Cats' nutritional requirements change as they age, similar to humans. They don't need as much calcium, protein, and fats. It's recommended to switch them to a senior diet after they reach the age of 9 or 10. Some signs of aging in cats include them being less active, not jumping on furniture as often, and taking breaks on stairs. You might also notice that they appear thinner in their back legs or along their back due to less muscle use, which can lead to a decrease in muscle size.
The top three health complications in senior cats are chronic kidney failure due to age, hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid), and diabetes. Unfortunately, cancer is also common in senior cats. As medical treatments advance and we successfully prevent or treat many diseases, we're seeing more cases of cancer because we are eliminating diseases that used to not allow us to live as long.
Cats are known to hide diseases well, so by the time they show outward signs of illness, they're often very sick. Therefore, it's important to have your cats undergo blood work at least once a year, or even every six months depending on their condition. Regular vaccinations are also important as cats' immune systems weaken with age, making them more prone to diseases. Annual wellness checks are crucial to monitor their health.
Identifying weight loss in cats can be challenging because a loss of half a pound to a pound in a 10-pound cat is significant (10% of their body weight), but may not be noticeable as you see them every day. Their fur coat can also hide weight loss. Therefore, it's recommended to bring them in for regular check-ups where they can be weighed and thoroughly examined by a vet.
The blood work for older cats should include a thyroid check, as they are prone to hyperthyroidism. Also, a test for a heart enzyme called ProBNP should be done. This tests for the stretchability of the heart muscle because cats can get a common heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This disease is hard to detect without an ultrasound, but this new blood test can suggest its presence and help in early detection.
Senior cats should have check-ups at least once a year, even if their vaccines are not due. Regular blood work is also necessary because it's easier to treat diseases when they are caught early on. If a disease cannot be cured, early detection allows us to start treatments that can help prolong the cat's life.
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