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Skinny, thirsty, older cats

Many elderly cats gradually lose weight – often over such a long period of time that owners who see them daily don’t notice the change. It is important to weigh senior pets regularly and investigate any changes in weight.

Excess thirst is an early warning sign of many age related diseases. As a guide all pets should drink about 50mls fluid per kilo of bodyweight every day – 200mls or slightly less than ½ a pint for the average cat. Any pet who drinks more than this should be investigated. Warning signs are having to refill the water bowl a lot or finding a cat drinking from unusual places like puddles or the toilet bowl (yuk). You may also notice more wet patches than normal in the litter tray.

A 14 year old cat is equivalent to a 70 year old person – those who reach the grand old age of 20 yrs can expect their telegram from the queen. All senior pets (those over 7 years of age) should have regular 3 monthly nurse check ups and see the vet every 6 months to help us pick up problems early.

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 new treatments give us a good chance of slowing down any deterioration. High thirst is an early sign and indicates that about 2/3 of the kidney is damaged, but cats are so efficient that they can compensate for failing kidneys until ¾ of the kidney is not working. 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.

Kidney disease can be diagnosed and quantified using an in-house blood test with results the same day.

“Fortekor” is a recent advance in treatment of this disease. This drug has been used for many years to treat heart problems but it is also 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.

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.

Overactive thyroid glands are also very common in elderly cats and can contribute to the “skinny, thirsty old cat” scenario.

The thyroid is a gland in the neck that controls metabolism – it is commonly overactive due to a benign growth that produces too much thyroid hormone. This makes everything go too fast – heart rate, digestion and often flying teeth and claws! Owners may notice that a cat loses weight despite being very hungry and thirsty, may sometimes vomit or have diarrhoea, or may even seem to change character to become more nervous or flighty.

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 medication or a operation to remove the gland.

Diabetes is a common disorder of middle aged to older cats (usually overweight cats).

It occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, the hormone which controls sugar levels in the blood. The excess sugar in the blood is passed out by the kidneys into the urine. Where sugar goes water follows. 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.

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.

Diabetes can be spotted by a simple urine test and confirmed by blood test.

We have advised routine urine tests for our senior petients for a long time to give us early clues that serious diseases are developing. Until recently getting a urine sample from a cat has been a difficult proposition! We now have “Katkor” kits available consisting of some non-absorbent cat litter to put in your litter tray, a syringe to collect a sample when the cat obligingly uses the tray and a pot to transport the sample to the surgery. Much easier!

If you have any reason for concern about your skinny, thirsty cat please contact the surgery for an appointment and ask for a katkor kit so you can bring a sample with you.

Page updated 19th Mar 2014, 10:55
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