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Life Number Nine: Caring for Senior Cats

senior cats

Old friends are the best friends, so the saying goes. Senior cats are wonderful pets and there are many things you can do to keep them healthy and happy later in life. We recommend following these guidelines to keep your senior cat feeling like a kitten.

What qualifies as a senior cat?

Many cats begin to encounter age-related physical changes between seven and ten years of age, and most do so by the time they are 12. Your cat’s species, breed, and the health of their organs will dictate when they start acting “old.”

Each pet is unique and cats that are up there in years may still be healthy or just beginning to show signs of aging.

What risks do senior cats face?

Arthritis is common in senior cats and some may find it difficult to climb into litter box or reach their food and water bowls.

Thick, overgrown claws that are brittle are more common in senior cats that are sedentary, requiring more frequent nail trimming.

Decreased appetite may be common as senior cats can lose their sense of smell and experience discomfort from dental disease. It is common for their appetite to decrease and for older cats to lose weight.

Changes in hearing and vision can appear as cats age. Their eyes may develop a slight haziness and several diseases can impair their ability to see, sometimes high-blood pressure is the underlying cause. Age also brings hearing loss, particularly in elderly cats over age 10.

Geriatric or elderly cats over age 10 may develop behavior changes associated with memory loss. Symptoms may include wandering, excessive meowing, disorientation and avoiding social interaction.

Compared to younger cats, an older cat’s immune system is less able to fend off foreign invaders. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease can impair their immune function even further. Impaired kidney function and failure is common in senior cats, and its symptoms are extremely varied.

Hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer are all conditions that are more prevalent in cats as they age.

As a pet owners you may not be able to stop the age-related health changes from happening to your cat, but you can often manage them with exercise and diet changes.

What do you feed senior cats?

We recommend that pet owners start their cats on a senior diet at about seven years of age, which is when cats’ metabolism may start to slow and they may become less active. Senior cat food should include high quality protein, digestible carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants, and fatty acids. Senior cats may find it hard to digest and absorb fats so they need fats that are easier for their bodies to process.

Food for older cats is widely available to maintain their health and optimum body weight, slow or prevent the development of chronic disease, and to minimize or improve any signs of diseases that may already be present in your cat.  

  • Select a senior cat food that will help ensure they still get the same amount of energy as younger, adult cats as they age.
  • Vitamin, mineral, and electrolyte-levels may be lower in older cats if they absorb less of them through the intestinal tract or lose more of them through the kidneys and urinary tract. Some senior cats eat less cat food, including those with oral disease, so that may not receive their daily needs of vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants such as vitamins A (beta-carotene), E, and C may play a role in protecting your cat against the aging processes.
  • Monitor the weight and condition of your cat.

Consult with your veterinarian to determine which specific food and supplements will be helpful for your cat as they age from adult to senior to geriatric age.

How do you exercise senior cats?

Many senior cats retain their a built-in predatory drive and still enjoy hiding in boxes or chasing a wad of paper on the floor. Since your cat won’t be pouncing, sprinting or leaping like a kitten, keep some “teaser” toys like a laser pointer, crinkle balls and catnip mice handy instead.
Get your cat vertical stretching with scratcher or cat tree to stretch his muscles.

If your senior cat still has all its senses, move their food bowl around and make him hunt and work for it. Do this with healthy, dry treats too, leaving them in unique spots away from where you normally serve their food.

Limit senior cats to five-minute play periods three times per day if they are experiencing any discomfort. During times of exercise, be on the lookout for labored breathing, rapid tiring, difficulty moving, and tender or sore areas.

Before starting your senior cat on any exercise routine, check in with your veterinarian. Make sure that your pet is able to safely be physically active, and discuss how to work with any issues they may have, like arthritis or vision loss.

What special treatment do senior cats require?

Keep your senior cat healthy with close observation and a quick check of their health at home as often as once per week. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to do it and what to look for. Essentially, interact with your cat like you normally would and add in some observation.

