As your cat gets older, subtle health changes can creep up. Here’s what you should keep an eye out for, and how booking regular check-ups with your vet can help prevent any problems.
1. Weight loss
As pets get older, they may gradually lose a couple of pounds. But if you notice sudden or significant weight changes, it’s important to speak to your vet to identify the cause.
In cats aged seven-plus, weight loss coupled with a good or even increased appetite can be a sign of hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland). If you notice these symptoms in your cat, call your vet straight away. While a good recovery is possible through treatments such as surgery or medication, the condition can cause complications and organ damage if it’s not addressed early enough. Other causes of rapid weight loss in cats may be due to a parasite, or kidney or liver disease – so it’s best to book a check-up as soon as you can. But keep in mind that weight loss could also be due to something that is quite easily treated, such as a short-lived infection.
2. Changes in appetite
When a cat with a previously normal appetite seems to be constantly ravenous, there could be a number of explanations. Diabetes – which occurs most commonly in middle-aged, overweight cats – could be the issue (and it’s often accompanied by weight loss).
Loss of appetite can also have numerous causes. As a first port of call, check whether a change in your cat’s environment has made them stressed and less likely to eat. Alternatively, you might need to speak to a vet to rule out any other conditions, such as kidney disease, or a blockage in the throat or intestinal tract. Your vet will be able to pinpoint the cause with an all-over examination and any necessary tests.
3. Increased thirst and frequent urination
If your pet is drinking lots more than usual, and warmer weather or indoor heating isn’t the explanation, it should be checked. As with humans, increased thirst and frequent weeing can be a sign of diabetes. Chronic kidney disease can also be a common cause in older cats. Book an appointment with your vet to figure out what could be behind these changes in your pet’s drinking habits. Once you have confirmed a diagnosis, most thirst-related conditions can usually be managed well with medication.
Losing interest in playing, and sleeping more in the daytime, but less at night, may indicate that an older pet has cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Around 50% of cats aged 15 and over, will develop at least one symptom of CDS, such as lethargy.
However, lethargy in older pets doesn’t automatically mean CDS. If your pet is very inactive, lacking enthusiasm and not reacting as usual, they could have another condition, such as an infection. With a thorough check-up, you’ll be able to determine the cause and get your pet the right treatment.
Forgetting trained behaviour, being easily startled, yowling or meowing at night, and showing signs of anxiety are all common signs of CDS. As pets age, they can also suffer hearing loss which can make them nervous and stressed.
Behaviour changes, such as a previously affectionate cat starting to avoid cuddles, can also indicate that your pet is in pain. Any number of problems (such as arthritis) could be the cause – your vet can help you support your cat and decide on the right course of action.
6. A bad smell
If your pet starts to pong a bit, it’s worth checking out the cause. For example, if your cat has previously been a fastidious groomer, but now struggles to stay clean and develops a dull and matted coat, this could be a symptom of hyperthyroidism.
A bad smell may also come from an abscess that has developed as a result of a bite (fighting cats are particularly prone), while smelly breath may point to gum disease. As well as being painful, this can lead to tooth loss and, at its worst, the bacteria can also enter the bloodstream, affecting your pet’s other organs. If you’ve noticed your pet’s bad breath, get it seen to as soon as possible and speak to your vet about treating the cause.
Have you noticed any of the symptoms on this list? Don’t hesitate to book an appointment with your vet and, to ensure these symptoms don’t crop up in future, schedule regular six-monthly check-ups, too.