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The Changing Needs of Senior Cats

Caring-for-Senior-Cats

Cats are wonderful, mysterious creatures. And that's just two of the many reasons we love having them as a part of our family! On the other hand, cats are notorious for masking symptoms of disease, which can make determining their health needs increasingly challenging as they age. The signs are there, however, if we know what to look for. In what follows, we'll review the signs and reveal several things pet parents can do to optimize their cats' nutrition as they age.

When are Cats Considered Senior?

Generally speaking, cats can be considered senior if they're somewhere between 7-10 years of age. There is not one specific age, largely due to differences in quality of nutrition and the varying health states of individual cats. Unlike dogs, which have a wide variation in aging due to size differences between breeds, cat breeds all age at about the same rate.

Common signs of aging in cats include decreased jumping due to arthritis, weight changes (either gain or loss), changes in sleeping patterns, changes in drinking and/or urinating behavior, and cognitive changes such as seeming disoriented or lost. Although these symptoms are associated with age, they also reflect disease processes. If your cat exhibits any of the above symptoms, visit your veterinarian to make sure that you're not dealing with a dire medical condition that might require immediate treatment! Better safe than sorry.

Dogs vs Cats - More Differences

While older dogs have decreased energy needs, the same is not true for cats. The caloric needs of cats decrease until age 11, then start to increase again (which is why you see many obese 9 year olds but very few obese 16 year old cats). Cats are obligate carnivores so their nutritional needs are very different from omnivores such as dogs and people.

Protein & Fats

Senior cats may not digest protein and fat as efficiently as they age. Thus, the takeaway here is that not only the quantity, but the quality of protein and fats, matters. If protein intake remains too low, your cat may experience impaired immune function and muscle wasting. Digestibility is the key obtaining nutrients from foods, so it’s best to feed high-quality protein sources that are easily absorbed by a gut that may not be performing at optimal levels.

Senior-Cats-are-Awesome

Four Age-Associated Diseases You Need to Know

Diabetes is usually associated with obesity. High-protein, lower-carbohydrate diets can help blood sugar stabilize and reduce the need for insulin. Weight loss greatly improves the condition. Signs of diabetes include increased drinking and urination, sudden weight loss. Note that these symptoms are very similar to those of hyperthyroidism, another common disease in older cats.

Dental disease can make it harder for cats to crunch on kibble, leading to weight loss secondary to pain. Soft foods can help minimize oral pain. Signs of dental disease include reddened gums, bad breath and tartar.

Hyperthyroidism: a very common disease in elderly cats that is also associated with heart disease. Diet can help these cats maintain weight, but this is a disease that is best treated with medication, surgery, or radiation. Many cats do very well with treatment.

Renal disease: while kidney disease is often treated with protein restriction, this may not be the best bet for all cats. Too little protein can result in weight loss and muscle breakdown. Some cats benefit from phosphorous-restricted diets to reduce strain on the kidneys, but these decisions are best made in conjunction with your veterinarian. Signs of kidney disease include decreased appetite, weight loss, bad breath, vomiting, dehydration and increased urination.

Nutritional Challenges in Older Cats

As your cats age, they're at a higher risk of diminished appetite due to medical conditions, a loss of smell and taste due to age, all of which can lead to muscle wasting. Pet parents can help with warming food, soft food (canned is often more aromatic than kibble), or adding gravies or meat-based baby foods to improve smell and flavor.

Older cats are prone to dehydration, so getting enough water in them can be a challenge. Again, adding canned or soft foods may help, as does providing multiple water stations throughout the house.

Don't forget that premium supplements such as omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants can help address some of the signs and symptoms of aging.

So What's the Bottom Line?

As we've seen, cats are a mystery and sometimes a challenge. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to senior diets in cats, so each kitty should be evaluated on an individual basis to come up with a diet plan that will help them live their longest, happiest and healthiest lives!

Dr V
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM

Four Pet Trends to Look for in 2019

Does your dog have her own dedicated Twitter following? Is your cat a fabulous Instagram star? Do you find yourself skimming the trades to make sure your puppy or kitten will have the freshest, from everyday chic wear to the slickest tech toys? If so, trends are def your thing.

Now that 2019 is well and truly underway, we're taking a closer look at pet trends for the coming year. Specifically, we'll check out four distinct areas: smart tech, alternative health, special diets and emotional health.

