Caring for older cats – Part 2 – helping your feline through old age

Did you know that cats age the equivalent of 24 human years in their first 2 years of life? After that, each cat year is about equal to 4 human years. So my 18 year old Maddy cat is the same age as my 88 year old grandmother. Doing that calculation helps put her age in perspective, and makes you wonder, am I taking care of her as I would care for my grandmother? In my last blog I talked about some of the signs that your cat may start to show as they get older. Observations such as changes in behaviour, toileting issues or changes in sleep patterns are all relatively common in older cats, but could actually indicate an underlying medical condition. Any changes in your ageing cat should be discussed with your vet so that if there is any concern, the appropriate diagnostic tests can be run and treatment can be started if necessary. But if you and your vet decide that your older cat is physically well, there are still lots of things that you can do to help them age a bit more gracefully.

Give them a nail trim

Most cats, especially those that go outside regularly, don’t need (and don’t want) their nails trimmed. Older cats, however, don’t tend to need them much for hunting, tree climbing or fighting with their neighbours. Although feline claws naturally shed with daily activity, the nails of older, less active cats tend to get overgrown and can even grow all the way around and into the pad of the foot, a very painful condition. Even if they’re not overgrown, they still frequently get stuck on the sofa or their bedding, particularly if the cat suffers from arthritis and has limited movement. Trimming the claws is relatively straightforward and most of the time you can do it at home. Ask your vet or vet nurse for a demonstration if you are unsure.

Give them a toilet

Would you want your 88 year old grandmother to have to go downstairs, out the back door and down the garden to use an outside loo in the middle of the night?….

Caring for the older cat (part 1) – helping your feline friend through old age

Sammy is 12 years old. That is a respectable age for a cat, so I was very happy to hear from his owner that he was still very well in himself and she had no concerns at all. The purpose of my visit was a routine health check and vaccination and based on Sammy’s good report, I was expecting to issue him with a clean bill of health. However as I began to collect a thorough history, it became apparent that things were not as simple as they had first appeared. ‘Now that you mention it, Sammy HAS been drinking more than he used to, but I thought that was normal for older cats so I didn’t think twice.’ He had also had a great appetite lately, in fact he’d been eating an extra pouch a day, and he had been more talkative lately. All things that his owner had associated with good health but could actually be signs of illness. On physical exam it turned out he had lost some weight and muscle mass, and that he had a lump under his neck. A blood test was recommended and the results confirmed hyperthyroidism. He was started on medication and is now back to his normal self, his owner couldn’t believe the difference! She was surprised how the changes had happened so gradually that she didn’t notice them, but was very happy to have her old cat back. And Sammy certainly agreed…..

Are you ready for the year ahead? – the pet calendar with a difference!

So, here we are, another year ahead! Are you ready? What might 2014 hold for you and your pets?

January

Let the dieting begin! With a third of pets in the UK carrying too much weight, many of us will have animals who could join us on the tradition post Christmas slim down! Have a chat to local vets about the different things you can do. Cutting down on meals and treats, changing the make of food you give, altering how you feed them (for example changing from a simple bowl to a puzzle feeder); are all small changes that can make a big difference! Also, encouraging your pets to exercise more will speed up their slim down, not always easy for cats but if you have dogs, more walks will be beneficial to you both!

February

For me, this is one of the most depressing months of the year. The long, cold nights have been going on for what seems like forever & Spring seems a long way away. It is often also the time of year snow arrives, which can cause our pets as many problems as our cars! Take care to ensure any rabbits or other pets kept outdoors are well insulated against the cold and check your dogs feet carefully for ice balls and grit after road walks, both of which can cause painful problems. However, the weather can be fun as well! Don’t forget to throw a few snowballs for the dog (and maybe the cat as well!)

Also, what about Valentines day, will your pets be getting a gift?!

March

Spring is just around the corner! And summer ’isn’t that far away! If you are planning a getaway abroad with your pets, now is the time to start thinking about rabies vaccines and getting their passport sorted, so you aren’t on the last minute nearer the time….

