Thankfully, due to improvements in veterinary care and nutrition, our feline friends are living much longer than they used to. With our cats living longer, it is important to know the symptoms of common heath issues and when to see your veterinarian.
Many cats begin to encounter age-related physical and mental changes between seven and ten years of age and due to this should see their veterinarian twice yearly for wellness exams and diagnostics. Bi-annual exams and diagnostics based on your veterinarian recommendations are the best way to ensure your cats health for various reasons including:
- Cats are masters of hiding pain and illness
- Subtle behavior changes can mean big problems
- Preventive care is better than reactive care
- Cats age much more rapidly than humans
Below are some common changes you may note as your cat ages which are a sign you should contact your veterinarian.
Your cat may be more withdrawn and even start hiding. Our cats are bonded to us and like to be engaged and present where we are. When your cat is suddenly not greeting you at the door, not sleeping with you, and other engaging behaviors that are normal, this may be a sign that something's wrong.
Another common behavior change that can be indicative of an underlying medical issue is a change in social interactions. They used to get along with the cats in the home and now they are hissing every time they are around. They are avoiding contact with the other animals or humans in the home they used to love to sleep and interact with. Cats can also uncharacteristically have episodes of aggression. A cat may begin to growl or hiss when people or other pets in the household approach them, may not be comfortable with being held and may resent being brushed or combed. They may bite or scratch, too, especially when a person touches or moves the painful area or if the cat anticipates you doing it.
Less Activity and Low Energy
You may notice that your cat has less energy or decreased stamina to engage in previously enjoyable activities, such as playing with toys or chasing that red dot. Your cat may just lay on their side and paw at the wand toys verses chasing the toy. Your cat may be reluctant to jump, walk up and down stairs, have difficulty getting up from laying down, exhibit restlessness, and have difficulty finding a comfortable place to rest. You may also notice changes in sleeping patterns—the cat may sleep more or less and may sleep in unusual positions and places. These can be symptoms of chronic pain and other medical issues.
Litter Box Changes
Your cat is missing the box occasionally or not using the box at all. Cats commonly will miss the litter boxes due to the pain associated with going in and out of the litter box, as well as difficulty squatting. Getting into a litterbox and holding the squatting position can be very difficult for a cat with sore hips or knees. Other medical issues such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and kidney disease can cause cats to not use the litter box due to the urgency of needing to go more often and not being able to get to their box as well as the pain associated with going the bathroom with some issues like constipation and IBD.
Changes in Appetite and Water Intake
You may notice you are filling your water bowls and fountains more often or you cat suddenly is a finicky eater or wanting to steal the pizza off your plate. If you notice any changes in your cat's eating and drinking habits, be sure to alert your veterinarian. This can be a sign of pain and various other serious medical issues including, kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism.
Your Cat Seems Disorientated
Your cat appears lost or confused in a familiar environment which can result in your cat becoming trapped in corners or behind furniture, vocalizing in the middle of the night, staring at walls or into space, difficulty finding their resources (food, water bowl, perch, or litter box) and may have memory deficits, for example, forgetting they have been fed and repeatedly requesting more food.
These can be symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome which is a result of a decline in cognitive abilities as a result of aging changes in the brain. Cognitive functions include the mental processes of perception, awareness, learning, and memory, which allow an individual to acquire information about the environment and decide how to act. This is sometimes referred to as dementia, as in humans.
All of the above can be symptoms of a variety of illnesses and are often dismissed by cat caregivers as, “My cat is just getting older.” Changes in your cats’ daily habits should not always be contributed to aging. Age is not a disease, but as your cat ages, they are more likely to be suffering from pain and other medical issues.