When Does My Cat Become A Senior?
Generally, it is accepted that a cat begins to enter its senior years at seven years old. At around this age, cats will start to show physical and behavioral changes that are related to aging. Some books, however, break down further this life stage into:
7-10 years – mature cat, equivalent to 44-56 human years
11-14 years – senior cat, equivalent to 60-72 human years
15 years and over – geriatric cat, equivalent to 76 human years and over
While some veterinarians use the terms senior and geriatric interchangeably, strictly they are different as shown above. Also, a senior cat is one that is in a relatively good physical condition despite signs of age-related changes. A geriatric cat is one that is in a fragile condition and show adverse signs of illness and need a higher level of special care than a senior cat.
Age-Related Changes in Senior Cats
Age-related changes in senior cats may include: irregular bowel movement and urination, hypertension, poor circulation, arthritis, worn down teeth, unkempt hair coat, decreased resistance to diseases and even cognitive dysfunction. They are part of the natural process of aging. They are mostly irreversible but when detected early, proper management can be instituted and their progression can be slowed. This will significantly contribute to improving senior kitty’s quality of life. Therefore, it is an advantage when cat owners are observant and are regular in taking their cat to the veterinarian for check-ups.
In this light, it is important to never assume that all changes in a senior cat’s behavior or physical condition are all of the time due to old age. It is best to have senior kitty checked by the veterinarian at the first sign of a problem.
Senior Cats Need More Water
Water is essential for life. Cats of any age need to drink a minimum of 60ml water for every kilogram of their body weight per day for the cells and organs to function properly. Meeting this requirement is even more important in senior cats because they are more prone to suffer the effects of dehydration.
Outlined below is how dehydration can contribute to the more rapid development of the age-related changes seen in senior felines. Dehydration can also complicate pre-existing disease conditions.
- Poor Blood Circulation – Blood is mostly made up of water. When a cat is dehydrated, blood becomes thicker and consequently flow becomes slower. This compromises the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the different parts of the body. It also results to decreased waste elimination.
- Altered bowel movement and urination – Water is needed for the breakdown and absorption of food from the gut. Moisture also helps keep feces soft for easy elimination. Dehydration leads to poor digestion and constipation. Dehydration also signals the kidney to start conserving body water resulting to decreased amount of urine formed.
- Arthritis – Water is required for the proper lubrication of the joints. When a senior cat is dehydrated it can significantly contribute to painful joints making the cat less mobile.
- Electrolyte (salts) imbalance – When a cat is dehydrated there will be an imbalance in the different salts in the blood which are called electrolytes. These salts play a role in carrying electrical signals between cells. In an imbalance, there will be involuntary movement, seizures and loss of consciousness. Prolonged dehydration may impair cognitive function in the long term.
- Impaired Kidney Function and Kidney Failure. Water is necessary for the proper excretion of body waste products. In dehydration, body conserves water and the cat urinates less frequently causing waste and toxins to remain in the blood. This burdens the kidneys and increases the likelihood of kidney stone formation which in turn increase the risk for chronic kidney disease.
Chronic Kidney Diseases (CKD) in Senior Cats
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a common condition in senior cats. It is the condition wherein there is persistent loss of kidney function over time. Most of the time there is no specific cause of CKD but it is suspected that injury is due to contributing factors like low grade exposure over time to bacterial infection, toxins and improper diet.
Consequences of CKD
When the kidneys are not functioning properly waste products remain in the body longer creating a loop that causes further damage to the kidneys. Hypertension or elevated blood pressure is one consequence of CKD that is commonly seen in older cats. Hypertension in turn affects other systems resulting to a multitude of signs like difficulty breathing, blindness and seizures. Other complications of CKD include anemia and heart failure.
If left unmanaged, chronic kidney disease can lead to kidney failure then signs of frequent urination and excessive thirst and drinking become apparent.
Management of CKD
There is no cure for CKD and “treatment” is geared towards managing the condition. This entails minimizing the build-up of the toxic waste products in the blood, correcting electrolyte imbalance, controlling blood pressure and ensuring senior cat has proper nutrition.
CKD can be managed effectively with good hydration. It promotes urination which will flush out the toxins and reduce the stress on the kidneys. Diuresis also decreases the chances of the cat developing lower urinary tract infections which may complicate CKD. Adequate hydration slows down the progression of CKD and prolongs the life of senior cats.
Making Sure Senior Kitty is Getting Enough Water
- Water intake can be increased indirectly by offering wet food.
- Feeding smaller portions more frequently may also encourage more drinking as cats usually drink after a meal.
- Make drinking water sources easily accessible to senior cats, keeping in mind that they may already have joint and mobility problems.
- Invest in a good quality water fountain that will provide senior cat fresh oxygenated moving water all day making the water more palatable and encouraging them to drink more.
- Make sure water bowls are clean always and change the water frequently so it stays fresh and palatable
- Geriatric cats may need to have regular intravenous (directly into the blood vessels) or subcutaneous (under the skin) fluid administration at the veterinarian’s office to maintain adequate hydration.