As cats age, they tend to sleep more and become more sedentary. These changes are to be expected. However, changes in social behavior, mobility, appetite and litter box habits can signal something different. These changes, along with increased vocalization, are often signs of degenerative disease. We often refer to these felines as NAR (Not Acting Right) cats. If you have an NAR cat, it’s important to have your pet examined by a veterinarian.
There are five conditions that occur commonly in aging cats, which could explain NAR behavior.
First on the list is dental or periodontal disease, which can be very painful for your feline. Resorptive disease of the tooth is unique to cats. This can cause them to stop eating and lose weight. Even though dentistry requires anesthesia, the benefits of dental treatment for your cat can far outweigh the risks.
Second on the list is chronic kidney disease. As cats age, loss of kidney function is very common and this results in an elevation of chemical waste in the blood and the inability to hold body fluid appropriately. The toxic effect of accumulated waste leads to diminished appetite and the loss of body fluid leads to dehydration. This condition affects 50% of all cats over seven years of age and 75% of the cats over the age of ten. Chronic kidney disease usually progresses slowly and your vet can help you effectively manage this condition with diet, fluids and medications.
Next on the list is thyroid disease. This condition involves increased thyroid hormone levels and usually affects cats over the age of ten. Thyroid disease has a devastating impact on a cat’s body if not treated. Cats with hyperthyroidism initially display increased activity and appetite, giving the illusion of health. Over time, vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss creep into the picture. The weight loss can be rapid and profound as the disease progresses. Heart, kidney and liver disease are also part of the decline. The good news is that thyroid disease can usually be cured with medications, surgery, or radioactive iodine treatment.
Degenerative joint disease is fourth on the list. This condition is very painful for a cat and often causes irritability, loss of mobility, decreased socialization, litter box avoidance, weight loss and excessive grooming over the joints. As cats age, the cartilage in the joints deteriorates. This leads the change in the underlying bone and osteophytes form which are painful. Fortunately, there are supplements and medications for pain that can make a big difference in the quality of life for cats with degenerative joint disease.
Last on the list is cancer. Lymphoma, mammary cancer and oral cancer are common cancers in aging cats. Symptoms can be as vague as diminished appetite and activity. A thorough exam, blood work and imaging may be needed to identify this disease. Some cancers respond well to therapy and some do not. Palliative care and hospice are sometimes the best alternative. As with any cancer, early detection and therapy will improve outcomes.
Originally published January 2015 in the Lake Norman Citizen