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By VCA Angel Animal Hospital
Published: January 24, 2011

Focus on Felines
 
How Do I Know When My Cat is Considered a 'Senior’?
A touch of gray on the chin… once clear eyes becoming a little cloudy… a slight stiffness in what used to be a frisky gait… Any of these can be tell-tale signs that your furry friend is entering the 'golden’ years.
 
Generally speaking, a cat seven years of age or older qualifies as a senior, but the old adage that every year in a cat’s life is equivalent to seven 'human’ years isn’t quite accurate. Pets mature more rapidly during the first two years of their life, and then again during the final third of their lifespan. There are also outside factors that play a role in a cat’s aging process – the ones that we, as pet parents, have control over: weight, nutrition, exercise and preventative medical care.
 
The Wellness Exam: The Key to Keeping Your Cat Healthy & Happy
Just as physicians recommend certain tests, such as cholesterol screening and blood pressure checks, when a person turns 40, the American Animal Hospital Association recommends that annual screening tests should begin when your pet reaches 'middle age’, which ranges from 4 to 7 for most cats. These tests not only ensure that your cat is healthy but establish baseline values for comparison with future test results. The results of these tests also help your veterinarian make appropriate preventative care recommendations to delay the onset or progression of certain diseases.
 
Once cats are senior, typically at 7 or 8 years of age, twice-a-year wellness exams and testing are recommended. Because cats are aging more rapidly during these years, the risk of developing a chronic condition or serious disease also increases. The sooner your veterinarian detects a disease or underlying illness, the easier it is to treat or control it effectively.
 
What should a feline senior wellness exam include?
·         Comprehensive medical history and a complete physical exam
·         Complete blood count: this test helps in the diagnosis of infection, anemia and bleeding problems, and it may provide insight into the status of your cat’s immune system
·         Serum chemistry profile: this test is used for assessing the status of the liver, kidneys, pancreas and other organs
·         Urinalysis: a urine sample will be checked for evidence of infection and to assess kidney function
·         Fecal analysis: a fecal sample will be checked for evidence of parasites and unusual bacteria and protozoa
·         Other tests: based on the results of initial tests and/or any symptoms your cat is displaying, additional tests may be recommended, which could include x-rays, echocardiogram, abdominal ultrasound, thyroid and adrenal gland testing, blood pressure measurement and blood glucose checks.
 
Aging or Illness?
Most age-related changes in how your cat looks, acts and feels tend to be gradual, which is why it takes a watchful and educated eye to recognize what may be early signs of disease or health problems. Even small changes in your cat’s appearance or behavior can be a sign that something is medically wrong, so don’t just assume your it’s 'old age’ and there is nothing you can do about it. Keep a close eye on your senior cat, and talk with us about any type of change you see, whether it occurs suddenly or gradually.
 
The following is a list of the most common changes associated with age-related conditions; if you notice any of these changes in your cat, please let us know:
 
Behavioral
·         Decreased activity
·         Less interaction with family members
·         Sleeping more or sleeping during the day and staying awake at night
·         Disorientation/confusion
·         Less responsive to verbal cues or name
·         Excessive meowing or whimpering for no apparent reason
Metabolic
·         Weight gain or loss
·         Changes in skin, coat or muscle tone
·         Changes in eating or drinking habits
·         Increased urination
·         Loss of litter box training
Physical
·         Limping/stiffness of gait
·         Poor vision or difficulty hearing
·         Dental problems, offensive breath
·         Increase in infections
·         Digestive problems, such as increased episodes of vomiting or diarrhea
·         New lumps or bumps

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