Pets like people are also aging. Older pets should not be perceived as a burden to pet owners but a treasured companion. An older pet requires close attention and special care to ensure that it lives a long, productive and healthy life. Older pets are more prone to degenerative diseases.
A domestic cat is considered “senior” at about 7 or 8 years of age, when body tissues begin to lose their ability to regenerate, the effectiveness of the major body systems decreases and metabolism slows down. It can be slowed by good nutrition, daily exercise and prompt attention to medical problems. Your cat will probably be anxious about his deteriorating abilities, especially because they were so sharp to begin with. If he was rambunctious, a decline in his agility is likely to cause stress.
Most cats tend to slow down as they age, and engage in play less often and less energetically. But do not leave your cat to sit in some warm, cozy spot just because he is old. He needs moderate play and activity to keep his muscle tone, help prevent obesity and get his blood flowing. A stubborn reluctance to exercise may be due to stiff muscles or arthritic joints. If so, jumping and climbing may be out. Some creaky seniors find it impossible even to jump up to a favourite chair. Make sure that all your cat’s amenities ?food dishes, litter box, favourite perch or bed-are easily accessible to him.
Here are some of things you need to take note of regarding your older cat:
Your cat may also have difficulty reaching his entire body for grooming, so brush him every day to remove loose hair. Hairballs can cause serious digestive problems in an older cat. This extra grooming provides you with a good opportunity to check for abnormal lumps, lesions. Anything of this nature should be examined by your vet.
And if he isn’t using his scratching post as often as he used to, you will need his claws more frequently, too.
Please do not forget to care for the teeth and gums. Gently scrub his teeth a few times per week and have them cleaned by your vet as necessary. A cat with painful gums, usually the result of plaque build-up, will go off his food, especially dry food.
The Golden Years
You know your cat is getting deaf when he appears inattentive or fails to respond to either his name or the casual sounds associated with feeding or playing. Do have your vet check for infection or a tumour in the ear canal. However, if hearing loss is due to aging, there isn’t much you can do except to keep him away from any dangers he can’t hear, such as those he might encounter outdoors.
Signs of vision problems include pupils that don’t respond to light, the inability to follow objects such as toys and bumping into things. Sudden blindness may be caused by a detached retina due to hypertension (high blood pressure). Prompt treatment is essential and may return some vision. Even blind cats can manage well, as long as everything stays in its familiar place. The centre of the eyes may seem to cloud slightly, owing to increased density in the lenses, or the irises may look “worn out,” but these things may not significantly interfere with vision. A whitish, opaque clouding of the lens may indicate a cataract, which is often treated successfully by surgery.
A loss of the sense of smell interferes with the perception of the world; A cat knows its people and places by their smells. This is another reason to keep an older cat indoors, or outside only on a harness and leash, even if it was a street-smart outdoor cat in its youth.
As your cat’s senses of smell and taste dull, his regular fare may taste bland, and the cat who always wolfed down his food may become a finicky eater. Try warming the food to enhance its aroma, or flavour it with a small amount of a high-protein, strong-smelling food, such as cheese or cooked fish, as long as your cat has no medical problems such as kidney disease. Weight loss can signal a serious problem. In older cats, diet, hairballs or disorders in other body systems often cause gastrointestinal dysfunction, such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation or loss of appetite. Persistent weight loss, however may be the sign of a serious problem. Weigh your cat regularly, keeping record of the date and figure.
Geriatic Management Through Nutrition
Another common problem for older cats is overfeeding. As your cat becomes physically less active, he still needs good nutrition, but requires fewer calories. Your best bet here is a food specially formulated for senior cats; if he has health problems, he may need a specialized diet recommended by your vet. This isn’t the time to spoil your cat with food. Obesity depresses the immune system and contributes to a number of serious disorders, including arthritis, diabetes and liver disease.
There are lines of pet foods that cater to the nutritional needs of senior cats. Premium pet foods follow a formulation based on life stage and the breeds of cat. Life stage covers your cat from the kitten stage (birth to a year old), to adult stage (1-6 years) and senior stage (6 years and above). A premium pet food that has a formula based on life stages is Hill’s Science Plan. Pet food has moved from the traditional mode of nutrition to include innovative scientific breakthroughs through research. Recent research in pet nutrition has shown that the inclusion of antioxidants such as Vitamin E, Vitamin C, selenium and beta-carotene helps to strengthen your pet’s immune system. Thus, a strong immune system will be able to fight against most diseases including cancer. Most pet foods for older cats contain increased fibre for gastrointestinal health and low sodium to help avoid common health risks. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids too are important to promote the healthy functioning of the nervous and immune systems. It also helps to promote healthy skin and shiny coat for your cat. Another important aspect to geriatric pet food is that it be made in the form of soft kibbles for easy chewing and better digestion for your older cat.
Even more than before, cats in their golden years need all the love and care we can give them. They are still the faithful and devoted companion we’ve had through the years. Therefore, please continue to nurture the bond between you and your cat. The love, care and attention you shower on your dog will enrich your life and will help to ensure that your cat lives a full life.