Vet’s diary: senior cats

Peterborough vet Laura Frost offers advice on how best to care for your ageing feline friend...

Throughout your cat’s life, routine treatment such as vaccination and protection against worms and fleas remains important. In older age they are more vulnerable to disease and vaccinations become even more important because the immune system may be weakened. An annual vaccination also gives an opportunity for a full examination at your vets and time to ask any questions you may have. As cat’s age, they unfortunately become more prone to disease. Monitoring and early detection allow us to give your feline friend the best of care. As well as disease, advice about mobility can be given, such as providing new lower sleeping places for the cat that can no longer jump on to the window sill due to arthritis.

Regular vaccination has led to a reduction in diseases that used to be commonplace. Vaccination of your pet not only allows good protection for them if they meet these bugs in the great outdoors, but helps maintain herd immunity. This means that if a high proportion of animals are vaccinated, certain diseases have a reduced reservoir in the animal population, so become rare.
The diseases we commonly vaccinate against for cats are:
• Panleucopenia virus – this is a similar virus to the one that causes ‘parvo’ in dogs. It attacks the fastest growing cells in the body, those of the gastrointestinal tract and those of the immune system. Animals become sick not only from the virus itself, but from other opportunistic infections. It is not commonly seen today due to good vaccination cover.
• Cat flu – this is a complex involving several viruses which act together to cause ulceration of the eyes and mouth, conjunctivitis, gingivitis and upper respiratory signs. Young cats are particularly susceptible. It is more common in crowded situations such as breeding colonies.
• Feline leukaemia – this virus is spread via saliva and blood. The main route of transmission is from fighting. It is common in stray cats and entire toms that roam and get into scraps. We are vaccinated against this.

Common age-related illnesses
A mobility exam can be carried out by a vet or nurse during a consultation and a tailor-made programme drawn up to help improve their quality of life, which may involve pain medication, joint supplements, weight management and environmental changes such as placing a shelf or surface half way up to their usual spots so they don’t need to jump the whole way. Middleaged and elderly cats are also prone to several common conditions which are usually diagnosed via a blood or urine test.

An overactive thyroid gland speeds up the metabolism causing excessive hunger, thirst and weight loss. A simple in-house blood test is available and results are usually available the same day. A range of medical or surgical treatments can control the disease.

Kidney disease
As the kidneys age, they do not filter the blood as well, leading to toxin build up. Cats may drink more, urinate more, have decreased appetite and become thin and dehydrated despite drinking a lot. Again, a simple blood test and a urine sample can give information about the health of the kidney. A special diet may be prescribed to help the kidneys.

Cats get diabetes too. This condition involves and inability to store sugar within their cells. The high sugar circulating the blood leads to weight loss, increased thirst and sometimes recurrent infections such as urinary tract infections. In the long term cataracts may form. In diabetic cats a combination of dietary changes and insulin can help to control the blood sugar. A urine sample can easily pick up excess sugar.

Heart disease
An increased breathing rate may be a sign that the heart, among other things is not healthy (the normal breathing rate for a cat at rest is between 20-30 breaths per minute). If a cat begins to breath with its mouth open, it is in severe distress and needs urgent veterinary attention. If heart disease is suspected the chest needs to be listened to thoroughly and imaging such as x-ray or ultrasound may be recommended.

Blood pressure
Many diseases can lead to high blood pressure, including hyperthyroidism, heart disease, kidney problems and others. Sometimes the most obvious signs of high blood pressure are changes to the eye, including changes in the retina, which we can look at using a special scope and wide dilated pupils. We offer free blood pressure monitoring for cats over the age of eight, to help detect early changes in blood pressure. These common diseases are all more manageable if caught early. I recommend routine screening of cats over eight. Help us to help your cat, through early detections and preventative medicine.

laurafrostLaura Frost MRCVS MA VetMB is a vet at local veterinary practice Pengelly and Mizen.

Pengelly and Mizen Veterinary Surgeons 89-93 Park Road, Peterborough PE1 2TR T: 01733 554953 Emergencies only: 01733 896000


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