Your Geriatric Cat's Health
Geriatric Cat

Our pets are prone to age-related diseases in their advancing years just as we are. Many of their problems are similar to ours. Older cats can experience heart disease, arthritis, weight and dietary problems, diabetes, kidney failure, dental disease, cancer, and hormonal diseases. By working together to help diagnose and treat problems as they arise, we at Saukville Veterinary Clinic hope to help you keep your cat as healthy and happy as possible.

Many signs of aging, such as graying haircoat and cloudy eyes, are easily noticed when interacting with your companion. In addition to these external changes there are many internal changes occurring at the same time. On an annual or biannual basis, routine blood work should be performed on your pet to insure his or her internal organs are performing adequately. The routine blood work will consist of a variety of blood tests to check for early signs of kidney disease, liver disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, anemia, dehydration, infection, and more. This information is important because if these diseases are caught early, they can often be more successfully managed. In fact, in some cases, slight and gradual changes in organ function can be treated with diet and/or dietary supplements.

We recommend that older cats, starting at 8 years of age, receive a periodic senior evaluation at our clinic.

This evaluation may require a partial day of hospitalization to collect samples, but is usually done as an outpatient visit, and includes the following:

  • A complete physical examination.
  • Blood samples for a complete blood count, which checks for red blood cell disorders like anemia, changes in white blood cell number or type, plasma protein level and platelets.
  • Blood samples for a biochemical profile which includes tests to check kidney function, liver function, thyroid function, electrolyte balance, cholesterol and sugar levels.
  • A complete urinalysis to check for diabetes, infection, protein loss, and crystals.
  • In some cases results of the physical exam or laboratory tests might indicate the need for additional diagnostics, such as radiographs, ultrasound, and blood pressure measurement.
  • We will thoroughly discuss with you the results of the evaluation and any different care your older pet may need. The results are usually available the next day. Additional tests and exams may be needed for pets with abnormal results or obscure symptoms.
Some of the most common concerns are discussed below:
Kidney Disease

Kidney disease frequently affects geriatric cats. The most common form is called chronic renal failure. This is a progressive disease that is a result of a cat's kidneys becoming less and less effective. The primary function of normal kidneys is to filter the waste products out of the cat's system and into the urine. These waste products are produced on a daily basis just through a cat's normal activity. The cause of chronic renal failure is unknown, but we do know that the result is the kidneys become less able to filter natural toxins out of the bloodstream.

Symptoms of kidney disease can include drinking lots of water, urinating frequently, lack of appetite, failure to groom, nausea, vomiting, and occasional diarrhea. Diagnosis of kidney disease is often made by a blood test. There are two blood values known as BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and creatinine, which are often very important in the diagnosis, but other values also help in making a diagnosis. Chronic renal failure can be further confirmed by a urinalysis to determine the concentration level of the urine.

Different cats survive different amounts of time with kidney disease. This can vary from 1 month to several years. Early diagnosis of the disease can often help slow its progression. One of the foundations of management is providing the pet with a low protein diet. There are prescription diets available that a veterinarian can recommend for treatment of kidney disease.

As kidney disease progresses, additional interventions may be recommended, such as medications and supplemental fluid therapy. Even though chronic kidney disease is progressive and there is no specific cure, a good relationship between an owner, the veterinarian, and the pet can provide your cat with the best opportunity for a good quality of life and keep the disease under control as long as possible.


One of the most common conditions experienced by aging cats is excessive weight gain due to inappropriate diet or overeating. As our companion's body ages, exercise and activity levels are naturally decreased, which leads to unnecessary and excessive weight gain. As age increases and activity level decreases, the diet should be adjusted.


Diabetes is a disease characterized by high blood sugar resulting from abnormal insulin levels. Predisposing factors include obesity, genetics, poor diet, hormonal abnormalities, stress and some drugs. Signs a cat with diabetes might exhibit include increased thirst with resultant increased urine volume, excessive appetite and weight loss. The diagnosis of diabetes is made using blood and urine test results, in addition to history and physical exam findings. Diabetes is a treatable, but not a curable disease, usually involving the administration of insulin twice a day.

Feline Hyperthyroidism

The thyroid gland is a gland in the neck region of mammals that produces hormones which are very important in everyday metabolism. Hyperthyroidism is a disease that occurs when an enlargement of the thyroid gland causes production of too much thyroid hormone and leads to an extremely high metabolic rate. This is one of the most common diseases to occur in a geriatric cat.

There are many different symptoms that can be caused by this disease. The most frequent symptom is weight loss. Some other common side effects include an increased appetite, diarrhea, and an increased heart rate.

The increased thyroid hormone can be toxic to certain body organs. The excess hormone causes a very rapid heart rate, which can lead to cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) and thrombosis (blood clot formation). The thyroid hormone needs to be processed by the liver and can lead to liver failure because the liver is being overworked.

Hyperthyroidism is a treatable disease. There are four forms of treatment. One is management of the disease with medication. This means that the cat will need to have medication given daily for the rest of his/her life to keep the thyroid disease under control. Another type of treatment involves strictly feeding a prescription food formulated to be very low in iodine. The third treatment is giving an intravenous injection of radioactive iodine, which is done in specialty hospitals with specialized equipment to monitor the radioactivity of the cat. The cat needs to stay in the specialty hospital for 1 – 2 weeks while the radioactivity wears off. This is a cure for the hyperthyroidism and further treatment for the thyroid disease is usually not necessary. It is common for treatment with the medication for a period of time to allow the liver or heart to heal before radioactive iodine therapy is performed. The fourth form of treatment is surgery to remove the thyroid gland. This can be risky surgery since the cat may already have some liver and heart damage from the disease. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best treatment for your cat based on physical exam and laboratory test findings.

Dental Concerns

Imagine not brushing your teeth for a couple of weeks, or even a couple of years...well, that is how your cat feels. Dentistry is an important part of health care that can increase your pet's lifespan and even make your pet more pleasurable to be around. Plaque and tartar build-up on your pet's teeth and under the gum line are continuous processes that lead to bad breath, tooth loss, and even heart, liver, and kidney disease. This happens when the bacteria in the plaque and tartar enters the bloodstream and deposits into one of the body's major organs. An older cat's teeth don't just "fall out." They have become diseased and adequate attachment is no longer possible. The American Veterinary Dental Society reports that 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age three. A routine dental cleaning in the clinic followed by home care can greatly reduce the build-up of harmful bacteria present when dental disease exists.

With frequent checkups, at least twice a year, we can screen for common senior diseases of your cat. By diagnosing and treating problems earlier, we may be able to slow the disease process and prevent pain and discomfort. Ask us for help in caring for your beloved older pet.

For more information visit: American Association of Feline Practitioners