Common Age-Related Diseases in Cats

Just like humans, no two cats are the same. As they age, they’ll be affected by a variety of different diseases and health problems. Here are some of the more common problems they may face as they grow older.

1. Cancer

Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in any area of the body, including lymph nodes, skin, bone, blood cells or other organs. This growth will either be malignant (aggressive and spreading) or benign (slow-moving and removable). You may notice abnormal swellings, sores that don’t heal, weight loss, changes in appetite and more. Treatment for cancer can be a difficult decision. It often depends on what options are available for the type of cancer, the prognosis and the cat’s quality of life, as well as the owner’s commitment and financial resources.

2. Dental Disease

More than 70% of older cats have signs of dental disease. If plaque is not removed, it starts to form tartar, which leads to gingivitis and other periodontal diseases. This can be very painful for your cat, and she may change her eating habits to avoid the pain of dry food crunching against her teeth. As a result, you may need to change to canned food when she gets older. Good oral hygiene is a must for cats, starting when they’re young. Routine dental care includes brushing, dental chews & toys, and regular veterinary checkups.

3. Arthritis & Joint Care

Though commonly seen as a problem for older dogs, arthritis can also affect older cats as well. Arthritis happens when damage from everyday activity causes gradual joint degeneration. The pain and inflammation will result in reduced activity, mobility and flexibility. Supplements are available to support your cat’s joints, rebuilding lost cartilage and restoring some of their flexibility. Don’t give your cat any anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, unless directed by a veterinarian. Cats are very sensitive to these drugs, and they can be fatal if they’re not given correctly.

4. Heart Function

Over time, your cat’s heart may start to lose efficiency. Muscles will gradually give out as the heart is asked to pump more blood than it’s able to do. A common heart problem in cats is cardiomyopathy, which is the enlargement and weakening of the heart muscle. This is often associated with hyperthyroidism and hypertension (high blood pressure). Treatment for heart problems depends on the severity and the type of problem. Medications are available to strengthen the heart muscles and reduce the effects of cardiac problems, as well as to treat the secondary problems with heart diseases.

5. Liver Disease

The liver is important for a variety of body functions, including digestion, detoxification, the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats and many more. The liver is unique in the fact that it can regenerate itself when part is damaged or removed, but problems start to occur when it cannot keep up with its many tasks. This results in vomiting, weight loss and loss of appetite, behavior changes and yellow, pale gums (jaundice). Since these symptoms are also common in many other diseases, liver disease can be difficult to detect, and it may accompany other diseases as well. A combination of treatments and supportive care can keep liver diseases under control, whether it’s a cure or simply slowing its progression. Since the liver will have a lower ability to metabolize medications, your veterinarian will prescribe lower doses to help the liver function effectively.

6. Diabetes

Diabetes happens when the production and function of insulin decreases. Insulin is necessary for cells to convert glucose into usable forms of energy. When this happens, your cat will have increased thirst and urination, as well as a change in appetite and weight. Diabetes can also be complicated by a variety of other diseases, including hypothyroidism or urinary tract infections. Unfortunately, diabetes cannot be cured, only managed with diet, exercise and insulin injection.

7. Kidney Disease

Problems with your cat’s kidneys may come as a result of changes from the kidney itself or other organs that affect kidney function. They can also cause other complications, such as high blood pressure or anemia. Cats do well when kidney problems are detected early, so regular screening is necessary to make sure their kidneys are functioning properly. Blood tests and urinalysis will identify problems long before any physical signs appear. Your cat’s diet or medications may need to change based on the kidneys’ ability to process foods and other products.

8. Hormone Production

As your cat ages, her glands may start to over or under produce hormones, causing diseases and other problems in their body. Hypothyroidism is when not enough thyroid hormones are produced, which affects the metabolic functions of every organ in their body. This is treatable with hormone replacement therapy, usually for the rest of the cat’s life.

As your cat ages, regular checkups become even more important in order to keep your cat healthy. Since cats age so much faster than humans, diseases can pop up in just a number of months and progress beyond treatment. If you see any difference in your cat’s behavior or health, check with your veterinarian to make sure there aren’t any significant health problems. With careful monitoring, you can make sure your cat says healthy, even in his old age!

The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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