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How To Keep Your Older Cats Healthy As They Age

Vaccinations

It is important to keep Cat Flu and Feline Infectious Enteritis (Distemper) vaccinations up to date as a cat grows older. Though it’s tempting to let these lapse, an older cat has a less efficient immune system so vaccinations are more important with age. Some cats will have been vaccinated by the previous owner and only require annual booster shots. If the cat hasn’t had any vaccinations, or you aren’t sure about this, you can start vaccinations at any age.

Depending on where you live, vaccinations are available for Cat Flu, Enteritis (Distemper), FeLV, Chlamydia, FIP and Rabies. Your vet will be able to advise on which ones are required or advisable in your area.

Parasites

The most common skin parasite of cats is fleas. Many cats develop an itchy reaction to flea bites and we recommend regular use of a flea spray or flea powder formulated specifically for use on cats and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Flea collars are convenient, but less effective, and must have an elasticated section for the cat’s safety. Tapeworms, roundworms, and other internal parasites afflict older cats as well as young cats, particularly cats which go outdoors. It is recommended that a cat be treated for worms, especially roundworms, every 3 to 6 months. This may be modified for indoor-only cats. Further information about fleas, worms and other parasites specific to your locality can be found in most cat care publications.

Teeth and Gums

Older cats are more prone to dental problems such as loose teeth, build-up of tartar on teeth and sore gums (gingivitis). Difficulty in eating and trouble grooming indicates mouth problems. After de-scaling (tartar removal) of teeth or extraction of bad teeth, the cat’s appetite and normal grooming soon return. Many cats appear “rejuvenated” after dental problems have been treated.

If possible, check your cat’s teeth and gums regularly, looking for yellow or brown scales, inflamed gums and mouth ulcers. An annual dental check-up at vaccination time is advisable. Dried food, fed as part of the cat’s diet, has an abrasive action on teeth and helps to keep them clean. If you feed dried food regularly, ensure there is plenty of fresh drinking water available.

It is possible to clean a cat’s teeth, but it needs to become accustomed to this when young. Preparations such as “Logic” toothpaste can be rubbed onto the cat’s teeth and does not require use of a brush.

Claws

As well as checking teeth and gums, check claws regularly and trim them if they become overgrown. An older cat may no longer wear down its claws as quickly as it once did and more frequent trimming may be needed. Overgrown claws can snag, sometimes causing injury as the cat tries to pull the claw-free. Badly overgrown claws will cause discomfort and problems with walking.

Waterworks and Bowels

Keep an eye on the cat’s water bowl. Although older cats tend to drink more water anyway, dramatically increased thirst can indicate kidney problems, which are more common in cats as they grow older and their kidneys work less efficiently, or cystitis. Cats with cystitis pass tiny amounts of urine, sometimes bloodstained, more frequently. Cystitis causes discomfort and must be treated by a vet. Cats with kidney disease can be put on prescription diets if the problem is caught early. There are other reasons a cat might start to drink more so any unexplained increased thirst should be investigated and diagnosed by a vet.

What goes in must come out so keep an eye on the cat’s litter tray or toileting area. Learn to recognize what is ‘normal’ for your cat (some cats naturally produce softer stools than others) and be alert for signs of worms, constipation, diarrhea or bloodstained stools. Do not delay in seeing a vet if you spot anything abnormal. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration.

Vomiting

Cats sometimes regurgitate their food, especially if they have bolted it or have scavenged something unsuitable. Some will eat grass to promote vomiting. Cats, particularly longhairs, tend to bring up hairballs unless groomed regularly. Cases of unexplained vomiting which last for more than 24 hours or are accompanied by diarrhea or other symptoms should be referred to your vet. If untreated, vomiting can lead to dehydration. It may also be a symptom of poisoning. Both vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration if not treated.

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