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Common senior cat disorders

Updated on October 8, 2008

Kidney health remedies

Common disorders affecting elderly cats



Believe it or not, your cat has reached its golden years. It did not seem too long ago when he was a small furball playing in your living room, yet here he is already in his geriartric age. Cats age gracefully nowadays, especially those kept indoors. Humans have done a great job in preserving cats and keeping them young. Years ago when cats were mostly outdoor creatures, their life span was short usually not many made it over 6 years old . Today, they reach an average or 13-14 years and even 17 in many cases.

If you want to grant your cat a happy, healthy life it is vital learning to recognize warning signs of potential problems. This can be accomplished with the help of your vet by scheduling twice a year health screenings. It is also helpful to keep track of your cat's weight and report any sudden changes to your vet. Below are listed some symptoms to watch for indicating some common senior cat disorders.


Increased drinking

Increased urination



weight loss

Dropping food out of mouth

Refusing dry food


Increased hunger


Swollen abdomen



Nighttime howling


Seen mostly in over weight cats, a cat with diabetes will exhibit increased drinking and increased urination, increased appetite and yet weight loss.

As the disease progresses the cat will lose appetite and appear malnourished. Following in advanced cases, there may be vomiting, weakness, a sweet breath, dehydration, lethargy and even diabetic coma.

Treatment consists on insulin injections on a daily basis. In most cases, dosage is adjusted accordingly by having the cat hospitalized a whole day for a blood glucose curve. Cats require a small dose of insulin, have your vet explain dosage and method of administration. Too much insulin may cause an insulin overdose and the opposite problem, hypolglycemia.

Obese cats should be put on a diet such as Hill's reduced diet, R/D and meals should be offered in small quantities spread throughout the day.


Most cats reach some level of kidney disease as they age. The kidneys are generally the first organs to deteriorate in cats. Since cats live longer lives nowadays, it is very common to see cats with kidney failure in vet's offices.

Unfortunately, most cats start exhibiting symptoms of kidney disease once they have already some level of kidney damage. However, when symptoms are swiftly recognized, prompt treatment may post pone organ failure for many months or even years. The first warning signs of kidney disease are increased drinking and increased urination. Because the kidneys are no longer functioning properly they lose ability in conserving water. Cats may be seen going more often than usual in the litter box and even going around the house. This is not a behavior issue.

If left untreated the toxins will build up and eventually the cat will suffer uremia, meaning a major toxic build up of waste that can ultimately bring the cat into a coma and prove fatal. Signs of worsening kidney disease are: lethargy,inapettence,weight loss, a brownish tint to the tongue, ulcers on tongue and gums, and an ammonia like breath.

Cats with kidney disease are generally prescribed a good kidney diet such as Hills' K/D. Canned food low in protein is particularly beneficial in providing extra moisture to cats that do not drink much. A drinking fountain may encourage finicky drinkers. Sub cutaneous fluids are a must in cats suffering a certain extent of this disease. An owner may be taught how to do this at home if the owner feels comfortable in doing so. Moderate exercise is beneficial, however strenuous exercise may be more harm than good.


This is often confused with kidney disease since it produces increased drinking and increased urination. However, there are two distinguishing factors: it occurs typically in unspayed queens and the condition is accompanied by lethargy, and a distended yet firm abdomen. There may be as well a vaginal discharge in some cases. This is a medical emergency requiring emergency surgery.


As years go by teeth may be affected by periodontal disease and general decay.

Many times vets will decide to have your cat go for a dental cleaning. If your cat is healthy the anesthesia and whole surgery ordeal may be not an issue. Discuss with you vet the pros and cons and ensure your cat gets pre-anesthetic blood work.

Signs of dental issues are halitosis (bad breath), drooling, dropping food out of the mouth, reluctance to eat especially dry food, preference for moist canned food. Hill's t/d diet is a good dry food to keep cats on to prevent dental decay. However, once dental decay sets in the only option may be a good dental cleaning and extractions if necessary. Left untreated harmful bacteria from teeth may travel in the blood stream and affect vital organs as the heart, liver or kidneys.


This disease can be tricky to be diagnosed until more prominent symptoms arise. A cat affected may eat excessively making owners mistaken this for good health. However, a cat with hyperthyroidism also develops irritability, restlessness and vomiting. Weight loss is common despite the increased appetite and food consumption.

A thyroid blood test may confirm or rule out this condition. If a diagnosis for hyperthyroidism is made then the cat must take thyroid pills for life, have the thyroid gland removed or undergo a one time radioactive iodine treatment.


A senior cat may develop a pot bellied appearance. Many owners believe their senior cat is simply obese, however a larger than normal abdomen may indicate something more serious than simple fat. Ascites is the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen due to some malfunction from the heart, liver or kidney. Have a veterinarian investigate any suspicious abdominal swelling.


As cats age their joints may suffer from arthritis. An arthritic cats may not be able to jump up as before. They may appear stiff especially in the morning.

Sleeping on hard surfaces may make the arthritis worse, it is great to prepare a nice comfy and warm bed for your arthritic cat. Medications may be prescribed by your vet, such as Cosequin.


Elderly cats usually do not get much exercise and their bowel movements may reflect this. Add as well that senior cats are not the best drinkers so you can easily picture a constipated senior cat. Hairballs due to over grooming in over stressed senior cats may also aggravate the situation.

Senior diets available in pet stores usually have a good dose of fiber.

However, it is vital to distinguish a cat straining for a bowel movement from one straining to urinate. A urinary blockage with little or no urine output is a medical emergency especially in male cats.

Once it is sure that a cat is constipated, it is important to help the cat pass the stools by giving some hairball remedies or a little bit of plain canned pumpkin. In some cats a bit of milk will do but it may create the opposite problem. However, a constipated cat should not be under estimated as there may be something serious going on like an intestinal blockage due to a foreign body ingestion or a large hairball. Chronic constipation may lead to mega colon, requiring continuous enemas. Never use an over the counter enema as these can be toxic.


As cats age just as humans their cognitive functions may deteriorate. Cats may suddenly forget where their litter box is and may soil around the home. In some cases, the cat may get lost in the night and get disoriented and start to howl. Cats may particularly get distressed when furniture is rearranged.

A cat howling in the night feels better if it is reassured and a special night light may be kept on. Feliway products may be helpful in keeping the cat calm.

Senior cats may be able to age gracefully if proper care is provided. Recognizing early warning signs may prevent potential problems from progressing or even arising. Tender loving care works wonders for your feline companion allowing him/her to enjoy its golden years in the comfort of its familiar surroundings along with his/her beloved owner.


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    • thehands profile image

      Jorge Vamos 

      8 years ago

      As my cat got older, she started to lose control of her bladder. That was probably the most noticeable thing. It's sad to watch our little friends deteriorate.


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