Inevitably, time catches up with cats. Should your pet survive beyond seventeen years, it is doing very well indeed. Very few reach one score, although the longest record at present stands at thirty-four years achieved by a tabby queen from Devon. Certainly cats tend to live longer than dogs – the oldest recorded dog reached twenty-seven years and the majority do not pass sixteen years.
Old cats need special attention and understanding. After years of faithful companionship, it would be a churlish owner who did not give a thought to coping with feline geriatrics.
Venerable cats change physically and frequently become rather thin. This may be accompanied by a change in appetite, with an increased or decreased demand for food. They may become more thirsty. Certainly some of these changes are the result of a failing liver and kidneys, conditions which, in the absence of other symptoms, are difficult for the vet to deal with.
If your cat’s appetite increases, give more food at each meal or, better still, more meals daily. High-quality protein food (fish, meat, and poultry) and a variety of vegetables and fruit are essential for the pussy pensioner. Give more water or milk if it is wanted, as denying the increased thirst would be dangerous.
Age may bring fussiness, and increased amounts of high-quality protein may produce bowel sluggishness and constipation, as happens in some old people. Although oily fish like tinned pilchards help the free movement of the bowel, the basic fault generally is that, in providing rich and tasty morsels to the old-timer, owners do not give enough bulky roughage, the stuff that gives healthy exercise to the intestines. A little mineral oil (paraffin oil) mixed with the food can be used occasionally as a laxative (say two teaspoonful once or twice weekly), but the regular daily use of paraffin oil is bad, as it cuts down absorption of vitamins A, D, and E in its diet.
If Puss will not take fibre in its food in the form of bran of crumbled toasted wholemeal bread, the daily use of a bulk-acting granular laxative is the answer. An ideal one is made from certain plant seed husks. When mixed with meat or fish, laxatives of this type are usually accepted by cats. Once swallowed, the seed husks absorb liquid and swell, becoming bulky enough to stimulate contraction of the lazy intestine-wall muscles.
In old age a special watch should be kept on the mouth. Clean the cat’s teeth once or twice weekly, (see The mouth – Common Ailments section). Regular servicing by the vet throughout life should have stopped the build-up of tartar, but a fondness for soft snacks in Pussy’s dotage may encourage rapid tartar formation with secondary gum damage, inflammation of the tooth sockets, and loose teeth. Catch these things early because septic areas in the mouth and bad teeth can only contribute to kidney and liver degeneration. General anaesthesia for major mouth surgery (multiple extractions, etc.) can be risky in old age, so do not neglect mouth hygiene in earlier years.
There is a tendency for cats to lose personal pride when past their prime. Puss either forgets or cannot be bothered to groom itself. Groom daily with comb and brush and, with longhaired cats, watch out for knots building up in the coat.
Some old warriors lose control of their bowels or waterworks in the odd occasion. This may be forgetfulness, or it may be that the nerve control of the valves involved is weakening. If accidents becomes troublesome, let your vet check the animal. Cystitis can be a cause of involuntary “leaking” and should be treated. Lazy bowels may simple need more of the bulk content already mentioned.
Deafness or failing eyesight usually arise gradually, if at all, and the owner should be able to compensate for the loss of these senses. For example, remember that a deaf cat cannot heat if you are moving furniture, vacuuming the carpet, or bringing a strange dog into the room – all potential dangers in the immediate vicinity from which a cat with good hearing will quickly remove itself. If you have a blind cat, keep its food dishes in the same place and protect it from open fires and similar dangers; also try to avoid re-arranging family furniture.
Although there is no elixir of life available yet for man or his pets, there are some drugs, which the veterinarian may prescribe, that can counteract some of the symptoms of old age. One such drug is sulphadiazine, which is claimed to combat senility, lack of luster, graying of hair, and general lack of interest and vitality where such signs are due solely to old age. There is also a range of anabolic hormones that encourage tissue building, oppose wastage of bodily protein, speed the healing processes, and generally increase appetite, alertness, and activity. The vet must decide whether your cat is suitable for treatment with any of these compounds.