  • When rubbing your cat’s head or scratching its chin, gently raise the upper lips with your thumb or forefinger so you can examine their teeth and gums.
  • Playfully lift the ear flaps and examine the ear canals.
  • While stroking your cat’s fur, take a quick check for abnormal lumps or bumps, and evaluate the health of their skin and coat.
  • Daily brushing can remove loose hairs, preventing them from being swallowed and forming hairballs. Brushing also has the benefit of stimulating blood circulation and sebaceous gland secretions, which gives them a healthier skin and coat.

Reduce your senior cat’s environmental stress whenever possible, as they may be less adaptable to change. Introducing a new pet may be a challenging experience for senior cats, and should be avoided whenever possible. Moving to a new home or even boarding your cat during a family vacation may cause them some stress. Pet sitting by a relative or friend is a good alternative for a senior cat. If you must board them, having a familiar object such as a blanket or toy may prevent the cat from becoming too distraught in a strange environment. Some stress can be alleviated by giving your senior cat more affection and attention during times of emotional upheaval.

Cats are known for hiding illness and senior cats are no exception. It is common for a cat to have a serious medical problem, yet not show any sign of it until the condition has advanced. Since most diseases can be managed more successfully when detected and treated early, it is important for owners of senior cats to carefully monitor their behavior and health.
Our pet hospital is here to keep your cat well in their ninth life. If you’re unsure as to what to feed your senior cat or how to give them exercise and care at home, we at ZippiVet are here to help. We make it easy to schedule an appointment and are open seven days a week.

Those Anxious Felines: Reducing Stress in Your Cat

Cat Anxiety

Cats can be anxious and nervous pets. Separation or changes to daily routines and family life can put a lot of stress on your cat, and this stress can manifest in some destructive, annoying behaviors. Eliminating the cause of the stress and helping your cat handle the situation are the keys to relieving their anxiety. We’ve got some veterinarian approved tips for alleviating your cat’s anxiety (and, hopefully, your own).

What is cat anxiety?

Like humans, cats can become stressed and anxious, often due to a psychological struggle. Similar to human anxiety, without any intervention for anxiety, your cat’s immune system can become compromised, he or she may become depressed or develop “bad-kitty” behavioral problems.

The most common situations that can cause your cat to become anxious include separation from you or the addition of a new family member into the household such as a child, pet or a new partner/spouse.

What are the symptoms of cat anxiety?

Cats show signs of anxiety in a number of ways.

Potential signs of anxiety to observe in your cat may include the following:

  • Health changes
  • Changes in their appetite or weight
  • Excessive vocalizing (meowing or crying at inappropriate times of the night or day)
  • Urinating outside of their litter box
  • New compulsive behaviors (i.e. excessive grooming)
  • New destructive behaviors (i.e. furniture scratching)
  • Aggression
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Trembling
  • Restlessness
  • Hiding

If you notice your cat exhibiting these behaviors, consider if any recent changes could be contributing to stress and anxiety.

Why do cats get anxiety?

Cats experience anxiety because of psychological, physical and environmental stressors. Without your intervention, their stress can have detrimental affects on your home, your family, and your cat’s overall health. Determining the root cause of your cat’s anxiety can be challenging, so begin by evaluating their environment and daily life. Some things to consider:

  • In your household has there been a loss or addition of family member or pet?
  • Has there been recent separation from a family member?
  • Recently, have they had minimal play or exercise? Is your cat experiencing boredom?
  • Are there any new causes of fear that could have sparked their anxiety, such as loud noises, other pets or humans?
  • How have they been eating? Might your cat be having less-than-adequate nutrition?
  • Is your cat otherwise healthy or are they experiencing any pain or discomfort?

How can I make my cat less anxious?

Focus your efforts on minimizing the stress and anxiety in your cat’s life. Consider their entertainment and adding enriching activities. We’ve got plenty of free cat enrichment ideas! Exercise your cat with lots of playtime and give your cat more emotional support with cuddling and petting. Providing high-quality, nutritious cat food, fresh water, and a comfortable bed for your cat gives them security in a time of stress.

Like humans, some cats are naturally prone to stress and some may have serious struggles with past traumas. These cats may need the assistance of a veterinarian with training in behavioral issues and/or anti-anxiety medications prescribed by a veterinarian.