Pets are not presents! – why giving bath salts is the best gift this Christmas

So, it’s Christmas, hurrah! Unfortunately that also means it’s time to start dashing round over-crowded, over-heated shopping centres with what seems like the entire population of this sceptred isle desperately trying to find the ‘ideal thing’ for relatives you never liked much in the first place, then giving up and buying bath salts on a three for two offer. Then it hits you, the perfect gift! A pet! Who can resist a small bundle of fluff and you will be in the good books forever! No! Bad idea!

The Dog’s Trust’s slogan ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ is over 30 years old and yet it is as relevant today as it was back then. Sadly, many people still buy animals as gifts at this time of year (it’s not just dogs) and although I am sure many go on to be adored family pets, many are given up in the New Year.

Lost in translation – do you know what your cat is really trying to tell you?

‘Miaow!’ One simple word, so many possible meanings. Is she happy? Is she hungry? Is she scared? It’s all in the tone in which it’s delivered. And that’s just the miaow – researchers have documented 19 different vocal patterns in domestic cats ranging from purrs to chirps to growls, along with countless body language cues. Do you really know how to interpret them? Test your feline language skills below…

1) A deep, rhythmic purr
We’ll start with an easy one – a purr means she’s happy, right? Possibly, but that may not always be the case. In fact, cats purr for many reasons. Young kittens and mother cats purr during nursing, possibly as a way of maintaining contact and communicating contentment. Adult cats purr when they’re in the company of other cats or humans that they are friendly with, especially during grooming or petting or resting together. And as most cat owners probably already know, they also purr when they want something. This ‘solicitation’ purr contains some of the high frequency peaks also found in a human baby’s cry, and it is commonly thought that cats use this to their advantage when asking for food at 5am. But what many people don’t know is that cats will sometimes also purr when they are nervous or even painful. We don’t know exactly why they do it, but the important thing to remember is that purring doesn’t necessarily mean that a cat is happy, you need to look at the rest of their body language for clues. Think of it like a human smile – we do it when we’re happy, but also when we want something or when we’re nervous….

Do you know when your pets are poorly?

It may seem like a silly question, of course you would know when your pets are sick wouldn’t you? They share your life, your home and you know them really well, just as you do other members of your family. However, what many people don’t realise is that our animals are extremely adept at masking signs of illness and often by the time we realise there is a problem, they have been struggling for a while.

This blog was inspired by a cat I saw last week. She was owned by some lovely clients; regulars with their other pets and they definitely have their best interests at heart. I didn’t blame them for not noticing sooner this one was poorly because a) felines are notoriously good at hiding illness and b), you know, I’m a vet, so really I should be quite good at spotting when animals are sick but I don’t expect others to be……..

Difficult Diabetic Cat – Could Acromegaly Be To Blame?

I know, it’s kind of a funny sounding word. But if you have a diabetic cat that your vet just can’t seem to stabilise, it’s definitely not a laughing matter. Acromegaly has recently been found to affect up to a quarter of diabetic cats in the UK, many more than previously thought, so it’s worth talking about. It’s also probably underdiagnosed, which means your vet may not think to look for it, so if you’ve been told that your cat’s diabetes is particularly difficult to control, read on!

What is acromegaly?

The name acromegaly actually comes from human medicine, because in people, it causes abnormally large hands, feet and facial features. Although you can see similar signs in cats (a broad face with a protruding lower jaw and larger than normal feet), it’s much less common so another term you may see used is ‘hypersomatotropism’ which literally means an excessive production of growth hormone. It’s caused by a benign (ie, unlikely to spread to other tissues) tumour on the tiny pituitary gland, situated at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland secretes lots of useful hormones that control all sorts of functions in the body, but in this case it’s growth hormone produced in huge quantities by the growing tumour that causes the problem. The majority of affected cats are males unlike in dogs, where acromegaly is usually caused by changes in the mammary gland and is therefore seen almost exclusively in females that haven’t been spayed.

What’s the connection between acromegaly and diabetes?

Too much growth hormone floating around the body decreases its sensitivity to insulin, which is the hormone that controls sugar metabolism. If the body doesn’t respond very well to insulin, the blood sugar gets too high and the cat becomes diabetic…….

New study shows that spayed & neutered dogs live for longer and die of different diseases compared to entire dogs

It was just last month that I wrote a blog here about the pros and cons of the decision on whether or not to spay/castrate your dog. This seems to be an area which is coming under increasing scrutiny by researchers, perhaps because it is relatively easy to analyse stored data to discover differences between spayed/neutered and entire populations. After all, the contrast between two study groups doesn’t get much more black and white than that: spayed/neutered or entire.

