joints, and muscles, which serve as the support and locomotory system of the body, experience tremendous levels of wear and tear during the normal life of a cat. With aging, cartilage lining the joint surfaces can begin to split and fragment, causing arthritis and joint pain. In addition, a generalized thinning of bone tissue occurs, causing weakness in the cat's overall skeletal structure. Loss of muscle mass and joint flexibility, caused by decreased activity levels, decreased nerve function to the muscles, and excessive protein loss from the body, places even more pressure on the skeletal system. Finally, musculoskeletal disorders caused by age-related disruptions in organ and gland function within the body can materialize. Such disruptions can lead to toxin buildup or hormone-induced changes within the muscle and bone tissue, leading to muscle pain, inflammation, bone thinning, and lameness.
To help alleviate the musculoskeletal effects of aging, elderly cats should be placed on a moderate exercise program to keep their joints limber and muscles toned. Exercise can also help counteract the age-related thinning and brittleness of bone tissue. In addition, routine blood testing (semiannual for cats over 10) performed as a part of an overall preventive health care program can help detect organ or endocrine disturbances.
A generalized thinning of hair, increased susceptibility to infection, and decreases in insulating capabilities are but three of the many changes that can affect the skin and hair coat of cats as they grow older. The skin itself loses its elasticity, with an increase in tissue thickness and dryness. Fluctuations in the rate of skin cell growth and turnover, along with aberrations in the production of oily sebum by the sebaceous glands, can leave the surfaces of the skin and coat of the elderly cat excessively greasy and tacky. Decreased grooming activity that accompanies aging, combined with this oily buildup, can give the hair coat an unkempt, matted appearance, and so older cats should be brushed on a daily basis.
Because of decreases in immune
system efficiencies and skin changes, older cats also become more susceptible
to parasitic invasion from fleas, ticks, and mites, resulting in special
attention to parasite control. Allergies, which can afflict cats of any
age, tend to worsen as maturity sets in, and warrant prompt medical attention
to prevent secondary skin infections and other associated complications.
Finally, hormonal changes or internal organ malfunction caused by aging
or by age-related diseases often manifest themselves as skin and hair coat
disorders. For this reason, all felines more than six years of age that
suffer from such disorders should have blood hormone and enzyme levels
tested. The changes occurring in the body as a result of aging are complex
and significant. Many of the conditions can be avoided or their impact
lessened by understanding those key points concerning husbandry and preventive
health care. By actively applying these concepts and methods, you will
positively impact the quality of life of your older cat and ensure that
its golden years are filled with health and happiness.
|Preventive Health Care
for Older Cats
The old maxim, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," is certainly the case when it comes to senior adult cats. A thorough preventive and maintenance health care plan is essential for maintaining a high standard of health and quality of life for your mature pet. Many disease conditions and age-related changes seen in older cats can be slowed or even prevented through the proper implementation of such a program. Important areas in a well-balanced preventive health care program include nutrition and weight management, exercise, vaccinations, internal and external parasite control, regular grooming, dental care, and travel guidelines.
|Most Prevalent Causes
of Death in Older Cats
Nutrition for Your Older Cat
Once your pet reaches seven years of age, dietary changes are warranted to accommodate for the effects of aging and the wear and tear on the organ systems of the body. Goals of this senior nutritional program include providing the highest level of nutrition and at the same time maintaining an ideal body weight, slowing the progression of disease and age-related changes, and reducing or eliminating the clinical manifestations of specific disease conditions. For instance, as your cat's metabolic rate slows and the tendency toward obesity increases with advancing age, increasing the amount of fiber and reducing the amount of fat in the diet can help keep the calories at bay and maintain a constant body weight. In addition, as the kidneys begin to lose their ability to handle the waste materials that must be removed from the body, dietary adjustments can play a major role in reducing the amounts of waste products that the kidneys have to process. Simply reducing the sodium content of a ration can exert significant effects in lowering blood pressure and reducing the workload placed on an aging heart. Furthermore, increased levels of unsaturated fatty acids and zinc in the diet can help counteract some of the effects that aging has on the skin and hair coat, Finally, because older pets tend to have reduced sensory input (taste and smell), increasing the palatability of the diet can keep even the most finicky senior satisfied. Canned foods are generally more palatable and easier to digest than dry foods producing less waste products for the kidneys to filter out of the blood.