So, without any further ado, let's check out what's hot and what's not for doggos and kittehs for the immediate future. To view the full-size PDF, simply click on the image below. And be sure to share this handy infographic with other like-minded pet parents, too!

Four-Pet-Trends-for-2019Four-Pet-Trends-for-2019

Kitty Play Time

In last month's episode of Pet Talk, Dr. Sarah provided us with fun and simple ways to tap into a cat's innate problem solving skills while helping avoid the behavioral and physical consequences of sedentary living. If you missed this video on making safe but fun DIY toys for cats, be sure to watch that next.

This month, Sarah’s back with more in-depth info on why it’s important for your cat to have regular play times. It’s partly due to their unique evolution, but also because their minds require stimulation for a long and healthy life.

Be sure to share this video with friends and family, especially if they are cat lovers. And, please leave your comments if this Pet Talk episode is helpful to you.

Feline Food Fun

Who among us hasn't started munching on a bag of chips to suddenly and unexpectedly find the bag empty? Just like us guilty humans, cats will often overeat due to boredom or stress. In this month's episode of Pet Talk, Dr. Sarah provides fun and simple ways to tap into your cat's innate problem solving skills while helping avoid the behavioral and physical consequences of sedentary living.

These DIY toys will both keep kitty's body busy and let her use her predatory instincts to exercise her brain. So, get ready to dig into your recycling bin and replace some of those feline snack habits with fun and games!

Be sure to share this video with friends and family, especially if they are cat lovers. And, please leave your comments if this Pet Talk episode is helpful to you.

The Special Bond Between Cats and Women

Girl playing with cat on rug

Have you ever wondered why women and cats have such strong relationships? Specifically, why some women (a very few, mind you) tend to collect large numbers of cats? While you’ve heard the term “crazy cat lady”, you never hear of “crazy gerbil ladies” or “crazy ferret ladies”!

In fact, some behavioral researchers wondered the same thing. A recently published study in the journal Behavioral Processes indicates the answer lies in a special bond that exists only between cats and women. Scientists from the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna took a hard look at the behavioral interactions between 41 cats and their human companions, using individual personality assessments of both their human and feline subjects. Their findings might very well cause a paradigm shift in our understanding of these relationships. 

Rather than being standoffish and selfish (as cats are often portrayed), the study showed that there was real attachment between cats and their pet parents. Of course, any cat parent will tell you these findings are not surprising in the least. As expected, the cats demonstrated food-seeking behavior, but the researchers also noted that cats and their people signaled each other when they wanted to receive or even give affection. Cats also demonstrated that they were able to keep track of how their physical and emotional needs were being met. Further, felines were more likely to remember kind gestures and respond to their human companion’s emotional needs if the human had previously responded to their own.

While these interactions were noted with both women and men living with cats, cats clearly approached women and initiated contact (i.e. jump in laps) more often than with men. In fact, a cat’s relationship with a woman mirrored that of a human-human bond more than a human-animal bond, in that cats could tell their humans when to feed and interact with them and the humans would do it! Like a human infant, cats were seen to control when they were being fed. It is interesting to note that a cat’s mewl for food sounds eerily like that of a human infant.

The results of the study showed that cats and their pet parents, particularly women, influence each other strongly. In some ways, they can actually control one another’s behaviors. "A relationship between a cat and a human can involve mutual attraction, personality compatibility, ease of interaction, play, affection and social support," said co-author Dorothy Gracey of the University of Vienna. "A human and a cat mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other's inclinations and preferences." While I wouldn’t go so far as to say cats can manipulate women, the results of this study certainly provide food for thought.

Knowing that cats have a much shorter evolutionary history of living with humans than dogs makes these findings even more astounding! Is it possible that women who provide homes for many cats simply cannot help themselves? There are so many new questions! Obviously, this study only scratches the surface of the complexity found in human-cat relationships. So, the next time you interact with your cat, I challenge you to ask yourself who is really running the show.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

References

Wedl M1, Bauer B, Gracey D, Grabmayer C, Spielauer E, Day J, Kotrschal K. Factors influencing the temporal patterns of dyadic behaviours and interactions between domestic cats and their owners. Behav Processes. 2011 Jan;86(1):58-67. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2010.09.001. Epub 2010 Sep 15.