In one of the most recent studies (published online in April 2013), the historical records of over 80,000 sterilized and reproductively intact dogs were examined from a database of dogs presented to North American veterinary teaching hospitals over a period between 1984 and 2004. The cause of death and the lifespan of each animal was noted. To make the data as “clean” and unbiased as possible, the researchers removed around half of the records. First, they took out all young dogs, and all those where the spay/neuter status had not been recorded. Then they took out all those dogs that had died from congenital disease (i.e. disease which the animal had been born with, which obviously could not be influenced by neutering). Finally, they removed all of those dogs where no specific cause of death could be categorised. This left them with 40,139 dogs for analysis of the relationship between the effect of spay/neuter on age and cause of death……..

Ask a vet online – ‘How imperative is having the annual booster jabs for cat flu/ Felv/ Fiv/ Leukemia?’

Question from Jakkii Mickle:

Feline question again- how imperative is having the annual booster jabs for cat flu/ Felv/ Fiv/ Leukemia ? If they have had these injections from kitten age- would they have built up a natural immunity ? One of my cats reacts very badly to these injections, so as a result, I decided not to have them immunised – also my mums dog developed canine leukemia as a result of the injection programme ( confirmed by vets )– so what is best- assume they have their own immunity , or risk them catching these horrible ailments ? Or make them ill by injecting them….???

Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, Online Vet

Hi Jakkii and thank you for your interesting question about cat vaccinations. In order to answer your question I will discuss what is in the feline vaccines, what immunity is and how vaccines work.

What diseases are covered in my cat’s vaccine?

Commonly found in the vaccine your vet will offer your cat is protection against feline influenza (cat flu), feline infectious enteritis (viruses affecting the gut) and feline leukaemia (FeLV).  Other feline vaccines available but less commonly given include rabies, Bordatella bronchiseptica (airway disease) and Chlamydia.  There is currently no vaccine against feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)……

Ask our Online Vet – My cat has white spots on her bottom, is licking her bum alot and pooing outside her box

Question from Shellie Masters

My cat seems to have white spots on her bottom and is licking her bum alot more than usual, also she is pooing outside of her box, any ideas? She is about 11 years old. Thanks

Answer from Shanika our Online Vet

Hi Shellie,

Thanks for your question regarding your cat licking her bottom more, white spots that you have noticed on her bottom and the change to her toileting habits.

All the points that you have mentioned can be individual issues or linked as will hopefully become clear as I go into answering your question.

What are the white spots on my cat’s bottom?

The exact location of the spots will help us to work out what the spots are, the bottom itself is made up of skin which has one large opening through which the poo is passed and then two smaller openings( at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions) which are where the anal sacs open via their ducts ( tube). Anal sacs are lined by glands which produce a rather smelly substance that is normally passed in small amounts every time your pet does a poo, this anal sac liquid forms part of the scent that shows cats who has been around the territory. Anal sacs can get blocked or infected, this can sometimes appear as white spots on the bottom and also lead to increased licking due to the resulting irritation.

Your vet can empty the anal sacs by applying gentle pressure which may relieve the problem, if there is infection antibiotic treatment may be needed.

Tape worm segments are another possibility for the presence of white spots around a cats bottom, tape worms are a parasite that live inside the gut and release small segments as part of their means of spreading. These small segments of tape worm when dry can appear like a small grain of white rice, when fresh they look more like a small piece of flattened pasta ( can be seen to move when looked at closely).

Tape worms and other parasites can be treated using appropriate medication form your vet.

Parasitic infections can cause irritation around the bottom which can lead to increased cleaning/licking. A less obvious cause for such licking is flea allergic dermatitis (FAD). FAD can often be seen as increased grooming and areas of hair loss along the back and inside of the hind legs.

Polyps and or growths on or around the bottom can appear as white spots and may also lead to increased licking of the affected area.

What other reasons may be causing my cat to lick its bottom and poo outside of its litter box?

Changes to the poo itself either softer or harder than usual can cause irritation and increased licking along with toileting outside of the litter box. Loose or soft faeces may be related to diet changes, stress and or internal disease of organs and or the gut itself……….

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