To summarize, here are some guidelines to follow when it comes to feeding and maintaining an optimum lifestyle for your older cat:
If your cat is healthy, feed a high-quality ration formulated for the needs of healthy older cats. As cats enter into their senior years, their caloric intake should be maintained at approximately 32 kcal per pound (60 kcal/kg) of body weight to accommodate changes in metabolism, assuming, of course, that they are not underweight to begin with. To control calories while at the same time satisfying appetite cravings, these "senior" rations typically contain more fiber and less fat than those foods designed for younger cats. Increases in fiber content also serve to promote healthy bowel function in older pets. In addition, any ration fed to your cat should have adequate levels of the amino acid taurine. Deficiencies in this protein building block have been known to cause blindness and cardiomyopathy. Because there are so many brands of senior formulas available on the market today, narrow your choices and ensure proper nutritional balance by asking your veterinarian to recommend the brand that would best suit your cat.
Those felines suffering from specific illnesses will require special diets prescribed by your veterinarian. For example, cats experiencing constipation, certain types of colitis, chronic hairballs, and diabetes mellitus often require a fiber content in their ration even greater than that found in standard "senior" formulas. In addition, older cats suffering from chronic diarrhea, excessive gas production, and/or pancreatic problems can often benefit from special diets formulated to be more easily digestible than standard fare. Recommended dietary management of cats suffering from heart and/or kidney disease includes diets low in sodium and with restricted levels of protein (not to exceed 28 percent of dry matter). Lastly, older cats that are underweight because of underlying disease may require a diet with increased caloric density to help reestablish their desired weight. Remember: Because all of these prescribed diets are so specialized, be sure to follow your veterinarian's directions closely as to the amounts to feed and frequency of feedings.
Unless your veterinarian says otherwise, older cats should be fed rations free-choice; that is, they should be fed several small meals whenever they want. Frequent feeding will help ensure that proper amounts are being consumed. In addition, more frequent consumption of smaller amounts of food can aid in the digestive process and nutrient absorption, especially in those cats challenged by age-related changes within the digestive system. In multi-cat households where a dominant cat may prevent others from free-choice feeding, three to four supervised feedings throughout the day can provide a suitable alternative to the free-choice method.
Vitamin and mineral supplements are rarely required if you are feeding your cat a veterinary-recommended ration. In fact, feeding such a supplement indiscrimnately or inappropriately could lead to nutritional imbalances that can have detrimental effects on your pet's health. As a result, do so only under the direct supervision of your veterinarian.
Implement a regular daily program of moderate exercise for your cat to promote weight control and to enhance digestive processes and normal bowel function.
Weigh your cat on a monthly basis to detect any significant weight fluctuations. In general, fluctuations greater than 3 pounds (1.4kg) over a three-month period should warrant attention. Such changes could be indicators of overfeeding, improper diet, or the onset of underlying disease conditions.
As for feeding table scraps and junk food to your older pet:- Don't! It only serves to cause obesity and shorten life spans. If you feel compelled to offer your cat treats during the day, consider using a kibbled form of a senior or low-fat ration. To provide your cat with a satisfying variety, you can even use a brand of food other than the one you are currently feeding. Just remember that even such healthy snacks should account for no more than 5 percent of your pet's total daily caloric intake.
Always provide your cat with easy access to a source of fresh, clean water. Consumption of proper amounts of water will help prevent dehydration and encourage frequent urination, which in itself will help decrease the risk of feline urologic syndrome (FUS). Also remember that cats suffering from kidney impairment or endocrine diseases such as diabetes may drink (and require) excessive amounts of water; as a result, be sure that the water bowl never runs dry. Whenever assessing daily water consumption by a cat, remember that felines fed canned cat food will usually drink less water than those cats on dry rations, because canned foods can have a water content as high as 75 percent. Feeding canned food virtually guarantees adequate water consumption.
