How often have you heard clients say "My cat's just getting old and cranky—he bites when we try to pick him up," or "She's
missing the box because she's old. We think it's time to let her go"? I know I've heard such comments frequently. It is our
responsibility to educate clients that old age is not a disease and definitely not a cause for euthanasia. Most older cats
have one or more health concerns, but the good news is that their problems often can be managed or cured.
Ilona Rodan, DVM, DABVP (feline practice)
Inappropriate elimination is a prime example. An older female cat may have a urinary tract infection, difficulty getting into
the box because of osteoarthritis or hypokalemia, a soaked box because of diabetes mellitus, or several other treatable or
manageable conditions. A cranky cat may have pain associated with arthritis, dental disease, or pancreatitis. With regular
senior care and changes in the home environment to keep the patient comfortable, these cats can continue to be beloved family
members and go on to live many more comfortable years. (For more on caring for senior cats, see the accompanying articles.)
Client education and preventive healthcare are the keys to the prevention and early treatment of several common conditions
in senior cats. As part of that education, clients must understand that cats are masters at hiding illness, which is a protective
mechanism for survival in the wild. That's why it's so important to examine cats, especially senior cats (7 years of age and
older), at least twice a year. Preventive healthcare includes obtaining a thorough medical and behavioral history, with a
questionnaire that helps identify specific behavior changes, and performing a comprehensive physical examination and diagnostic
testing, with comparisons with previous test results.
Since a change in behavior is usually the first sign of underlying health concerns, make sure clients know to call you if
they see any changes in behavior, even subtle ones. This allows for early detection when the condition is easier to manage
or treat. Also educate clients about signs to look for in their senior cats, which will help clients be a member of the team
to enhance the quality, and often the length, of life for their beloved feline friends.
Dr. Ilona Rodan is the recipient of the 2005 Animal Welfare Award, a past president of the American Association of Feline
Practitioners (AAFP), and co-chair of several AAFP guideline panels, including the Panel Report on Feline Senior Care and
the AAFP Feline Behavior Guidelines. She is also involved in the "The Great Cat Watch, for Wellness Sake" (
http://www.catwellness.org/). She owns the Cat Care Clinic in Madison, Wis.