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Diseases that Target Older Cats

Nurturing Your Senior Cat, Part 2


Picture of Shannon, FIV+ Cat

Shannon, who was FIV+ and had CRF

Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy
Older cats are subject to many of the same diseases that affect humans more often after a certain age. Diabetes, kidney disease, heart problems and cancer number among the more serious diseases that can strike the elderly cat. On the plus side, many of these conditions can be treated successfully, and your cat can continue to live a relatively normal life.

Diseases to Watch For


Feline Diabetes Mellitus presents as one of two types: Type 1, caused by the insufficient production of insulin, and Type 2, related to the body's cells inability to handle insulin efficiently. Although diabetes can strike cats of any age, it is more prevalent in older, obese cats, and is found more often in male cats.

    Warning Signs:
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Loss of weight due to the body's inability to handle glucose
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Poor skin and coat condition
  • breathing abnormalities
  • Dehydration

    Treatment and Management:
  • Diet and Weight Control
    A diet high in fiber and complex carbohydrates is recommended for obese diabetic cats, not only for the purpose of weight reduction, but to help control blood glucose levels. Your veterinarian can recommend the best form of diet for your cat, taking into consideration any other physical problems.
  • Insulin by injection
    Ideally, your veterinarian will conduct and 18-24 hour blood glucose profile to determine the amount and frequency of insulin injections. This test is done in hospital, and consists of injections of insulin followed by close monitoring of the blood glucose values.
  • Oral medications
    A diabetic cat in otherwise good health may be treated sucessfully using an oral hypoglycemic medication.
  • Careful monitoring of glucose and insulin levels. An overdose of insulin can create hypoclycemia, a potentially fatal condition. Symptoms are lethargy, weakness, followed by incoordination, convulsions, and coma. This condition can be counteracted by giving the cat its normal food if it is able to eat, or a bit of Karo syrup rubbed on the gums, followed, of course, by a trip to the veterinarian.

Hepatic Lipidosis- Fatty Liver Disease

Hepatic lipidosis develops when a cat suddenly quits eating, or loses weight too rapidly. Large quantities of fat cells mobilize in the liver, which is unable to utilize them. Fatty liver disease can also occur along with diabetes. The exact cause of fatty liver is not yet known, and it can only be diagnosed through a liver biopsy. Some veterinarians claim that hepatic lipidosis can be fatal within 24 to 48 hours, left untreated but the good news is that hepatic lipidosis can be reversed and the liver regenerated.

Although Fatty Liver Disease is not limited to senior cats, it is prevalent in them for a couple of reasons:

  1. Older cats sometimes tend to overweight, and when put "on a diet," lose weight too quickly.
  2. For various other reasons, senior cats often develop anorexia, and the resultant rapid weight loss causes fatty liver disease.

    Warning Signs:
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite)
  • Listlessness
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling of the abdomen

    Treatment and Management:
  • Forced feeding
    This is accomplished by placing a feeding tube into the cat's stomach. Your veterinarian will then prescribe a diet to be fed through the tube. This diet may consist of a high quality canned food mixed with water, Nutrical, electrolytes, or other nutritional supplements. The important thing is to get weight back on the cat. Generally, cats that are force-fed will eventually gain back their appetites and start eating on their own. This may take from two to six weeks, depending on the cat.

Next > Kidney Disease, Hyperthyroidism, & Hypertension

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