Practice good dental hygiene on your cat, including at-home brushing and periodic professional teeth cleaning. Preventing periodontal disease will help keep appetite levels high and reduce the risk of internal disease. The gums contain a large blood supply and infections from periodontal disease can easily enter the bloodstream. leading to valvular heart disease, kidney disease, hepatitis and joint disease, not to mention that constant pain from tooth loss is also occurring.
Switch to semiannual veterinary checkups to assess your pet's health and to determine whether or not A dietary adjustment or change is warranted. Remember: Feeding the correct diet for your pet's specific needs will lengthen your years of companionship.
Battling Obesity in the Older Cat
Keeping your cat's weight under control is one of the most effective ways to add years to its life. Obesity can be defined as an increase in body fat resulting in an increase in body weight more than 10 percent above the normal weight for the cat's breed or body type. Although obese cats aren't candidates for atherosclerosis and subsequent myocardial infarction like an obese human would be, they are predisposed to a variety of other serious disorders such as hypertension, cardiac fatigue, pancreatitis, diabetes mellitus, liver disease, and colitis. Skin disorders seem to be more prevalent in overweight cats, as are disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Simply put, obesity reduces the overall quality of life of those unfortunate pets afflicted with it.
The primary causes of obesity in cats are feeding too much food or feeding the wrong types of food and insufficient amounts of exercise. Failure to adjust dietary requirements and amounts fed based on specific individual needs as a pet matures is a common mistake made by pet owners. To help counteract the effects of a slower metabolic rate, healthy seniors more than seven years of age should be fed "less active" or "senior" diets containing higher fiber and fewer calories instead of the regular adult maintenance rations. Also, senior cats should be fed a diet consisting of one food type only, unless a medical condition stipulates otherwise. Under no circumstances should table scraps be fed to a cat; table scraps promote obesity and lead to finicky eating behaviors.
If your cat is obese, reducing daily caloric intake to 75% (but never less than 60%) of the normal daily maintenance amount you feed should safely produce the weight loss you desire. Safe weight loss must be done slowly, allow 4 weeks for each pound of weight loss. Once the ideal weight has been reached, feed your cat a ration that is specially formulated for your cat's ideal weight (60 kcal/kg if inactive). High-quality, senior diets are specifically formulated for older cats. This kind of diet is readily available from and should be recommended by your veterinarian. Feed the amount recommended on the can that corresponds to your cat's ideal weight. If you don't know what this should be, consult your veterinarian.
Taurine Deficiencies in Older Cats
Taurine is an essential amino acid in cats; that is, it must be present in a cat's diet because it cannot be synthesized internally. Deficiencies in taurine can lead to severe health consequences, including dilated cardiomyopathy, feline central retinal degeneration and blindness, neurologic disease, and immunosuppression.
Older cats require between 1,000 and 1,500 parts per million of taurine in their diet. This amount should be raised to 2,000 ppm taurine in those cats that are fed moist cat foods. In the past ten years, commercial cat food manufacturers have placed special emphasis on the levels of taurine included in their rations. As a result, dietary-induced taurine deficiencies are rare in today's cats fed quality commercially available cat foods. However, deficiencies in taurine can also be caused by digestive disturbances that interfere with a proper absorption of taurine. For instance, older cats suffering from chronic colitis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have increased susceptibility to taurine deficiencies and subsequent cardiomyopathies. Felines suffering from such chronic digestive disturbances usually require a taurine-rich diet or supplementation to prevent degenerative changes. Taurine supplements in paste or capsule forms are available from veterinarians.
Exercise and Your Older Cat
Along with dietary adjustments, exercise is a vital part of any weight control or weight loss program. Implementing a moderate exercise program into the daily routine of your older cat will not only help prevent or combat obesity but will also increase muscle tone and strength and help counteract some of the loss in muscle mass associated with aging. Exercise will improve agility and flexibility and help loosen up stiff joints. In addition, improved blood circulation, heart function, and lung capacities resulting from exercise all serve to increase your pet's quality of life. Regular activity will also promote and improve gastrointestinal motility and increase urination frequency, the latter being an important factor in the prevention of feline urologic syndrome (FUS).
