Those changes your older cat is going through may be age-related, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something about them. Here’s what I told a reader who has concerns about her elderly cat’s behavior.
Q: My 17-year-old indoor cat is eating less than she used to, and she doesn’t come downstairs as often. Is this just a normal part of aging for cats?
A: Your cat isn’t just a senior; she’s in the geriatric stage of life. Cats at this age — and younger — are likely experiencing chronic kidney disease, diagnosed in nearly a third of cats 15 years and older. Cats with CKD tend to lose their appetite and are often dehydrated. Cats this age also typically have arthritis. That can make it painful for them to walk around, jump up, or go up and down the stairs.
Your cat needs a veterinary exam and blood work to see if she is actually experiencing CKD, arthritis or some other common disease of aging cats. If she has CKD, your veterinarian will recommend a special diet to help manage the disease and may recommend giving intravenous fluids. You can learn to give fluids at home; most cats accept it well when they’re handled appropriately and rewarded when fluids are administered.
One way to encourage your cat to eat is to gently warm her food. Cats may have a reduced sense of smell as they age, and warming food enhances the aroma and makes it easier to recognize as food. You can also add a little chicken broth or tuna juice to whet her appetite. If necessary, your veterinarian may prescribe an appetite stimulant.
Dental disease may be another reason your cat is reluctant to eat. If her teeth hurt, she may not want to pick up and chew pieces of dry food. Try offering canned food instead.
Finally, for cats with arthritis, good pain medications are available to help them move more comfortably. Minimizing arthritis pain can dramatically improve your cat’s quality of life.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.