Geriatric cats

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Geriatric cats

As cats grow older, it isn’t always easy to determine which changes are typical of the aging process, and which could be a sign of something more serious.

Once cats reach 15 years old, they’ve entered the ‘geriatric’ stage of life – but, many live on to their late teens and some even into their 20s. To help pet-owners and veterinarians understand what is normal or what may indicate deteriorative changes, researchers have published a new study that better defines what ‘feline healthy ageing’ really looks like.

At 15 years old, a geriatric cat is the age equivalent of a 76-year-old human. And as advancements in veterinary care continue to emerge, the average feline lifespan continues to increase, leading to a growing population of ageing cats. Normal signs of ageing include changes in attitude, activity, appetite, sleep, and cognitive ability.

A healthy aged cat should still be able to play and jump, though with reduced height of the jump, and will retain a healthy body weight with minimal loss of muscle mass or changes in body fat. As they grow older, cats will commonly experience thinning of their fur, and even develop patches of hair loss. As in humans, a cat’s hair can turn white with age – but their whiskers may turn black. Along with this, the researchers say reduced self-grooming can lead to scaly skin and a dry or oily coat with a dull appearance.

Geriatric cats may also develop brittle claws, and experience a decline in their ability to smell, hear, and see. But, these signs are healthy so long as they do not ‘require ongoing care and vigilance’, and do not impair social behaviours or interfere with daily activities, the experts explain in the article “Evaluating Ageing in Cats”. While changes to their coat and eyes may seem alarming, the experts say these are often linked to healthy ageing. ‘The most common visually apparent change in healthy aged cats is an increase in the density of the central portion of the lens as it ages,’ the authors wrote.

Elderly cats will also show changes in their teeth, as the dental walls thicken. This leads to greater tooth density, causing teeth to appear yellow, tan, or off-white, and they may even develop a glassy or transparent appearance. But, a healthy aged cat should not have gum disease, fractured teeth, tooth resorption, oral inflammation, or oral masses, the experts warn. 

Researchers say this work can help to provide assessment criteria for vets, as they urge the importance of health evaluations for ageing cats. ‘As in humans, many of the changes that occur with ageing in cats are not considered pathological and do not negatively affect overall wellness or quality of life,’ the authors point out.

‘However, ruling out disease is essential when attempting to determine whether an aged cat can be considered healthy.'

Credit: Sourced and adapted from article at 


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