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The Ultimate Cat Behavior Guide.

THE PROBLEM – OLDER CAT

IMPACT ON OWNER – concern about cat’s health

CAT’S PERSPECTIVE – ageing process not a disease in itself!

Veterinary advances and improved nutrition mean more and more cats are living to greater ages. Over the past 10 years, there has been a 15% increase in cats over the age of 10 years in the USA and this picture is likely to be seen here in the UK. Cats are considered to be 'geriatric' at 10 years old but many live to 14 and beyond.

CAT AGE   HUMAN EQUIVALENT
1   15
2   24
3   28
4   32
5   36
6   40
7   44
8   48
9   52
10   56
11   60
12   64
13   68
14   72
15   76
16   80
17   84
18   88
19   92
20   96

Older cats, in common with older people have changing metabolism and ways in which their bodies work. Ageing itself is not however a disease!

Older cats are less active so their muscle tone reduces. This can inhibit their ability to run and jump.

Stiffness of joints can occur. Appetite tends to reduce with age in line with deterioration of the senses of taste and smell. Dental disease is common in the older cat and can discourage eating. Weight loss and constipation can occur in the older cat as bowel function deteriorates and can reduce the amount of nutrients absorbed from food. Thirst can increase with disease but can also decrease in old age which can cause problems especially in cats with kidney problems.

Sleep tends to increase. Old cats often have poor coats which may make them less resistant to the cold and wet.

Vocalisation appears to play a big part in the ageing process with cats becoming more demanding, especially at night. A number of owners report that the calling stops when the cat is allowed to sleep in the bedroom. However often the cat will jump off the bed and wander off downstairs only to repeat the behaviour. Deafness seems to play a role in the harshness of the cry and it is possible that chronic cerebral hypoxia (deficiency of oxygen supply to the brain) could possibly produce symptoms of senility and short-term memory problems causing general confusion at night.

Cognitive dysfunction may also be a cause of a change in the sleep/wake cycle causing some cats to be more likely to be awake at night.

There is also a possibility that hypertension (high blood pressure) causing general discomfort, headache and disorientation could easily promote a distress response.

Night-time vocalisation is often reported as one of the behavioural signs in cats suffering from hyperthyroidism. This is a condition seen frequently in the elderly cat; a tumour on the thyroid gland causes metabolic changes including increased heart and respiration rates, increased appetite and weight loss.


Old cats still like to play but generally the owner has to instigate a game and games should be less active than for a younger cat.

Older cats still groom themselves but arthritic changes can limit the extent to which an older cat can reach especially around their back legs and along their backs.

Many older cats start to have 'accidents' indoors often as a result of an increasing reluctance to urinate and defecate outdoors, either due to the presence of aggressive cats in the territory or an increased sensitivity to inclement weather conditions. The provision of an indoor litter tray invariably solves the problem but you should provide a litter tray with low sides and in an accessible position to accommodate arthritic joints and stiffness.

Chronic illness can affect behaviour in old age


Arthritis


Less active cat, unwilling to jump onto surfaces, reduced grooming activity, may show evidence of pain when being handled, may not be able to get into a litter tray resulting in inappropriate soiling of the house.


BlindnessCataracts,

result of underlying disease causing hypertension eg hyperthyroidism, chronic renal failure. This results in symptoms such as colliding with furniture, especially if moved, reluctance to go outside, reluctance to investigate strange areas etc.


Chronic renal failure


Increased thirst, weight loss, reduced appetite and vomiting.

Diabetes


Weight loss, increased thirst, increased appetite, blindness


Dental disease


Decreased appetite, saliva drooling, bad smell from mouth


Deafness


Unresponsive and more vocal


Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) –


Increased appetite, weight loss, an increase in activity levels, yowling, high blood pressure.


Senility


Blank expression, getting lost in familiar surroundings, constant yowling, lack of grooming, continuous pacing, inappropriate toileting, all with no obvious physical cause

SOLUTION


1. Provide a number of warm, soft and quiet resting places where your cat can spend a significant proportion of its time. Ensure these places are easily reached for stiff cats. . Older cats often like to stretch out - hammock beds on radiators are very popular.

2. Continue games to stimulate mental agility

...Continued in the E-Book

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