Offer your clients the guidance they need to enhance their feline companion’s quality of life and longevity throughout the aging process.
As animals grow older, their ability to function can decline – sometimes significantly. Pet parents are understandably concerned, hoping to keep their aging cats comfortable and as healthy as possible. As veterinarians, we can make life easier by offering practical take-home advice.
Let them know that a certain level of decline is normal
A little bit of reassurance can go a long way toward giving clients peace of mind. Help them understand that cats can suffer from age-related feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD) that can contribute to a variety of issues including:
- Aggressive reactions
- Changed social behavior with the pet parents and other pets in the home
- Altered sleeping patterns
- Forgetting where food is or eating less
- Grooming less
- Forgetting where the litter box is located
- Eliminating near eating areas or sleeping areas
- Seeming lost in familiar locations or wandering aimlessly
- Seeming uninterested in interactions or suddenly seeming clingy and overdependent
If cognitive dysfunction is present, you can explain that medication might be able to help. Selegiline hydrochloride (Anipryl®) is used to treat cognitive dysfunction in dogs, but there is anecdotal evidence from vets and behaviorists concerning its ability to improve functioning in cats with FCD. Nicergoline (Fitergol ®) and propentofylline (Vivitonin ®) might be appropriate choices as well.
Editor’s note: Propentofylline and Nicergoline are not licensed/available for use in the US.
Encourage clients to keep aging pets comfortable at home
Even when cognitive functioning seems normal, vision changes, hearing changes, and mobility challenges call for special accommodations. Geriatric cats might appreciate:
- Night lights in important areas such as near the litter box, food, and frequently-traveled routes throughout the house
- Area rugs or yoga mats placed on slippery sections of floor
- Stick-on scent markers such as Tracerz® can help blind cats find their way around
- Warming beds to comfort aging, achy joints
- Litter boxes with low sides for easier access
- Additional litter boxes placed where they are easy to find and access
- Pheromone therapy to help with anxiety
- Anti-anxiety medications to ease worries and help reduce the loud, repetitive vocalizations that can accompany cognitive and physical decline
- Ramps to access favorite resting spots such as the sofa or a window seat
Encourage proper nutrition
Some pet parents might not realize that the right food can help cats stay healthy and comfortable as they age, so be sure to mention therapeutic diets if they are warranted. Mention the increased importance of hydration for stable kidney functioning and recommend switching to wet food from dry when cats might not be drinking quite enough.
In addition, you can explain that supplementing with glucosamine and chondroitin can help improve joint comfort, particularly if these supplements are added before time takes too much of a physical toll on the cat’s body.
Stress the importance of regular visits
Pet parents can help their cats stay comfortable and healthy by taking them for more frequent checkups – every six months or so instead of just once a year. Regular bloodwork, urine testing and physical examinations often catch problems in their early stages when they’re easier to control and less costly to treat. Finding and correcting problems early means less stress for cats and their human companions alike, as well as improving quality and length of cats’ lives.
With compassionate guidance from veterinarians, pet parents can face aging issues from a well-informed place. Knowing what to expect and how to approach problems empowers clients and makes it easier for them to give geriatric cats a better quality of life.