Our pet cats are living longer. Inevitably, we are starting to see old-age-diseases of cats more regularly.
Today, we’ll have a little look at 3 of the most common – osteoarthritis, chronic kidney disease (CKD), high blood pressure.
Arthritis – just like old people and dogs, elderly cats can get arthritis too. The big difference is that cats tend to hide their pain and stiffness – it is usual to take the dog for a walk, so it is easy to see changes in behaviour (limping, difficulty getting up, lagging behind). Signs in cats tend to be more subtle: fur on the back starts getting clumpy and matted due to reduced flexibility for grooming; “preferred” sleeping places migrate closer to the ground than before – actually, the por cat simply can’t jump up any more, due to arthritic hips/knees/lower back. The eagle-eyed owner may notice the cat hesitating before jumping down – here, the elbows are probably aching and the landing will jar.
It is often assumed that the cat is ‘just getting old’. Frequently, the truth is ‘my legs hurt’.
Much can be done for the little old arthritic cat:
- If your cat is plump, weight loss will reduce strain on the legs
- Provide a step to help them reach their favourite sleeping place
- A heat pad or hot water bottle in the damp Portuguese winter will soothe aching joints
- Mild cases can often be helped with decent-quality joint supplements (you get what you pay for) – look for glucosamine hydrochloride with chondroitin sulphate
- Proprietary anti-inflammatory painkillers have been available for cats for more than 15 years. These are very effective and safe for long term use. Some of them are almost totally excreted via the gut, making them safe even if your cat has (controlled) chronic kidney disease
Chronic Kidney Disease – approximately 10% of the older cat population has a degree of kidney dysfunction. The job of the kidneys is to make urine – water plus the byproducts of protein digestion (urea and creatinine). If the kidneys stop working properly, the byproducts build up inside your cat’s body, making them feel ill and less hungry. Too much urine is made, resulting in dehydration irrespective of how much they may drink. A third blow comes from protein, which should stay in the bloodstream, being lost into the urine, causing weight loss. The trigger for bone marrow to make new red blood cells comes from the kidney; when the kidneys don’t work, progressive anaemia is the result.
A combination of blood and urine testing is needed, to check that any raised chemical levels in the blood are accompanied by dilute urine. Testing one without the other can result in the wrong diagnosis, since urea and creatinine can be elevated for many reasons. There are also several other conditions that can change your cat’s appetite and thirst, including thyroid trouble, diabetes, toothache, liver disease, and some cancers.
Sadly, 66% of the kidney function has to be lost before changes are seen on traditional blood tests, and 75% before your cat shows any signs. A new blood test came out 2 years ago, that shows when 50% of function has been lost. Changing the diet to one for cats with kidney trouble was early as possible in the course of the disease can result in your cat living better, for a lot longer. Even before a diagnosis of CKD, if you feed your cat a decent Senior food you will be helping: a low level of high quality protein gives the kidneys a break, while still nourishing your cat.
Very effective tablets are available, which help prolong kidney function. Supplements to boost the potassium level (this can get very low) can markedly help the appetite too.
Some cats with kidney trouble, and some without, also develop high blood pressure. It is usually remarkably easy to take a cat’s blood pressure – the cuff (a small version of the ones used on human arms) goes around the tail! Most cats, even the grumpier ones, don’t mind… Left untreated, high blood pressure can result in blindness and blood clots (eek).
Do your cat a favour – get a full checkup at the vet at least annually – weigh, full physical exam etc. Even though they may hate the car journey, most of them would say ‘thank-you’ afterwards.