Geriatric Cats
Whether you call these patients geriatric or (as some feline practitioners insist) "mature," special considerations are required in evaluating, examining, hospitalizing, and generally caring for older felines. However, veterinarians must understand that old age is not a disease, it is a stage of life.

None of us would be happy with our physicians if we went to their offices complaining about an ache or pain, lump or bump and were told, "You are just getting old, and there's nothing we can do about that." Like humans, cats do develop problems associated with advancing age. We veterinarians must be aware of these common problems so that we can recognize and treat them specifically and enhance our feline patients' longevity as well as their health in their "golden years." The objectives of a managed program of feline geriatric health care include recognizing and controlling health risk factors, detecting preclinical disease, correcting or delaying the progression of existing disorders, and improving or restoring residual function.

Aging is obviously time dependent; however, various tissues age at different rates, depending on their cell and organ type. Some types of cells (e.g., nerve tissue) have little or slow regenerative capacity. Other tissues (e.g., epithelial cells) generally have a good regenerative response. Kidneys have a great reserve capacity, as does the liver. Myocardium is much less forgiving of injury. Environmental effects, including husbandry (diet, housing, medical care), also have a great impact on longevity. Feral tomcats have an average life span of three years, whereas castrated male house cats can live well into their late teens or early 20s with proper care.

Genetics may also play a role in feline longevity, although this has not been well documented. Some highly inbred cats may be more likely to have heritable defects in organ development or function or immune system defects that may limit longevity.

Owners often ask veterinarians to compare "cat years" to "human years." A figure that is commonly used is seven cat years for each calendar year; however, this rule of thumb is not completely accurate. Feline development through puberty to young adulthood is accomplished over a period of about 18 to 24 months, rather than 21 years as in humans. Thus, the cat's first calendar year is more like   ..... [Read complete article]

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