Many elderly cats can lose weight – often over such a long period of time that owners who see them daily don’t notice the change. This weight loss can be due to old age, but more often than not, it is an indicator of disease. It is important to weigh senior cats (10 years or older) regularly and if any significant changes in weight occur (10%) it is wise to make an appointment with the vet (simply telephone 01254 53622 to make an appointment with the vet or to get advice). All of the diseases of older cats can be treated much more effectively when caught early, before clinical signs of disease are present.
Increased thirst is an early warning sign of many age related diseases. As a guide all cats should drink about 50mls fluid per kilo of bodyweight every day – 200mls or slightly less than ½ a pint for the average cat some cats drink much less. Any cat that drinks more than this should be investigated. An increase in thirst is just as important. If you notice your cat drinking more than usual this is often a sign that there is a problem. Other warning signs are having to refill the water bowl more frequently, seeing your cat drinking from unusual places like puddles or the toilet bowl or you may notice more wet patches than normal in the litter tray. If you are in any doubt about your cat's thirst telephone 01254 53622 to make an appointment or to speak with one of us. If you switch from wet food to dry food your cat will drink more. This is normal.
A 14 year old cat is equivalent to a 70 year old person. We think of a 20 year old cat as a 100 year old person! It is advisable that older cats are checked by the vet at least every 6 months in order that we can spot the early signs of illness before the illness becomes more difficult to treat.
Kidney disease is common in older cats.
Attention paid to changes in weight and thirst, plus regular checkups help us to catch this disease in its early stages, when treatment is more successful. High thirst and weight loss are early signs of the disease. Cats kidneys are so efficient that they can compensate for failing kidneys (not be ill) until 75% of the kidney function is lost. So it is very important to catch the disease before this happens. By the time they become really poorly (thin, vomiting, smelly breath, poor appetite) the kidneys have totally failed and it is often too late to do anything.
At our clinic, if kidney disease was suspected we would perform a blood test at the earliest opportunity, ruling in or out kidney disease. Blood pressure and urine tests may also be carried out.
Treatment can involve using a medicine (Ace-inhibitor) that has been used for many years to treat heart problems but has been found to be beneficial in kidney disease. It reduces high blood pressure and helps the kidney to get rid of toxins from the body whilst preserving the remaining kidney tissue. It also appears to make a big difference to how our patients feel – improving their demeanour and appetite and allowing them to enjoy life again.
Anabolic injections like those sometimes taken by athletes to help them bulk up are used to preserve body muscle and slow down weight loss. This also helps to take the strain off the kidneys, which have to deal with the by-products of muscle breakdown.
A special food is often used. Nutrition is very important in controlling kidney disease – a special low protein, low phosphorous diet makes life easy for kidneys and reverses some of the changes in other parts of the body due to the disease.
Blood pressure tablets, phosphate binders, erythropeitin, antibiotics and lots of other medicines are used depending on the severity of the disease.
Kidney disease cannot be cured but can be contolled in the majority of cases if caught early.
The thyroid glands in the neck control your cat's metabolic rate. It is commonly overactive in cats due to a benign growth that produces too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism). This makes the body work too fast – heart rate, digestion and cats may have a short temper (more grumpy). Owners may notice that a cat loses weight despite being very hungry and thirsty. They may sometimes vomit or have diarrhoea, or may even seem to change character to become more nervous or flighty, sometimes they become more kitten like. A black cat may start to turn brown, the cats voice may change.
If untreated an overactive thyroid can cause serious complications because of high blood pressure and stress on the heart, but it is easily treatable either with tablets or surgery to remove the abnormal thyroid gland. A simple blood test can be used to detect this disease.
To put it very simply diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or the insulin does not work (type 2 diabetes). Insulin controls sugar levels in the blood. In diabetes the blood sugar levels become too high. The excess blood sugar is lost through the kidneys and goes into the urine. Where sugar goes water follows. These cats loose energy and fluids through their kidneys. Diabetic cats pass a lot of urine and have to drink a lot to keep up. Cats with diabetes can't use the sugar in the blood, the tissues run out of energy and start to break down stores of muscle and fat. Hence the loss in weight. Again we have weight loss, hunger and a raised thirst.
Left untreated diabetes can be life-threatening, but it can usually be controlled well by correct feeding (Hill's r/d or m/d) and tiny injections of insulin daily, which most owners learn to administer successfully. Some cats can be managed by tablets.
Diabetes can be spotted by a simple urine test and confirmed by blood test.
There are many other diseases that can cause weight loss and an increased thirst in older cats. Heart disease, tumours, hormonal issues, infections etc etc but the above conditions are the most common. The key to treating these diseases is to catch them early before clinical signs of the disease occur. If you are in any doubt, ring the surgery (01254 53622) and book an appointment to see the vet, if your cat has an increased thirst or appetite or weight loss.
William John Davies, Daisy Street Vets, December 2016.