At Manhattan Cat Specialists, our Senior Wellness program
is designed to enhance the length and quality of your cat’s life.
Here at MCS, we have a special place in our hearts for elderly cats
and are devoted to keeping senior cats happy during their golden years.
In the next few paragraphs, we explain why this program is so
important, and why you should be proud of yourself for enrolling in the
Pets today are living longer and better quality lives than
ever before, thanks to improved nutrition, veterinary care and educated
owners. This increased
longevity means that more cats are reaching an older age, and that
owners will be faced with the special demands and problems that become
apparent with age.
Understanding the aging process and the most common problems that face
the geriatric cat is the first step in providing the best possible care
to geriatric patients.
The main focus of geriatric health care is owner education and the
early detection and prevention of disease.
It is important to realize that
aging itself is not a disease; it is simply a stage of life.
Increasing age causes a gradual decline in the body's ability to
repair itself, maintain normal body functions and adapt to the stresses
and changes in the environment. Many changes occur in cats as they age.
For example, metabolism changes so less food is required. Cats, in
general, have a more sedentary life style, and older cats, specifically,
are usually less active so weight gain and obesity are common problems.
The lack of exercise contributes to reduced muscle tone and
strength, further adding to the potential of obesity.
Changes in a cat's environment or
routine may actually contribute to behavioral changes or even illness.
With time, cats begin to have a gradual decline in their hearing,
sense of smell, vision and taste.
Decreased taste sensation can contribute to anorexia, especially if the
cat becomes ill. It is not
uncommon for older cats to spend more time sleeping and have more
difficulty being roused.
Additionally, the body's ability to repair itself decreases and the
function of the immune system is compromised with increasing age.
Metabolic and endocrine problems, organ dysfunction, and cancer are
all seen with increased frequency in the geriatric.
The Aging Cat
Proper care, nutrition, medical attention and the cat's
environment are all controllable and important factors that can improve
a cat's quality of life and longevity dramatically. For example, intact
feral male cats have a life expectancy of three years.
On the other hand, neutered male, indoor house cats commonly live
into their teens.
Manhattan Cat Specialists considers cats to be “seniors”
when they reach the age of 7, although the age when a cat is considered
senior or geriatric is not well defined.
Genetics is an important factor
in the aging process.
Siamese cats tend to have longer life expectancies.
Persian cats usually have shorter life expectancies.
Advantages of a Geriatric Program
By developing and following a
geriatric health plan, disorders and disease can be detected early
enough to provide medical or surgical intervention. Some disorders of
the geriatric patient may be difficult to help; however, it is usually
possible to make significant improvements in the quality of the pet's
life by educating owners and by early intervention. The goal of any
geriatric health program is to prevent or delay the development of
disorders associated with aging. Practicing prevention is always better
than treating a disease already present.
In the long run, preventive medicine improves quality of life and is
more cost effective than waiting for problems to appear. A well-educated
and proactive owner is the first step in optimal senior cat care.
The routine geriatric exam and
accompanying diagnostic tests are recommended to ensure that the early
stages of disease is discovered and appropriate preventive measures and
treatment plans instituted.
The most common diagnostic tests performed as part of a complete
geriatric work-up include:
A complete medical history.
Asking the right questions is very important in obtaining a thorough
geriatric health history. Some veterinarians have specific geriatric
health history questionnaires that can be filled out by the owner or a
health professional. In
addition, any problems or concerns that owners have about their pet
should be discussed; however, it is equally important that the
veterinarian ask specific questions that may uncover problems that an
owner may simply attribute to "old age" and just something that they
will have to live with. Very often these are signs of underlying disease
and are very treatable.
A complete physical examination.
A complete physical examination should be performed to attempt to
uncover specific problems.
The eyes are examined, and a retinal exam may be performed if there is
some question as to whether your cat may be experiencing some loss of
The ears are examined for signs of infection or allergies.
The mouth, gums and teeth are evaluated, with dental disease and
gingivitis being common findings.
Lymph nodes and the thyroid gland are evaluated for enlargement.
The skin and quality of the hair coat are observed.
Skin tumors or swellings are noted.
A poor hair coat or a lack of grooming may be signs of allergies,
parasites, infections or systemic illness.
The heart and lungs are evaluated with the stethoscope and any
abnormalities or murmurs are noted.
The abdomen is palpated for any masses or organ enlargements.
