As your cat gets older, she'll become prone to age-related health concerns and medical conditions. She may develop mobility issues, experience deterioration in her senses, and be at greater risk for diseases like cancer and renal failure. Around the age of 12, your cat needs twice-yearly checkups with a vet to ensure her health in her golden years.
Degenerative Joint Disease
As cats age, the cartilage between their joints starts to deteriorate, and they become arthritic. Your vet may recommend nutritional supplements to promote joint mobility. He may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications as well. Overweight cats are more prone to developing joint problems -- so you must help your cat maintain a healthy weight as she ages. Encourage physical activity with toys and games, and ask your vet about starting a senior-formula diet.
Reduced Vision, Hearing and Dementia
A cat may develop reduced vision and impaired hearing as she ages, and she may suffer from some degree of memory impairment or confusion. She may not tolerate stress as well as she used to -- and cats don't tolerate stress well to begin with. An aging cat may find changes in routine extremely upsetting. New people, places and things can startle a cat easily; she may become more easily agitated or more vocal. Make sure your cat has a familiar, secure space she can escape to for solitude.
As cats get older, they become subject to chronic renal failure, a condition in which the kidneys fail to filter waste appropriately. You may find your cat drinking more, losing weight or developing bladder infections. She may develop a dry, unkempt coat and may start eliminating in places other than her litter box. Your vet may prescribe a diet low in phosphorus and protein but high in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. If your cat is consistently dehydrated, she may require IV fluid therapy.
Hyperthyroidism is a glandular disorder found most often in older cats. Early symptoms include increased food consumption paired with unusual weight loss. Nausea, diarrhea and changes in the fur are early indicators of the condition. Treatment options include surgery, anti-thyroid medication or radioactive iodine therapy. The vet will determine the best approach according to your cat’s specific health status.
Cats can develop diabetes as they age, particularly overweight cats and those with chronic pancreatitis and hyperthyroidism. Diabetes must be treated, or it could lead to complications including bacterial infection, neuropathy and liver disease. Your vet will likely prescribe a regime of insulin or hypoglycemic medication and a high-fiber, complex-carbohydrate diet. The vet may recommend weight loss.
Regular dental exams and cleanings are vital to your cat’s health throughout her life. This is especially true as she ages. Broken, infected or diseased teeth cause pain and can spread infection to other organ systems. Bad teeth can make it difficult for your cat to eat, begetting nutritional deficiencies. Ask your vet to recommend a feline dental specialist for an evaluation and treatment if it's necessary.
Older cats can develop various forms of cancer, the most common of which is lymphoma. Other cancers include oral squamous carcinoma and a soft-tissue sarcoma known as fibrosarcoma. Cancers of other organ systems happen as well, but less frequently. Treatment options include chemotherapy and surgical removal of tumors.