Before you implement any exercise program for your cat, a complete physical exam should be performed by your veterinarian to identify any underlying health conditions that may limit the type and amount of exercise performed. In addition, if the exercise program entails time spent outdoors, it is important that your cat is current on its vaccinations.
Designated daily play sessions
and brisk aerobic walks using a leash and harness are the two main methods
of ensuring that your cat gets the appropriate amount of healthy exercise.
The type of play you engage in with your cat does not matter, as long as
you have a willing participant and can keep the level of activity brisk
and dynamic. These play sessions should last a minimum of 15 minutes in
order to provide for effective calorie burn.
Leash-Training Your Cat
Although it is true that cats can be somewhat independent creatures, they can (and should) be taught to walk on a leash and harness. All that is usually required to leash-train your cat is the correct equipment and a generous portion of patience on your part. A harness specifically designed for cats and a 6- to 8-foot (1.8-2.4 m) leash can be purchased from your local pet supply or veterinary office. Collars and extendable leashes should not be used when walking cats, as both afford very little control.
Begin your training efforts by allowing your cat to wear the harness around the house without the leash attached. If your cat objects when you first apply the harness, leave it on for only a few minutes each day for the first three to five days. From then on, each day gradually increase the amount of time that the harness is left on until its presence becomes second nature to your cat. (Note: Do not allow your cat to roam free outdoors, especially while wearing a harness; for if it became entangled upon a fence post or tree limb, your cat could be seriously injured. See Outdoor Risks ).
Once your cat becomes accustomed to the harness, begin attaching the leash to the harness during the training sessions and coaxing your cat to walk on lead. Keep initial sessions brief and use only gentle tugs. Don't drag an unwilling subject around the house; this will only serve to make future training difficult. Remember: A major goal of any training program is to make it a pleasant experience. Be sure to praise heavily whenever desired results are achieved instead of punishing for improper responses. Over time you will find that your cat will respond favorably to such training techniques and reward you with results.
After your feline has become used to walking around indoors on the leash and harness, it is time to move the training sessions outdoors. Again, keep the initial sessions short and effective. Cats that have not spent much time outdoors will require days or weeks of adjustment to the new environment. Purposely avoid direct encounters with people and other pets during this introductory period in order to keep stress to a minimum.
Training your cat to walk outdoors on a leash requires patience and persistence on your part. If your cat is out of shape, keep the aerobic exercise sessions short and of low intensity. The ultimate goal is to work up to 15 to 20 minutes of brisk, continuous aerobic walking daily.
Following exercise, provide your cat access to plenty of fresh water to allow for replacement of fluids lost from physical exertion. This is especially important in older felines, because if a cat is suffering from even a mild degree of kidney impairment and cannot replace fluids, dehydration and overt kidney failure could result.
Remain alert for signs of overexertion and/or heart trouble. These signs can include rapid tiring, coughing, and/or breathing difficulties. If you notice such symptoms at any point during the exercise routine, stop immediately. If your cat is not breathing regularly within three to four minutes, contact your veterinarian.
Internal Parasite Control
To ensure that your elderly cat remains free of internal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, lungworms, and protozoa, a stool check should be performed at least once a year (ideally every six months) by your veterinarian. Early detection and treatment of parasitic infestations will help prevent malnutrition, diarrhea, and stress-related immune system suppression from becoming established and complicating any preexisting medical conditions. It will also lessen the risk of human exposure to these parasites, some of which (roundworms, protozoa) can pose a significant health risk to people, especially children.
