Once your cat has reached the age of seven, it is considered a senior pet. We hope that you have many healthy and happy years together, and we strive to be there at each step of the way. Below are basic guidelines for what to look out for as your feline pet becomes older. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask us.
Changes in Senior Cats
As pets advance in age, they can develop health issues related to the internal organs — kidneys, thyroid, urinary tract, endocrine system (e.g., diabetes, Cushings disease), neurological systems, vision changes, and other conditions such as arthritis. We recommend exams every 6 months as well as blood work and a blood pressure to detect health problems before they start to cause medical problems. Sometimes additional tests — such as x-rays, ultrasound, or further diagnostic testing — may be necessary to investigate your pet's health issues.
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Deworming/Fecal Tests for Senior Cats
Older cats who are indoor only are less prone to parasites, but can catch them from hunting mice in the basement or from fleas. Outdoor cats are much more prone to parasites from hunting, ingesting or rolling in soil and then grooming themselves. We recommend a fecal exam once to three times a year depending on risk, and anytime your pet is experiencing vomiting or diarrhea. Your cat's parasites can be passed to you! Always wash your hands after playing with cats or cleaning the litterbox/handling fecal matter.
Retroviral Testing for Indoor and Outdoor Cats
Outdoor cats should be tested yearly and every cat should be tested anytime we are concerned about anemia, problems with the immune system, or recent wounds. It can take 4-6 months for a test to be positive after exposure. If your cat has been outdoors, consider retesting a second time 4-6 months after the first test.
- Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is a virus which is passed between cats through bite wounds, sharing food/water bowls, nose-to-nose contact, or from mother to kittens in utero. From diagnosis, prognosis is poor and life expectancy is less than 2 years. There is no treatment, but it can be prevented with a yearly vaccine.
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and is transmitted from mother to kittens in utero or via bite wounds/scratches from infected cats. There is no cure at this time, but most cats can do well for many years if properly managed. Some cats are predisposed to dental infections, delayed wound healing, and certain types of cancer. FIV positive cats should have exams twice a year and annual vaccines.
Recommended Feline Vaccines
- Distemper Vaccine (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calici Virus, and Panleukopenia – also called FVRCP) — This prevents some highly contagious (and sometimes deadly) respiratory viruses. If your cat has been appropriately vaccinated as a kitten and adult, it is probably on a schedule to receive the vaccine every 3 years depending on its risk/exposure.
**Note: Many cats from crowded shelters or hoarding situations are already infected with Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (feline herpes) virus prior to vaccination. These cats may have chronic upper respiratory infections or eye infections. The vaccination cannot fully protect these already-infected cats, but is still recommended to reduce the frequency of clinical signs.**
- Rabies Vaccine — Rabies is an incurable, fatal neurologic disease that is passed from wildlife and outdoor pets through bite wounds. Rabies can be transmitted from animals to people and is fatal. The rabies vaccine is extremely effective and required by Massachusetts state law. After the initial vaccine, you can elect an annual rabies vaccine (safest) or a 3-year vaccine. To be eligible for the 3-year vaccine, it must be given within 9-12 months of the initial vaccine. Pet owners should be aware that the 3-year vaccine carries a 1 in 5000 risk of fibrosarcoma (a vaccine-related cancer). We offer a safer, yearly rabies vaccine called Purevax which does not carry the risk of fibrosarcoma. You can choose to switch from the 3-year vaccine to the safest yearly rabies vaccine at any time. This vaccine must be boostered anytime your pet has a wound of unknown origin. If your pet is not up to date on its rabies vaccine, a quarantine period may be required.
- Feline Leukemia (FeLV) — FeLV vaccine is given as a series of two vaccines three weeks apart and then once a year, and it should be started if your cat starts going outside. Cats must be tested for feline leukemia prior to the vaccine, and then should be tested yearly if going outdoors and in contact with other cats. We offer the safest yearly FeLV vaccine available (Merial Purevax FeLV Vaccine).