Is there cat anxiety medication?

If your cat is showing one or more signs of stress and anxiety, see your veterinarian to rule out any medical problems. If your cat is physically healthy, they will help you with ways to treat the stress specifically. The doctor may diagnose the particular type of disorder that your cat suffers from and come up with a behavior-modification plan best suited for your cat. In some cases, the vet may prescribe pet medications:

  • Amitriptyline, Clomicalm (clomipramine), or fluoxetine is used to increase the effectiveness of behavior modification that your vet prescribes.
  • If a cat’s anxiety is limited to particular events (like travel by car or fireworks displays), a short term sedative such as Alprazolam, prescribed by your vet, should be given a few hours before the next event.

Cat Friendly Practices๏ Can Help Reduce Stress

A trip to the veterinarian can be stressful for both you and your cat, including the just getting them into the pet carrier for the car ride to the the pet hospital. Cat Friendly Practices try to alleviate some of that burden.


Cat Friendly Practices are veterinary hospitals like ZippiVet that consistently take extra steps to care for cats’ unique needs, having implemented feline-friendly standards. We understand the needs of cats, seek to decrease their stress and provide a more calming environment. Our veterinary staff have also been trained in feline-friendly handling and understanding cat behavior in order to increase the quality of care for your cat. We make it easy to schedule an appointment and provide a calm visit to reduce stress in you and your cat.

Keep Your Kids Worm Free

Parasites In Children

Dogs and cats may become infected with an internal or external parasite at some point in their lifetime. These parasites can cause everything from simple irritation to life-threatening conditions if they are left untreated. What’s more, some pet parasites can be transferred to you or your children. At ZippiVet, we’re often asked about the diseases parasites carry and whether they may be easily transmitted to the rest of the family. These diseases are called Zoonoses, or zoonotic diseases, and there are more of them than you’d think!

Common Infections That Spread From Pets to People

Toxoplasmosis

The Toxoplasma gondii parasite causes Toxoplasmosis, one of the most common pet to people infections. Cats are often the primary host and the parasite may complete its life cycle in the cat’s intestinal tract, passing back into the environment through feces. Cats are more commonly seen with clinical symptoms than dogs though dogs get infected too. At increased risk are young dogs with developing immune systems, and dogs that have impaired immunity. The top five symptoms in pets are neurological symptoms, seizures, tremors, depression and lethargy.

  • Toxoplasmosis may cause flu-like symptoms in some humans, but most never develop symptoms.
  • For infants born to infected mothers and for people with weakened immune systems, toxoplasmosis can cause extremely serious complications.

Giardia

Giardia is a parasite that is transmitted to dogs, cats and people through food or water contaminated with stool. We’ve written about Giardia before and it’s one Austin pet owners in particular should know about.

  • Symptoms for animals and people include diarrhea, greasy stools, and dehydration.
  • People can also have abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms can last one to two weeks.

Cat-Scratch Disease

Cat-scratch disease is a bacterial disease that people may get after being bitten or scratched by a cat. About 40% of cats carry the bacteria at some time in their lives, and kittens younger than one year of age are more likely to have it. Most cats with this infection show no signs of illness.

  • People who are bitten or scratched by an affected cat may develop a mild infection three to 14 days later at the site of the wound.
  • The infection may cause symptoms such as fever, headache, exhaustion and/or a poor appetite. A person’s lymph nodes closest to the original scratch or bite can become swollen, tender, or painful.

Plague

Plague (yes, that’s the name) is a bacterial disease in animals, primarily cats and spread to people that can lead to serious illness or death if left untreated. Cats that hunt wild rodents and rabbits in the western, particularly the southwestern, U.S. are at greatest risk of becoming infected.

Cats are highly susceptible to plague and the symptoms are similar to those experienced by humans. Cats infected with plague can infect people through bites, scratches, coughs, or sneezes.

  • Bubonic plague is the most common form with common symptoms of high fever, chills, headache and swollen lymph nodes.
  • The other two forms of plague, septicemic and pneumonic, cause more severe disease.

