Journal Scan: Why routine health screening is a must for older cats

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Mar 04, 2013
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Why they did it

An ongoing concern in feline health is getting owners to bring their cats for yearly wellness checks. Clients may think if their cats are behaving normally, nothing is wrong. This study took a look at what's going on when you take a closer look.

What they did

Researchers evaluated 100 cats more than (or equal to) 6 years of age that were all in apparent good health, according to their owners. Cats receiving anything other than preventive medications were excluded, and the owners completed a detailed questionnaire about their cats' health, medical history, and living conditions. Cats were divided into two groups: middle-aged cats between 6 and 10 years (Group 1) and cats more than 10 years old (Group 2). All cats underwent a complete physical examination, blood pressure measurement, blood and urine analysis, indirect fundic examination, and Schirmer tear test.

What they found

The following abnormalities were found in the total study population (100 cats):

  • Gingivitis: 72 cats
  • Crystalluria: 41 cats
  • Submandibular lymphadenopathy: 32 cats
  • Elevated creatinine concentration: 29 cats
  • Hyperglycemia: 25 cats
  • Thyroid goiter: 20 cats
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus infection: 14 cats
  • Heart murmur: 11 cats
  • Elevated systolic blood pressure (> 160 mm Hg): 8 cats
  • Elevated total thyroxine concentration (> 3.5 µg/dl): 3 cats
  • Overt proteinuria (urine protein:creatinine ratio > 0.4): 2 cats

Many of the cats in the study had elevations in creatinine, phosphorus, protein, and sodium concentrations. While some of these changes may have been truly reflective of an underlying disease process, the researchers note that these changes were likely not clinically relevant when evaluated in conjunction with other parameters. Rather, they felt these changes may be associated with inaccuracies in the reference intervals (RIs) and note, "[t]o avoid misinterpretation of clinical data, RIs need to reflect the population for which they are used."

Less than half of the cats in the study had an ideal body condition, indicating that changes in weight are not routinely perceived by the owners as indicative of a problem.

When parameters were compared by age group, elevated systolic blood pressure, heart rate, and murmur frequency were noted more often in the older cats. There was moderate to substantial overlap between both groups for all other parameters.

Take-home message

Despite being apparently healthy, middle-aged and older cats can often have physical examination or laboratory abnormalities that would benefit from veterinary intervention and monitoring. These findings underscore the need for routine health examinations in this population as well as the development of age-specific laboratory parameters.

Paepe D, Verjans G, Duchateau L, et al. Routine health screening: Findings in apparently healthy middle-aged and old cats. J Feline Med Surg 2013;15(1):8-19.

Link to abstract: http://jfm.sagepub.com/content/15/1/8.abstract