Senior (>11 yrs) and Geriatric(>15 yrs) Cat Wellness
*A cat’s life expectancy is variable. These are guidelines only. The word ‘geriatric’ usually refers to senior cats that are dealing with the problems and diseases of old age. Creme Puff (August 3, 1967 – August 6, 2005) was a female cat who died at age 38 years and 3 days. She was the oldest cat ever recorded, according to the 2010 edition of Guinness World Records.
1. Annual Veterinary consultation and examination.
For Senior cats, we should start considering twice yearly examinations especially if there is any chronic illness we are treating, or worried about. Geriatric cats definitely should be evaluated at least twice yearly as things can change quite rapidly at this age.
Our focus for the annual consultation is on the physical exam. Everything branches from that. We give your cat a full physical examination covering all the body systems from eyes and ears to tail. We record the kitty’s history, update the patient’s file, listen to your concerns and answer your questions regarding any problems you’re having with your pet.
We have a check list to make sure we cover all areas. You will need to book another appointment for behavioural problems due to time factors, but at this age typically there are only medical or senile problems to deal with.
2. Vaccine Boosters
PRC (panleukopenia [parvo], rhinotracheitis [herpes] and calicivirus)
R (Rabies) – 1 year non- adjuvant rabies
*outdoor cats add –L (Feline Leukemia)
– A (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus)
– R (Rabies, 3 year non-aluminum adjuvant vaccine or the 1 year
Non- adjuvant vaccine)
For senior or geriatric cats. our focus is generally off vaccinations and on to more frequent wellness testing, other diagnostics, weight management and dental care. By this age we should be cycling vaccines well by now, such that we may be skipping more years and only giving one, or no, injection each year. Even outdoor access cats should be decreasing vaccine use as their desire to fight and roam will likely be less.
We believe at Beechwood Animal Hospital to tailor and balance the amount of vaccines given to a pet in relation to the risk the patient has in acquiring the illness, and the academic known or believed duration of action of a vaccine (rather than the labeled duration). As such we commonly prefer to cycle vaccines to 2- 3 years or more duration once they have been properly boostered as a kitten and then re-boostered 1 year later. We prefer to cycle individual vaccines so they don’t have to be given on the same year. Your cat hopefully will only get 1 vaccine a year versus multiple injections. That is, PRC one year, L the next, only a check up one year, Rabies the next etc., modified to a particular patient.
3. De-worming and Stool Analysis
Guidelines were adapted from the Canadian Animal Parasite Council www.capcvet.org.
No significant importance for indoor cats.
For outdoor cats we recommend probably still checking the stools for parasites in December, or at the annual or biannual consultation if there is still a history of hunting activity. It is likely less or absent, so deworming is not a concern.
If there is history of fleas however, we should deworm for tapeworms regularly, so long as we feel the cat is being bitten by adult fleas.
4. Dental Care
The guidelines we use for cats can be seen in the ‘dental program’ section of this website.
For senior and geriatric pussycats, we are often faced with growing dental problems, especially if we haven’t taken care of them regularly up until now. The problem now is that it is often not just preventative therapy. There are teeth to extract due to periodontal disease and more commonly resorptive or cervical-line lesions. These later can be quite painful. You’ll note the cat vibrates his/ her jaw when you touch one of these lesions or associated teeth.
Unfortunately, these older cats are at increased risks of potentially having anesthetic complications due to internal organ problems, weight problems or just age related illness or degenerative health.
Our veterinarians will make sure we evaluate for underlying problems by a thorough physical exam, history taking and appropriate wellness testing prior to any dental procedure or anesthesia. We may also suggest radiographic screening and/or ultrasound, especially if a heart murmur was detected.
If your kitty has had good dental care, through your own home care as discussed under the kitten and adult cat areas, or through regular dentals , then it may do quite well with continued hand descaling and we could stop doing anesthetic cleanings at this later age. Likely by now your cat has got quite used to gentle restraint and hand descaling by our veterinary technicians.
Most cats, however, at this age who have not had home care, or regular dental care, will need to have general anesthesia to properly evaluate all the periodontal pockets and to extract teeth affected by dental abnormalities. Surprisingly, the odd cat however, eating canned food and receiving no dental care, has exceptionally ok mouths with only dental calculus and no gingivitis. There is still a lot we don’t know about why this happens. Perhaps there is a virus involved, something in the saliva, something in the feeding pattern and water consumption, or maybe just awesome genetics!
Our Dental Program
5. Wellness Testing
In the senior and geriatric years the body’s organs are degenerating due to age, illness or genetic makeup. Our chances of catching these abnormalities on routine screening are more likely than at younger ages. If earlier blood screens have not picked up early tendencies or abnormalities, they can provide a good baseline for assessing changes in blood values now. We advise doing wellness screening of your pet’s urine and blood once per year during these years, and more often if there are abnormalities we need to monitor. The urine check is often just for the urine concentration (USG) and quick chemical stick analysis unless there is some urination problem in the history. Bladder infections in cats are much more likely when they are over 10 years of age, so often we culture their urine at this age if they are having urinary problems.
