Senior Cat Care

November 23, 2018

It was brought to our attention that we hadn’t blogged about cats yet. We were so excited to have a Burmese kitten and a Scottish Fold kitten come in the same week. We made up our kitten folders with oodles of information and have been going through those faster than our puppy folders!

I thought I’d blog about the most common diseases we see in middle aged to older cats and what to watch for and the importance of early testing and annual exams. 

By far, the three most common diseases we see are: diabetes, kidney disease and hyperthyroidism.  The clinical signs of all of these can be very similar but for very different reasons.  I want to empower cat owners with knowledge of what to look for and let you know that with a little gentle handling and patience, getting blood and urine samples from your kitty can be stress and fear free.   

Diabetes is caused by a deficiency of insulin (which is normally produced in the pancreas). The main symptoms are excessive drinking and urinating and weight loss (which can be quite rapid). Without insulin, tissues cannot absorb glucose and so glucose stays in the bloodstream and can’t be used by the body. Diabetes in cats may not be permanent, so it is very important to start with restricted carbohydrates in the food and glargine insulin and monitor very closely.  You will need to give insulin by injection and preferably monitor blood sugars at home (don’t worry this is easier than you might think and we are more than happy to teach you and answer any questions or concerns you may have). Empowering owners to care for their diabetic cats to avoid unnecessary repetitive visits is paramount. 

In consultation with feline internal medicine specialists over the years, they report that feeding canned food really helps with regulation of blood sugar and you’d be surprised which diets are low carbohydrate and might be recommended. I have a list if you are interested.  Cats are carnivores and require fewer carbohydrates that is typically supplied in commercial cat food. Ultra low carbohydrate diets are often high in fat though, which promote obesity, so it’s important to review your choices with your veterinarian. If your cat is a dry food-aholic, go to for some great tips. 

Hyperthyroidism is a very commonly diagnosed hormone imbalance in cats. Thyroid hormones set the body’s metabolic rate. Hyperthyroidism is caused by a typically benign growth in the thyroid that is over producing T4. About 3-5 percent of hyperthyroid cats do have a cancerous growth.   There are many clinical signs of this disease, but the hallmark is weight loss despite a great appetite. Some cats will be more vocal, drink more and urinate more, some will have intermittent vomiting and diarrhea. A blood panel can reveal hyperthyroidism and assess liver and kidney function which is very important. An exam to check body condition, heart and oral health is very important. 

There are many treatment options. An excellent resource of information is Radioactive iodine, daily oral or transdermal methimazole and diet restricted in iodine are the mainstays of treatment. Owners want to know what causes hyperthyroidism. It appears to be multifactorial, but some theories link canned foods, litter, household chemicals, indoor vs outdoor and genetics.

Kidney/Renal disease means that the kidneys are not keeping up with their daily work. Loss of kidney function can be mild, moderate or severe. A very quick review of what the kidneys do: water and protein conservation, toxin removal, calcium/phosphorus and electrolyte balance, blood pressure regulation, and red blood cell production.  As you can see, good kidney function is super important.  The most common clinical signs are drinking and urinating more, occasional vomiting, decreased appetite and weight loss.

Your veterinarian may want to run several urine and blood tests to be able to accurately stage kidney disease and give you good advice on treatment.  The most important parameters when we analyze a urine sample is the specific gravity, protein and ensuring there is no evidence of infection. A failing kidney will result in more water-like urine (less yellow) and possibly protein.  There are three blood markers for kidney disease: urea (BUN), creatinine and SDMA. SDMA is a newer test and helps us detect loss of kidney function earlier that creatinine can, which is very helpful because as we all know early detection of disease is the key to success. 

Blood pressure monitoring in cats is very important because undiagnosed hypertension can lead to advancing kidney and heart disease. We work hard to provide a calm environment in order to get the most accurate blood pressure possible. We have a portable machine that we can bring into the exam so your pet doesn’t need to leave your side. 

Treatment depends on which jobs the kidneys are failing at and how and how bad the loss is. Treatments typically include dietary management including ensuring good hydration and blood pressure control.  

I hope this blog has been helpful.  We typically recommend a geriatric blood panel and urinalysis for all cats over the age of 8. Early detection of disease is the best way to have control over these chronic diseases. 

Dr. Robin Rainford.

Come, Sit, Stay, Heal at RainTree Veterinary Hospital