Environmental management and cleanliness also plays a key role in the prevention of all internal parasites. For instance, because fleas are the most common carrier of cat tapeworms, rigid flea control meaasures are essential to protect your cat against infestation by this type of worm. Furthermore, by cleaning the litter box on a daily basis and disposing of any fecal material left in your yard by stray cats, transmission of infective parasite eggs to your pet and to others will be effectively blocked. (For more information on the treatment and prevention on internal parasites, see Internal Parasitism)
External Parasite Control
Fleas are the most common external parasites with which your older cat will have to contend. Not only can their bites produce extreme discomfort and even allergic reactions, fleas are also host to the most common tapeworm that affects cats, Dipylidium caninum. Aging felines can be particularly tormented by these pests, which may reside on skin regions that an older cat is unable to bite or scratch due to age-related inflexibility or arthritis. Furthermore, maturing cats that are debilitated by diseases such as kidney failure seem to also be prime targets for fleas. The exact mechanism for this is unknown; however, some feel that changes in internal body chemistries due to disease or aging, or abnormalities in oily secretions from the skin, may be to blame. Regardless of the cause, flea control is a vital part of any preventive health care program implemented on behalf of your older pet.
The key to implementing an effective flea control program is to first acquaint yourself with the lifestyle of this parasite. This life cycle begins with the deposition of eggs both on the host pet and in the pet's environment, including both the house and yard. Those eggs laid on the skin and hair coat of the host will usually fall off into the environment soon after deposition. Within a house, fleas will directly deposit their eggs onto carpeted areas of the home. Other favorite sites include cracks and corners within the house, damp floorboards and cupboards, and even within airconditioning ducts. Of course, your pet's sleeping quarters will have its fair share of eggs as well. The adult flea will lay 3 to 18 eggs per laying, and in her life span of a year, she may lay over 200 eggs! The rate of this egg laying will increase proportionally with environmental temperature and humidity, and with the numbers of blood meals and male fleas available. Maturity of the eggs occurs most rapidly when the temperature is between 65º and 95º'F ( 8.3-35ºC) and the relative humidity is between 50 and 99 percent. In optimum conditions, the eggs hatch into larvae 2 to 14 days after being laid. The small white larvae that emerge from the eggs rely on adult flea excrement for food as they grow. Six months and three molts later, the larvae spin cocoons, in which they remain anywhere from one week to one year. It is important to note that while in this cocoon, these larvae are very resistant to chemical insecticides and other environmental treatment modalities. Once fully mature adult fleas emerge from the cocoon, they diligently search out hosts upon which to feed. Incredibly, the average adult flea can live up to 58 days without food. Some species, after engorging on a blood meal, can live 200 days without another meal.
Unless in the process of feeding, fleas will spend most of their time off your pet and in the environment, in your house or yard. Don't make the mistake of immediately discounting fleas as the cause of your cat's scratching just because you fail to, observe a live specimen on the skin. Instead, suspect fleas whenever there is visible chewing activity and hair loss around your cat 's hind legs and the back, especially near the base of the tail. If you part the hair in these areas, you will often see the tiny black flecks of flea excrement that are left behind after feeding. This is a sure sign that you do indeed have visitors.
Because fleas do spend so much of their time off your pet, thorough environmental treatment is necessary. Consultation with your veterinarian is advised when choosing among the many flea remedies and protocols that are safe and effective for your specific needs.
Grooming Your Older Cat
An important part of any preventive health care program is grooming. Not only will it help keep your cat in top shape physically, but the time spent with your old friend will provide the psychological comfort that such interaction and attention creates. As an added benefit, routine grooming and hands-on attention will assist in the early detection of external parasites, tumors, infections, or any other changes or abnormalities that may result from the germination of an internal disease condition. The grooming program for your older cat should include skin and coat care, nail care, ear care, and dental care.
Brushing and Bathing
Regardless of the hair length of your cat, brushing the hair coat thoroughly on a daily basis will not only promote a healthy coat, but healthy skin as well. In those cats with long hair, twice-a-day brushing may be required, especially during the spring and fall months when shedding occurs the most. Brushing with such regular frequency will assist your cat's grooming efforts and help prevent tangles and mats from forming. In addition, it will help remove dead hair from the coat, paving the way for new hair growth and reducing the incidence of hair balls. Brushing also stimulates sebaceous gland activity and blood circulation to the skin, and helps remove skin scales and crusts that could lead to itching in cats, especially those suffering from allergic skin disease.