Other Infections

Bacterial infections with scary names: campylobacter and salmonella are also commonly transmitted from dogs and cats to the rest of the family. They also spread through contaminated food, such as meat and eggs, water, or contact with feces of infected animals. Dogs and cats that are infected with the bacteria might show no signs of illness at all or might have a slight fever and/or diarrhea.

  • People who become sick by the bacteria will have diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after their exposure.
  • Campylobacter can cause serious life-threatening infections in those with weakened immune systems, including infants, older persons.

How do Ticks on My Pet Pose a Health Risk to My Family?

Ticks are gross and they can make you sick. Vector-borne diseases are transmitted by fleas, ticks and other parasites that infest dogs and cats.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial disease that is transmitted by deer ticks to the animal or human directly while sucking its blood over a 48 hour period. In dogs the most common signs of Lyme disease include lameness, fever, lack of energy, reluctance to eat and enlarged lymph nodes, sometimes with swollen, painful joints. Often cats with Lyme disease don’t show any symptoms, but those who do may have recurrent lameness of the limbs due to inflammation of the joints or “shifting-leg lameness.”

  • Infected people will typically have a red bull’s eye-shaped rash at the site of the tick’s bite that appears after about seven days. Flu-like symptoms often quickly follow the rash. If not treated, Lyme disease can spread to other parts of the body and cause symptoms such as arthritis and loss of facial muscle tone (called Bell’s palsy). Lyme disease can be fatal.

Other diseases carried by ticks that attach to pets include ehrlichiosis relapsing fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.  

Can Humans Get Worms from Dogs and Cats?

There are a number of intestinal parasites or worms that can infect dogs and cats, including roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms. One worm can produce up to 100,000 eggs per day, which are then passed in the pet’s feces and spread throughout the area where the pet roams. Once in your home, some of these eggs can remain infective and present a health risk for your pet and humans for years. The best way to prevent infection in pets is to control the flea population in the environment.

Roundworms

Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite in pets and the most likely to be spread to humans. Dogs and people can become infected by accidentally swallowing roundworm eggs from the environment. In addition, worms can cross through the placenta, milk, or colostrum of a mother dog, passing the infection to her puppies. Infected puppies usually do not develop well and may have a pot-bellied appearance.

  • Roundworm eggs, once ingested can hatch inside the human intestinal tract and the immature worms can travel to tissues in the body, including the eyes liver, lung brain and/or central nervous system, potentially causing serious infections. In people, children are most often affected with roundworm.

Hookworms

Dogs can become infected with hookworms through accidentally ingesting the parasite from the environment or through their mother’s milk or colostrum. Puppies are most often affected and might have anemia and dark, bloody stool. Severe infections in some puppies can lead to death.

  • Walking barefoot, kneeling, or sitting on ground contaminated with stool of infected animals may lead to the spread of hookworms in people. Hookworm eggs enter the top layers of skin and cause an itchy reaction and a red squiggly line might appear. Symptoms usually clear up without medical treatment in six weeks or less.

Tapeworms

Tapeworm is a parasite spread to dogs, cats, and people through the ingestion of infected fleas. This parasite is common but fortunately rarely causes illness in pets or people. Infections with tapeworm can sometimes be detected by finding rice-like segments of the tapeworm crawling near the anus or in fresh bowel movements. In severe infections, pets can lose weight and have mild diarrhea.

  • In people, children are more commonly infected but don’t usually show signs of disease.

Parasites can infect your pet at any time of year. External parasites, such as fleas and ticks may be less common outside during certain times of the year (i.e. winter), but they can survive in a home in any season. Always wash your hands and the hands of children with running water and soap after contact with pets, their stool, and their food.

At ZippiVet, we’re here to help you with a year-round parasite control program, including  a preventative flea and tick treatment. At your pet’s check-up we test for common parasites and perform a physical examination.
We know how to accurately diagnose and safely treat parasites and other health problems that not only affect your dog or cat, but also the safety of you and your family. If you see any of the warning signs in your family pet, you can quickly and easily schedule an appointment online or walk in to our clinic for a check-up. ZippiVet is open seven days a week. Book Now.