Finally, the general body condition and weight are recorded.
Complete blood count.
In geriatric patients, anemia is not an uncommon finding. Red blood cell
morphology can help determine if the anemia is acute, chronic or related
to a neoplastic (cancerous) condition.
The total white count is also noted, and increases may indicate
inflammatory or infectious conditions.
The biochemical profile is a very valuable test in the geriatric animal.
Information about the liver, kidneys, pancreas, blood sugar, and
electrolytes is obtained through this important test.
Hyperthyroidism is a very common problem in older cats.
The most common signs of hyperthyroidism are increased appetite and
Urinalysis. Analysis of the urine can help
detect underlying urinary tract infection, kidney problems and diabetes.
If necessary, a urine culture may be recommended.
Since gastrointestinal parasites may be more debilitating in
geriatric animals, a yearly fecal exam is recommended.
Additionally, some parasites have the potential to be transmitted
to people, re-enforcing the value of yearly fecal exams.
Routine fecal floatation is recommended, with specific tests for
the protozoan parasite Giardia performed if necessary.
FIV and FeLV (feline leukemia virus) testing.
Both of these viral diseases may cause suppression of the immune
system and can contribute to many other systemic illnesses.
In cats that are at risk of exposure to these viral diseases (i.e.
outdoor cats or cats that have contact with other cats) routine blood
testing is recommended. If
the viral status of a cat is unknown, testing is also advised.
Cats who have previously tested negative and have had no possible
exposure to other cats may not need this test.
The above represents the most
routine diagnostic tests that are recommended for the senior pet.
Based on the history and physical examination findings, common
additional testing might include:
Blood pressure measurement.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is being increasingly identified in
the geriatric cat. Usually,
hypertension is associated with other disease conditions such as kidney
disease and hyperthyroidism.
Aspiration of skin masses.
A common finding on the physical examination of older cats is small
masses in the skin. Many
times these are benign tumors or cysts that grow slowly and rarely cause
problems. However, cats do
have a higher incidence of malignant skin tumors than do dogs.
Because of this, it is usually recommended that
skin tumors on cats be aspirated (a needle is inserted into the
mass) and the recovered cells evaluated microscopically for evidence of
malignancy. The size and location of all masses should be recorded in
the medical record, so that changes in previous masses or the
development new masses can be noted.
Radiographs. Radiographs (x-rays) may be
advised based on the initial tests or physical exam findings.
Chest radiographs are part of a cardiac work-up if a new murmur is
found and as a screening test for cancer.
Abdominal radiographs might be needed if organ dysfunction is
suspected or organ enlargement or masses is detected during the physical
Cardiac (heart) evaluation.
If there is indication of potential heart disease such as a newly
discovered or a worsening murmur or a nighttime cough, a more complete
cardiac evaluation is indicated.
Chest radiographs, an EKG and an echocardiogram will help better define
the extent and cause of potential cardiac disease and whether treatment
Abdominal ultrasound offers a non-invasive method of visualizing masses
and organs within the abdomen.
Generally, more detail and structure can be obtained with an ultrasound
than with radiographs.
Endoscopy. Evaluating the stomach and initial part of the small
intestines through the use of endoscopy is a valuable diagnostic tool.
A common problem that some older cats have is inflammatory bowel
disease (IBD). Cats with
IBD usually have vomiting and or diarrhea as symptoms, but sometimes
present with weight loss as the only complaint.
Endoscopy offers a relatively non-invasive method of obtaining
gastrointestinal biopsies for establishing a diagnosis.
All cats should receive routine vaccinations as required by law
(rabies) and vaccines that are appropriate for individual needs.
Specific vaccines and frequency of administration may vary
depending on veterinarian and/or clinic preference or policies. Treating
an older cat depends on the individual requirements or problems of the
pet. The most common
problems of geriatric cats include:
The proper diet is very important in the care of a geriatric cat.
There is no best food to feed a geriatric cat.
The best food depends on the specific problems or nutritional
requirements of the individual animal.
For example, obesity is a very common problem of older animals.
Obesity is a serious concern in the geriatric animal because it
directly correlates to a decreased longevity and may contribute to other
problems. Cats that are
overweight are more likely to develop diabetes, hepatic lipidosis (fatty
liver disease), heart problems, arthritis, non-allergic skin conditions,
or feline lower urinary tract disease. For some animals, low calorie,
high fiber diets make weight loss easier.