Bristle brushes work well on the feline coat; as a general rule, the wider apart the bristles are placed on the brush, the longer the coat it is designed to be used on. Combs can also come in quite handy, especially if your cat has a fine, silky hair coat that may be too delicate for conventional brushes. Rubber curry combs, similar to those used on horses, are also recommended for cats, especially those that normally object to conventional brushing. These combs, especially those designed with soft rubber tips, provide the added benefit of giving your cat a gentle massage, making the combing process a pleasant experience.
When brushing or combing, follow the grain of the hair, using firm, even strokes. If you run into a mat or tangle, use your fingers to work as much of it free as you can, then gently run the brush or comb through it. If the mat fails to give way and your pet is experiencing discomfort as a result, stop immediately. Instead, run a comb as close to the skin as possible to entrap the mat on top and then, using scissors, cut the mat at the comb's upper surface. Never leave the skin unprotected when using scissors to remove a mat. Once the mat is finally removed, inspect the skin at that location to be sure it is not reddened or inflamed. If it appears to be only slightly irritated the condition should resolve on its own now that the mat has been removed. However, if the skin is obviously infected or the area is severely reddened and inflamed, seek veterinary medical attention Immediately.
As a rule, cats rarely need to be bathed, especially if you brush your cat on a daily basis. Routine bathing should only be performed on those cats that are continually exposing themselves to excessive dirt, grease, or other noxious substances in their environment, and for those felines suffering from external parasites or medical conditions such as skin infections. If a general cleaning is desired for an otherwise healthy cat, then the best recommendation is to purchase and use a mild hypoallergenic shampoo to use for this purpose. These shampoos are readily available from your veterinarian. Over-the-counter shampoos may contain harsh chemicals that will irritate an older cat's skin. If your cat is afflicted with any type of medical condition, then the type of shampoo used should be limited to that recommended or prescribed by your veterinarian.
Prior to giving your cat a bath, be certain to brush the hair coat thoroughly to remove any mats and tangles that may be present. In addition, apply some type of protection to prevent corneal burns if shampoo accidentally gets into the eyes. Mineral oil can be used for this purpose; however, a sterile ophthalmic ointment available from your veterinarian or local pet store is preferred. Because many cats are reluctant to be bathed, here are a few tips that may make the job easier:
1. In order to help make your cat feel more secure, consider placing a mat within the tub or sink to provide a surface for your cat to grip onto during the bath.
2. Be sure to fill the tub or sink with lukewarm water prior to introducing your cat to prevent the running water from alarming her.
3. Have containers filled with clean water prepared ahead of time to use for rinsing. if you must turn on the faucet, do so only briefly, then turn it back off.
4. When bathing your cat, keep a firm grip on the top scruff of your pet's neck. Besides offering you greater control, this action (the same that mother cats use to handle their young) alone usually pacifies most cats enough to allow you to complete your task.
5. Following application of the shampoo, be sure to rinse the hair coat thoroughly, concentrating especially on the regions of the armpits, groin, toes, and genitalia, because these are regions commonly missed when rinsing.
6. After the bath is complete, be sure to towel dry your older friend thoroughly. Do not use a hair dryer! The noise and wind will startle your cat.
7. Afterward, apply a ear cleanser (recommended by your veterinarian) containing a drying agent to the ears to dry the ear canals.
8. Finally, wait until the coat is completely dry before performing a finishing brush.
Read all label directions carefully whenever using medicated shampoos and topical sprays on older cats
As a general rule, if your older cat (hopefully) has not been previously declawed, its nails should be trimmed every three to four weeks to stimulate healthy growth and to reduce the chances of accidental (or purposeful) scratches being inflicted by your cat.
When trimming nails, use only a brand of nail clipper that is designed for cats. Your pet health care professional can assist you in acquiring such a device. Before trimming a nail, note the line of demarcation between the pink quick (the portion of the nail that contains the blood supply) and the remaining portions of the nail. Using your pair of clippers, snip off the latter portion just in front of the quick. Although ideally you want to avoid drawing blood when you are trimming your cat's nails, don't fret if you do so. Using a clean cloth or towel, simply apply direct pressure to the end of the bleeding nail for three to five minutes. In most cases, this is all that is needed to stop the bleeding, but for stubborn cases, commercially available clotting powder can be applied.
