Be vigilant about aging cat’s health

To maximize the length and quality of an aging cat’s life, veterinarian Julie Damron writes that owners should schedule semiannual veterinary exams and have regular lab work and routine dental care performed. Be sure vaccinations are current, feed a high-quality diet to provide essential nutrients and maintain a healthy weight, and keep cats indoors, Dr. Damron advises. Owners must remain vigilant because cats are good at concealing health issues, and subtle changes may be difficult for owners to detect, according to Dr. Damron. The Record (Stockton, Calif.) (tiered subscription model) (3/9)

It’s important to keep close watch on your feline during his or her golden years. Traditionally, cats are considered senior when they reach age 7. At this point in life, their bodies will change more rapidly and there can be several health issues of concern.

Make sure your feline has a veterinary exam every six months. This is important. Although your cat may appear healthy to you, there are subtle changes that can be occurring within his or her body. Cats are very good at hiding disease. Because they are smaller, it can be difficult to notice changes in weight.

Keep your cat’s vaccines current unless otherwise recommended by your veterinarian. Even indoor cats can be exposed to illness. Routine RCP vaccines, which protect from viral rhinotracheitis/herpes and calicivirus, should be given to help protect from respiratory infections as your feline ages. It is also important to keep your feline protected from rabies.

Have lab work done at least once a year. Felines are very prone to develop organ disease as they age, especially hyperthyroidism and kidney disease. Symptoms and physical exams can suggest maladies but these illnesses can only be diagnosed through blood and urine analysis. When a medical problem is identified in the earliest stages and treated promptly, it allows for the best outcome.

Provide a high-quality diet that is designed specifically for senior cats, given in the correct quantities. Feeding a premium pet store-quality diet makes a big difference in the longevity of your feline companion. The phrase “you are what you eat” applies to felines as well as people. A higher quality of nutrition is directly connected to longevity in cats. It is also just as important to control caloric intake in our companions as it is in people. Cats that are obese are at risk for diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, and other issues just like in people. If you have more than one cat, feed them individually, so that you can be more aware of how much each feline is eating.

Provide routine preventive dental care. Dental disease affects much more than the wellness of your cat’s mouth. Bacteria from infection of the mouth can be spread to other organs in the body, bathing them in pathogens. Pain and inflammation at the mouth can also lead to decreased appetite, causing a cascade of illness. Tartar on the teeth leads to inflammation along the gum line. Over time, the gum tissue will recede from the base of the teeth. Continued infection allows for loosening of the ligaments that hold the teeth in place. Eventually the teeth will fall out.

There is a lot that you can do to keep your feline’s mouth healthy. A high-quality dry food helps to reduce tartar development. Routine oral care in the form of brushing, treats and rinses can help to reduce plaque buildup. Dental cleanings can help to treat and limit the advancement of dental disease.

It is recommended that all cats are spayed or neutered, and this is especially important for older felines. Older females that are not spayed are more prone to infections in the uterus as well as mammary, ovarian and uterine disorders.

It is also best to keep felines mainly indoors, especially when older. When cats live outside, they are at risk of ingesting toxins, being attacked by other animals, being hit by a car, and other hardships.

Consistency with these steps in combination with love and attention will help to improve the quality and quantity of the years with your feline companions.

Julie Damron is a veterinarian at Sierra Veterinary Clinic in Stockton. Contact her at

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