Manhattan Cat Specialists has a specially designed obesity program
for cats that are overweight.
Additionally, through the geriatric work-up, special nutritional
requirements or restrictions may be recommended.
These diets attempt either to slow the development of the disease
process or improve specific organ function. Special diets for many
diseases (even in the early stages) including kidney, liver,
gastrointestinal, heart, dental and skin disease are available. Even
diets for diabetes and cancer may be recommended
Dental disease. A very common finding on
a geriatric exam is dental disease and gingivitis. Left untreated,
dental disease usually leads to tooth loss and may serve as a reservoir
of infection for the rest of the body.
Renal disease is a very common finding in the older cat.
Asymptomatic cats usually have chronic disease.
Chronic renal disease is managed primarily through dietary
modification. Other treatments might include antacids, phosphate
binders, potassium supplements, subcutaneous fluids, and blood pressure
Hyperthyroidism is a very common disease of older cats.
There are three treatment options. Generally, the safest and most
effective treatment is radioactive iodine therapy.
The most common form of treatment is with oral medications
(methimazole [Tapazole®] being the most common) that reduce
the blood thyroid level. Finally, the affected thyroid gland can be surgically
Diabetes. The first sign owners usually see when their cat develops
diabetes is excessive thirst or urination.
Diabetes is generally managed by giving insulin injections at home.
Dietary changes are also recommended.
Occasionally, oral medications and diet alone can improve the blood
glucose level, without the need for injections.
Hypertension (high blood pressure).
The first aspect of treating hypertension in the cat is to identify
and treat any possible underlying disease conditions such as kidney
disease or hyperthyroidism.
Occasionally cats with hypertension will present only with signs of eye
Sudden blindness is sometimes seen due to retinal detachment or
Hypertension can also cause secondary cardiac changes and associated
A common drug used to treat hypertensive cats is amlodipine
Newly discovered heart murmurs are a common physical exam finding
in the geriatric cat. Many
times these murmurs are found before a cat shows any signs of cardiac
disease. Finding a heart
murmur in an older cat does not mean that the cat has cardiac disease,
however, it is a reason to pursue further diagnostics.
A common cardiac disease in the senior cat is a disorder called
hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, in which the heart muscle becomes
abnormally thickened and stiff. This condition is often associated with
hyperthyroidism or high blood pressure.
Early detection of heart disease, treating underlying disorders,
and proper therapy may slow its progression.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Treatment of IBD includes prednisone and other immunosuppressive
drugs, metronidazole, antacids and dietary changes.
Sometimes IBD is associated with hepatitis and/or pancreatitis.
Skin tumors. On the basis of the size,
location and aspiration results, removal of certain skin masses may be
recommended. If the mass is not removed and submitted for
histopathology, the owner should be instructed to monitor the mass for
changes in size, shape or texture.
Neoplasia (cancer). Unfortunately,
cancer is a significant problem facing the geriatric cat.
Lymphosarcoma is the most common type of cancer in the cat.
Not all cancer needs to be fatal.
Surgery, chemotherapy, even radiation therapy is available that can
significantly extend the pet’s quality time, or produce a cure.
The prognosis depends on the type and location of the cancer.
Suggested Geriatric Health Program
Manhattan Cat Specialists’ Special Senior Wellness
Program has been carefully designed by Dr. Plotnick so that we
can detect problems early and prevent or delay the development of
disorders associated with aging. Geriatric cats should usually have
routine veterinary exams at least twice a year. Obese patients should be
placed on a weight control program.
Depending on the patient, physical exam findings and history, certain
diagnostic tests may be recommended.
For patients that are apparently healthy, twice yearly
physical examination is recommended. Blood tests may or may not be
recommended, depending on the results of previous evaluations.
For patients with minor health concerns, twice yearly
physical examination is recommended.
In addition, a complete blood count, biochemical profile, fecal
examination, thyroid function tests and urinalysis may be recommended.
For patients with significant health concerns, physical
examination may be recommended every 2 to 3 months. In addition, a CBC,
biochemical profile and urinalysis will likely be necessary to track the
progression of any illnesses and to evaluate the effectiveness of any
Depending on the patient, an abdominal ultrasound, blood pressure and
echocardiography may be indicated.
Manhattan Cat Specialists is devoted to keeping your cat
happy and healthy for as long as possible.
Please call us with any problems or questions. We’re here to help.