To prevent destruction to household furniture and items, scratching posts should be provided as needed. If your cat has become especially destructive in its later years, disposable nail caps can be glued to your cat's nails to provide a protective barrier against damage from the sharp ends of the nails. Nail cap kits are available (Soft Paws) online and at certain pet stores or veterinary offices and the caps are relatively easy to apply. The frequency at which you will have to reapply the caps will depend upon the activity level of your cat, and the brand of cap used. All in all, they provide a fantastic (and safe) alternative to surgically removing the claws during the latter years of a cat's life, because declawing can be especially traumatic to the elderly cat. See: Claw Trimming, and Facts About Declawing)
Routine care for the ears is needed in older cats to prevent moisture, wax, and debris from accumulating within the ear canal and obstructing hearing. Routine examinations of the ears are also useful for detecting infections and other disease conditions early in their development, when they are most easily treated. A good program involves visual examination of the ear canals on a weekly basis, and cleaning and drying with a commercial ear cleanser as needed. Several types of ear cleansers and drying agents are readily available from -pet stores, pet supply houses, and veterinary offices. Liquid ear cleansers are preferred over powders, because powders tend to saturate with moisture and become trapped within the ear canal. Most liquid ear cleansers contain both a wax solvent and drying agent (astringent) that clean the ear and dry it at the same time.
If visual examination reveals any signs of irritation, discharges, or foul odors, your cat's ears should be examined by your veterinarian prior to introducing any liquids or medications in to the ear canals. This is recommended as well for cats that are constantly shaking or tilting their heads. The reason for this is that unhealthy ears may have torn or diseased eardrums, and introducing a cleansing solution into such an ear can spread infection to the deeper portions and structures within the ear.
If your older cat's ears warrant cleaning, begin cleaning by gently pulling the ear flap out and away from the head, exposing and straightening the ear canal. Carefully squeeze a liberal amount of ear cleaning solution into the ear and massage the ear canal for twenty seconds. Next, allow your cat to shake its head, then proceed to the opposite ear and follow the same procedure. Once both ears have been treated, use cotton balls or swabs to remove any wax or debris found on the inside folds of the ear flap and the outer portions of the ear canal. To avoid serious injury to your cat's ear, never enter into the actual ear canal when swabbing.
Keeping your cat's teeth free of tartar and plaque buildup is a preventive health care procedure that will add years to its life. Most cats are afflicted with some degree of tooth and gum disease (periodontal disease) by the time they are three years of age. Not only do plaqueladen teeth and inflamed gums lead to halitosis (foul breath) and eventual tooth loss, but bacteria from these sources can enter the bloodstream and travel to the various organs within the body, including the heart, liver, and kidneys. As a, result, regular visits to your veterinarian for professional cleaning and polishing, supplemented by an at-home dental care program, are a must to keep your cat healthy. Do not rely on feeding dry food as a dental care program. The cat's jaw does not possess the ability for lateral motion as does the dog. Thus the benefits of dry food for dental prophylactics is minimal for the cat.
Because a short-acting sedative/anesthetic will be required for professional cleaning, blood tests should be performed on your older cat prior to anesthesia to make certain that there are no underlying conditions that may complicate recovery. Fortunately, recent advancements in veterinary anesthesiology and anesthetic agents have greatly increased the safety of this procedure in elderly felines.
Once anesthetized, an ultrasonic scaler is used to shatter and break up the plaque that has accumulated on your pet's teeth above and below the gum line. After this has been completed, the mouth is rinsed and a polisher is used on the teeth to restore their smooth, shiny surfaces. The entire procedure should take no more than 20 to 30 minutes, after which time your pet will be recovered from the anesthesia.
Professional teeth cleaning such as that described above may be required every four to six months.
