Ensuring senior cats' health requires preventive care, client communication
SmartBrief spoke with feline health expert Jane Brunt, DVM, executive director of the CATalyst Council and past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
At what age is a cat classified as a senior, and what changes in a cat's behavior or physical condition might an owner expect to see when their pet enters this stage of its life?
Keeping in mind that every cat is an individual, the "senior" status in cats has been described by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and American Animal Hospital Association in their Feline Life Stage Guidelines as cats 11-14 years of age, with cats from 7-10 called "mature" and those 15 and over "geriatric." Since aging changes are frequently a progressive continuum, many veterinarians group all three together and call them senior. "Senior at Seven" is an easily remembered phrase, and performing tests that can help identify conditions common in aging beginning at age 7 is appropriate and good medicine.
What vaccinations and other examinations or procedures are necessary for older cats?
As health conditions can change rapidly in older cats, it's widely recommended by many veterinarians that a thorough physical examination is best performed on all "healthy" senior cats twice yearly. Each patient is evaluated at each visit and recommendations should be made according to its lifestyle and health status. Decisions on which vaccinations are appropriate are dependent on risk factors including disease prevalence and municipal requirements. In addition to whatever vaccines are necessary, procedures recommended are infectious disease and parasite testing and prevention, oral care, nutritional assessment and recommendations and periodic senior health screening. The senior wellness profile in our practice is consistent with the published AAFP-AAHA guidelines and includes a CBC, chemistry profile, thyroid test, urinalysis and blood pressure as a baseline and to follow trends. Other procedures may be indicated depending on the findings of the examination.
How can owners be on the lookout for signs of common conditions in senior cats?
Knowing what a cat's normal behavior has been and then reporting any changes in that behavior to their veterinarian is crucial. And it's just as important for the veterinary health care team to ask what changes the owner has noticed. Following behavior patterns like appetite, elimination, activity and sleep patterns just as you would a kidney test are the keys to early identification of any problem. Besides the common conditions associated with aging cats, such as chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, periodontal and other oral disease, we are now recognizing much more arthritis in cats than ever before.
How can veterinarians communicate to clients the importance of preventive care?
The adage "an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure" is so true with cats. Preventing parasites like roundworms, fleas, heartworms and others, preventing common infectious diseases like upper respiratory infection or, if at risk, feline leukemia virus, and preventing other conditions like painful oral disease or debilitating diabetes are far better for your cat, your peace of mind, and even your wallet. Following a veterinarian's recommendations for preventive care is the standard of care. !>!>
How can veterinarians make their practices more cat-friendly and also help owners who may have trouble calming their cats get them into the clinic?
Becoming more cat-friendly is something every practice can do. By understanding what is normal for cats and how they react to change -- including transportation -- steps can be taken to avoid or lessen the stress and fear that happens when their environment changes. Starting when the cat is a kitten, carrier conditioning by leaving the carrier out, up and open with soft bedding inside will allow the cat to explore it on its own terms and become comfortable with it. CATalyst Council developed Cat Friendly Practice videos including a video "Cats and Carriers: Friends, not Foes," which can be given to clients as a resource, as well as provided to staff for training. Veterinarians should also visit the AAFP website for guidelines and to become a member, which will allow them to participate in the AAFP Cat Friendly Practice program.