An estimated 20% of pet cats in the U.S. are at least 11-years-old, and many make it into their geriatric years, which start at age 15. That’s about 76 in human years. But can cats maintain their health as they age, and what steps should be taken to prevent the deterioration of their mental, social and physical wellbeing?
A new issue of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery is devoted to answering that question. In the journal, several feline-health experts review the latest research on everything from musculoskeletal health to cognitive functioning and provide resources for veterinarians and cat owners to use to monitor the animals as they age.
In one paper, veterinarians from Cornell University, North Carolina State University and several other institutions provide detailed blood-count reference intervals for evaluating cats over age 7. They also explain how to recognize cognitive changes in behavior often referred to as “DISHA,” or disorientation, interaction, sleep/wake cycles, house-soiling and activity.
The authors note that such changes in cognition often begin between the ages of 10 and 12 and are similar to DISHA patterns in dogs. For example, cats may get lost inside their homes or fail to use their litter boxes. They estimated that 50% of cats over the age of 15 show behavioral changes.
The researchers also provide assessment tools for evaluating weight, body condition, muscle mass, and dental health, as well as hearing and other senses. Some age-related changes may disturb cat owners, including lenticular sclerosis, a change in eye density that often causes a bluish haze to appear on the surface of the eye. But the condition doesn’t affect vision and, in fact, it’s associated with healthy aging in cats, they explain.
The authors also pinpoint unanswered questions about cat health that they believe should be the basis of future research, such as energy usage. They note that most cats do not have outdoor access like dogs and people do, which may make it difficult for them to balance their calorie intake with physical activity. "There is a great need for additional research to better elucidate the relationship between food intake and energy balance in senior cats,” they write.
Co-author Sally Perea, a veterinarian in Lewisburg, Ohio, said in a press release accompanying the publication of the special issue that she hopes it will provide a “focal point for initiating future clinical research.”