Spaying/Neutering Your Cat
We recommend spaying or neutering your cat between 4 and 6 months of age. It is extremely important that we spay female cats before their first heat cycle to reduce the chance of mammary cancer in the future. Older female cats can be spayed to avoid uterine and ovarian cancer and uterine infections (pyometra), but may already have a higher risk of mammary cancer. Older male cats can be neutered to reduce the risk of testicular and prostate cancer and prostate enlargement and to help behavioral issues such as urinary marking.
Microchipping Your Pet
Did you know that a microchip is the only way to prove ownership? It is also the only way to permanently identify your cat should it escape your house or get lost. Even indoor cats should be microchipped. A natural disaster, burglary, or a forgotten door can let your cat escape. If found, a quick scan by a veterinarian or animal shelter will help connect you to your cat.
Proper Nutrition & Diet for Cats
Like many human foods, pet foods are frequently re-formulated and occasionally recalled due to ingredient impurities. We recommend signing up for the newsletter of your cat's food brand to receive recall notices more quickly.
Cats are greatly affected by the quality and type of diet. We know that feeding a cat properly can prevent many health issues such as diabetes, urinary tract and gastrointestinal problems. There are many available diets, both prescription and over-the-counter, that can be appropriate for different stages of your cat's life and medical conditions.
Feeding Cats Over 7 Years Old
As with younger cats, we recommend feeding 1/2 wet 1/2 dry food, unless they have a medical condition with special dietary needs. Senior cats often have ailments such as kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, and dental disease for which we recommend more, if not all, canned food (and often a specific type of food for their condition). Senior cats also battle dry skin and constipation — canned food is great for keeping up hydration as they age. If your cat is healthy, it's a great idea to get it "used to" canned food. Your feline pet will then be prepared for the special foods it needs later in life.
How To Change Your Cat's Diet
Please change your pet's diet VERY SLOWLY, so it doesn't get an upset stomach, diarrhea or vomiting. Any transition should be over a minimum 5-7 day span, sometimes even more slowly (over a month) for more sensitive cats. We recommend feeding 25% new food and 75% old food on days one and two; 50% new food and 50% old food on days three and four; 75% new food and 25% old food on days five and six; and 100% new food on day seven (adjust as needed for slower transitions). Some cats are so sensitive that a new treat can cause an upset stomach.
Did You Know?
Because nutrition is so important to us at Fresh Pond Animal Hospital, active clients are welcome to request a free diet plan/nutritional recommendation tailored to your cat's specific needs. We also pair this with free monthly weight checks with our nutritional counselors to make sure we are successful if your cat is on a weight plan.
Heartworms come from exposure to mosquitoes and can lead to lung disease and death. Even indoor-only cats can develop heartworm disease if mosquitoes come into the house. All cats should receive a monthly heartworm preventative. Options include Revolution or Heartgard. Monthly heartworm prevention is recommended by both the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).
If your cat goes outside or you have a dog in the house, flea control is extremely important. Fleas carry multiple parasites that can make your cat very ill. We recommend Revolution monthly to control fleas, ear mites, and intestinal parasites. If they go outside, it should be applied monthly all year long. You need to use caution with the products that you use on your dog, as some can be toxic to cats.
Feline Dental Care
It is important to keep your cat's teeth healthy for life. We recommend brushing the teeth daily, offering dental treats, and feeding dental food when they reach the age of 1 year. Many cats need regular dental cleanings during their lifetime to keep their teeth healthy.
Please keep all strings, dental floss, ribbons, yarn, and sewing thread away from cats unless they are supervised. These can be deadly if swallowed. Also avoid having any lilies in your house — one taste can be deadly to cats.
Managing Pet Care Costs
Owning a cat can be expensive, but with a little planning ahead, you can make things a little easier. Below are a few options that are available for pet care expenses.
- Pet Insurance — Pet Insurance is something every pet owner should consider. Many plans offer either wellness benefits (covering a percentage of vaccines, wellness care, and elective procedures), emergency/injury benefits, or both. Some have restrictions if you pet is above a certain age or is experiencing an illness or chronic condition.
- CareCredit — This is a veterinary and dental exclusive credit card which can be used for unexpected expenses. Depending on how much you spend, you can get 6-18 months interest-free to pay off the balance.