Along with blood work, cats in this age group are commonly diagnosed with hypertension caused by a number of issues, but often idiopathic (unknown cause). Specialists recommend testing the blood pressure 1-2 times each year. Soon after entering this life stage, it is suggested you consider having screening radiographs (lateral chest and abdomen would suffice) taken mainly as a data base for future radiograph comparisons. If and when your cat has breathing problems, or begins to cough, it will provide a nice comparison for current views. These screening radiographs also will provide a snap shot of internal organs, and the lungs in particular, to rule in, or out, abnormalities that won’t appear in blood work and that your veterinarian can’t palpate.
The blood screens (CBC, biochemical panels) give us a look inside the cat to see how the internal organs are doing. The CBC (complete blood count) evaluates the red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, both in quantity , morphology and in the case of WBCs the relative and absolute numbers of the various types of WBCs (neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, basophils). The biochemical panel measures a host of biochemical markers that are released, or accumulate, when certain specific organ systems aren’t functioning normally. For example, we look at the creatinine and urea nitrogen levels for kidney function, the ALT, ALP, GGT, bilirubin and AST levels for liver function. It’s not always black and white though, each one of these markers on their own can mean other things too. T4 levels are important to check in older cats especially if signs of weight loss exist. SpecPLI assesses pancreatic function, which until recently was very difficult to diagnose, but now we are diagnosing this chronic ailment regularly.
6. Weight Control Management
The specific details on the importance of weight management, the illnesses and abnormalities that are associated with being overweight, the management strategies and charts to assess your feline friend can be found at: Weight Loss Program
For senior and geriatric pets being overweight (15% OW) or obese (>30%OW) can be quite debilitating, because the old bones and joints are going to have a lot harder job carrying the weight around. Being overweight predisposes pets to a number of illnesses which are much more likely to occur the older the pet becomes. It is not too late to try to get these pets back into normal weight before the pet succumbs to one of these illnesses, or becomes debilitated simply due to excessive weight.
During the annual or biannual consultation, we will take a moment to assess your pet for his/ her body condition score (BCS- a score out of 5) and record its weight. Please make sure you help us remember to weigh your pet at each visit to the hospital, regardless of what reason. Weight loss is an important indicator of underlying disease, or that you are doing a great job in solving a weight problem. Weight gain is a primary sign you may be overfeeding your cat, and maybe not providing enough activities to stimulate proper calorie consumption toward muscle building and fat burning.
If weight loss is occurring we may encourage reassessing blood work and urinalysis. We’ll more deeply look into the past history looking for explanations more importantly.
If weight gain is occurring we will pay attention to the feeding pattern, nutrition and environmental enrichment factors. We will likely suggest a calorie restricted diet and changes in the feeding pattern to start a weight management strategy. We have a mini weight loss visit we suggest with our registered veterinary technicians to get you started on your own, or if the weight is serious (greater than 4+/5) we highly recommend entering our weight loss program which lasts 6-12 months pending on your pet’s individual requirements. This includes a rebound program to get your cat transitioned back onto a regular diet after the weight loss diet.
7. Environmental Enrichment
This is a huge topic that likely has been fully addressed over the cat’s earlier years, or the senior has adapted to his or her routine and the environment you have provided. Stress associated issues have likely shown themselves by now, and we have treated them or adjusted the environment. However, some cats may be under chronic stress and we don’t know it. Perhaps it has prematurely brought on senile problems such as dementia. A good site to check out is from the Ohio State University Indoor Cat Initiative at www.vet.osu.edu/indoorcat.htm. Perhaps there is something you can do to improve the cat’s environment as it looks ‘to a cat’.
8. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome
Cognitive dysfunction is an abnormality that is being recognized more and more frequently by veterinarians, as our loved ones live longer and longer lives. Current research and related therapies have come mainly from dog studies. Most therapies are not licenced in cats yet, but have been used with success. Selegiline and S-adenosyl-L-methionine (s-ame) have been used with success in cats though, and as of this writing s-ame is approved/ labeled for cats.
For our senior and geriatric patients, veterinarians specifically look for key indicators in the history to try and spot this problem. Classical abnormalities are disorientation, changes in interactions with people or other pets, alterations in sleep/ wake cycles, sudden poor litter box use, changes in activity (increased or decreased) and alterations in the pet’s learned behaviour or memory.
We combine this important growing problem in our ‘senior month’ which we focus on in November of each year. See Monthly Programs in this website.