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The Golden Years - Care of Your Senior Cat

Online Tutorial Lesson 1: Better Health Through Nutrition

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Picture of happy senior cat Raleigh

Happy senior cat Raleigh

Photo Credit: © Pat Wolesky

Whether we call them "geriatric," "older," or "senior," it is always difficult to watch our old guys and ladies age. Senior cats suffer many of the same conditions and diseases as older humans, but careful management can vastly improve their quality of life.

These lessons will guide you step-by-step through the roadblocks to those happy Golden Years your cat deserves.

As older cats become more sedentary, they often tend to gain weight if continued on their normal diet. Excess weight can be contributory to a number of conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.

The other side of the coin, of course, is that anorexia and sudden weight loss can cause fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis), which is a very serious condition. Managing your elder's nutrition is something that should be developed through close work with your own veterinarian, taking into consideration the "whole cat," i.e. other diseases that may require special dietary formulas.

As older cats can easily become dehydrated, it is also important that they alway have plenty of fresh, cool, water.

Now, for an administrative detail:

You'll undoubtedly have questions about one or more of the lessons. I can't always answer questions by email, due to the sheer volume of my in-box. However, you can find the answers you need, along with a huge outflowing of support, on the About Cats Forum. Your assignment this week is to join the forum. I hope to see you there!

Weigh Regularly and Choose the Right Foods

Subtle changes in weight can be indicative of serious underlying conditions, and for that reason, ideally, your cat should be weighed monthly after reaching the age of ten years. Many veterinarians will perform this service for free, or you could invest in a scale which give small enough increments for close monitoring.

Top "Lite" Cat Foods

There are several excellent weight reduction foods on the market today. Before choosing one, you need to determine that it contains the nutrients that your older cat needs, including fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. Most "lite" cat foods increase the amount of fiber while lowering the amount of fat, and sometimes, protein. These are my top choices for "lite" foods for cats.

Appetite Loss and Anorexia

Geriatric cats are prone to a number of diseases and conditions, and one of the more common ones is Fatty Liver Syndrome (FLS) AKA Hepatic Lipidosis, which is an accumulation of fats (lipids) in the liver tissue. The direct cause of primary FLS is rapid weight loss, particularly in a formerly obese cat. This article explains FLS, and offers suggestions for coaxing an older cat to eat.

A Word About Dietary Supplements

With a nutritious diet, supplements should not be necessary for your cat. However, in some cases when a cat is fussy, just "off his food," or when you notice his coat is dull and lifeless-looking, a supplement may help. Always check with your veterinarian first, before giving any supplements to your cat. Do not self-diagnose. Some supplements may interfere with the action of medications, and some may be downright unsafe for your particular cat.

Urinary Tract Health and Diet

To those of us who have been blessed with healthy cats, it is a devastating blow when urinary tract disorders rear their ugly heads. Unfortunately, these conditions are common and they can sneak up quickly with tragic results if you are not consciously watching for the early symptoms. Learn more about FLUTD (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorders) with the linked article.

Foods for Urinary Tract HealthYou don't necessarily have to purchase a food marked specifically for urinary tract health. If you have a cat that's previously encountered FLUTD, your veterinarian may have already prescribed a food. Experts now generally believe that keeping a cat's urinary pH at 6.4 or less (slightly acidic) is more important than the ash and magnesium content of cat food, in preventing FLUTD. Fortunately, some foods now provide that information on the packaging.

Water, an Essential Nutrient

An ample amount of drinking water is critical for all mammals, even cats, who are descended from desert animals. The need for sufficient water is especially important for senior cats, who are prone to chronic renal failure. Water is vital to flushing out the kidneys of toxins. Learn more about the water needs of your cat.

Top Automatic Water Dispensers

With three cats, we'd be lost without our automatic water dispensers (we have one of each brand). Even with just one senior cat, an automatic water dispenser will provide clean, fresh water, which is absolutely essential for kidney health, as well as other body tissues. It's well worth the investment, especially if your cat does not normally drink enough water.

In Lesson 2, we'll learn ways to optimize the health and well-being of your elder cat.

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