However, with diligent dental care provided by you at home on a daily basis, this interval between treatments can be extended to up to one year. Toothpastes and cleansing solutions designed for cats are available from your veterinarian or local pet stores. For best results, use preparations that contain chlorhexidine, an antimicrobial agent that can provide hours of residual protection against bacteria that may attempt to colonize the tooth and gum surfaces. Do not use toothpastes designed for use in humans on your cat; these can cause severe stomach upset in your cat if swallowed. A soft-bristle toothbrush or a rubber fingertip applicator (designed especially for cats and available from your favorite pet store) should be used to gently massage the paste or solution onto the outer, and if possible, inner surfaces of the teeth and gums. At home scaling of dental surfaces using handheld dental scalers should not be performed on cats, because this procedure can be quite painful, and can also create etches and indentations within the tooth surfaces that accelerate tartar buildup.
Neutering Your Older Cat
The term neutering refers to the removal of the ovaries and uterus (ovariohysterectomy, spaying) in the female cat or the testicles (castration) in the male. To reduce the incidence of reproductive disorders and certain types of cancer (including mammary tumors) in later years, it is recommended that all cats be neutered by their eighth birthday. Neutering can also be used to treat select behavioral problems, including aggressiveness and urine spraying, in older cats.
With proper preanesthetic blood tests and the use of only the newest, most technologically advanced anesthetic agents, the risks associated with this surgery in an older cat can be greatly reduced. The actual procedure should take no more than 25 minutes to perform. Following postoperative recovery, a physical examination will once again be performed prior to your pet being sent home. Sutures are normally removed seven to ten days following the surgery.
Contrary to popular belief,
neutering in itself won't directly cause obesity in cats. Improper feeding
practices, lack of exercise, and, in some instances, disease are the causes
of obesity in cats, not reproductive status. Furthermore, although it is
true that neutering can have a calming effect on nervous or restless cats,
activity levels in emotionally stable cats are rarely affected. (See:
Benefits Associated with Neutering)
Sedation and Anesthesia in Older Cats
Sedation and anesthesia are two procedures used to enable veterinarians to perform certain diagnostics and treatments in older cats. Sedation refers to the administration of an agent designed to alleviate distress, irritation, excitement, and/or pain in a selected patient. Its primary use in cats is to enable diagnostic procedures such as radiography or endoscopy to be performed without struggle. Sedatives are also effective restraining agents for minor surgical procedures andfor therapeutic measures not associated with intense pain.
Anesthesia, on the other hand, refers to the induction of unconsciousness in a patient using an injectable drug or inhaled gas. Cats in a surgical plane of anesthesia are immune to pain, thereby allowing for more invasive and extensive surgical and therapeutic procedures. In many instances, sedatives are used in conjunction with general anesthetic agents to allow for easier administration of the latter.
There is no doubt that the risks associated with sedation and anesthesia in older cats are much greater than in their younger counterparts. However, with the advent of new, state-of-the-art sedative and anesthetic agents, combined with new diagnostic technology now available to veterinarians, this risk can be reduced significantly. Certainly prior to undergoing any sedation or anesthesia, your cat should be as healthy as possible. A careful physical examination, combined with a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis, should be performed prior to any agent being administered. This will help your veterinarian determine the anesthetic protocol best suited to your pet's condition and reduce the chances of any unexpected surprises. Food should be withheld from cats undergoing anesthesia for a minimum of 12 hours; water for a minimum of 6 hours. Of course, exceptions to these rules may become necessary in cases of emergency. If such an emergency arises, always be sure to inform your veterinarian as to whether or not your cat had eaten or consumed water within these time periods.
Isoflurane is the name of the most technologically advanced form of inhalation anesthesia used in veterinary medicine today. A big advantage of this type of anesthesia over others is that only a very small portion of the agent undergoes metabolism within the body. On the contrary, the majority of this agent is exhaled from the lungs once administration of the gas is ceased. As a result, recovery from isoflurane is usually swift and uneventful. It is certainly the safest agent to use in older cats, especially those with preexisting medical conditions, including heart, liver, and kidney disease. Be sure to request it anytime your cat must undergo anesthesia for dental work or any type of major surgery.
Main Subject Index