Health checks in older cats

Cats are considered to be mature when they reach the age of 7 and elderly once they reach 11. Senior cats are defined as those aged 11-14 years of age and geriatric cats are those aged 15 years or more. When caring for older cats it sometimes helps to appreciate their age in human terms. The first two years of a cat’s life are equivalent to 24 human years and every year thereafter is equivalent to 4 human years. Therefore, a 16 year old cat would be equivalent to an 80 year old human.

‘Old age is not a disease’

Often a problem which you suspect is due to the advancing age of your pet may actually be the result of a treatable medical condition.

  • A cat that has ‘slowed down’ may be suffering from arthritis or cognitive dysfunction.
  • A pickier appetite may be an early sign of kidney disease or dental pain.
  • Weight loss can be due to several conditions including kidney disease, diabetes or hyperthyroidism.

As cats get older there are changes to a cat’s physiology, behaviour and vulnerability to particular health problems. These include: 

Many of these conditions do not show symptoms early in their course, and at this early stage are only identifiable through testing, and are likely to be progressive. The earlier a problem is detected the better it can be managed improving longevity and quality of life for your cat. Many common conditions can be diagnosed with a clinical exam and laboratory screening therefore regular Health Checks are advisable. These could be combined with your annual vaccinations.

If you feel that your cat is actually showing signs of ageing or any symptoms of a problem, we would recommend booking an appointment.

We offer a “Wellness Package” which decreases the cost of initial screening tests. For more information please visit the Wellness Package for cats Page.

Our Recommendations

(Remember 3 months for a cat is like 1 year for a human)

For cats over 7-10 years old:

  • Annual health check by a vet (this is already included as part of annual vaccination and health check)
  • Annual blood pressure measurement
  • Annual urine test

For cats over 11 years old:

  • Six to twelve monthly health check by a vet
  • Six to twelve monthly blood pressure measurement
  • Annual urine AND blood test

Dietary Considerations

With age, the nutritional requirements of your cat will change. Older cats are often less active, but also less efficient at absorbing and processing nutrients from their food meaning they may simply struggle to eat enough calories. We can recommend specially-prepared diets tailored to your cat’s individual requirements.

Royal Canin Senior Consult Diet 

  • Stage 1 – for mature cats (greater than 7 years) without obvious signs of aging. Contains Vitality Complex – a range of antioxidants to reduce free radical damage and other ingredients to promote urinary / kidney health and mental activity.
  • Stage 1 Balance – for mature cats without obvious signs of ageing and a tendency to gain weight – a lower calorie but high fibre version of Stage 1 to reduce appetite and limit energy intake.
  • Stage 2 – for mature cats showing some signs of ageing. Contains the Vitality Complex (as above) as well as mobility support (glucosamine, chondroitin and green-lipped mussel extract).
  • Stage 2 High Calorie – for mature cats showing some signs of ageing and a tendency to lose weight – as Stage 2 but with increased energy density and higher fat levels.
  • Kidney disease
  • Arthritis
  • Dental Disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive Thyroid)
  • Cognitive dysfunction (‘dementia’)
  • Diabetes
  • Constipation
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Cancers

Kidney disease

Early signs of kidney disease can be quite non-specific and may be put down to ‘old-age’. Initially all that may be evident is mild weight loss, but as the disease progresses other symptoms may begin to show including poor appetite, obvious weight loss, lethargy and dehydration. An increase in drinking and urination may be seen in some cases. Inappropriate urination may also be a sign.

Early detection and treatment can dramatically improve your cat’s quality of life and longevity.

Diagnosis is relatively straight forward and involves a urine test and a blood test.

Treatment includes a prescription food and a dietary supplement, and in some, but not all cases, tablets. Occasionally your cat may need to be hospitalised and placed on intravenous fluids.


Initial signs may be a general ‘slowing down’, reluctance to jump, poor grooming over the hindquarters and/or changes in temperament and interaction due to discomfort. You may also notice long claws as your cat is less able to stretch his or her legs out to keep them worn down. A number of treatments are available. Treatment can slow the progression of the disease and ease the associated pain.

Treatment options include:

  • Joint supplements – chondroitin, glucosamine and essential fatty acids (EFAs)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
  • Injections – weekly for 4 week course, then every 6 weeks
  • Environmental modification – for example making sure they don’t need to jump up high to reach their bed.
  • Royal Canin Mobility food – contains green-lipped mussel extract, glucosamine and chondroitin
  • Therapeutic laser
  • Acupuncture
  • Other pain relief medications. (DO NOT USE HUMAN MEDICATION AS MANY OF THESE DRUGS ARE TOXIC TO CATS! We have medications that are designed for long term use in cats, which are safe and well tolerated)

Dental Disease

Dental disease is a very common problem in older cats. Signs can include reluctance to eat, dropping food, salivation, pawing at the mouth and bad breath. Often owners do not recognise the discomfort their pet has been in with a sore mouth until they see the change in their pets after treatment with increased activity and interaction.

Build-up of tartar on the teeth leads to sore gums and infection. A sore, infected mouth can lead to problems eating and infection can spread and cause disease in other organs such as the heart and kidneys. Infection in the mouth means that your cat is swallowing bacteria constantly which can also lead to vomiting and diarrhoea. Older cats need an increased calorific intake and so discomfort while eating will lead to weight loss.

There are many options available to improve the health of your cat’s mouth.

Initial treatment may involve a general anaesthetic to scale and polish teeth. Any diseased teeth may require removal. At Animates we offer a fixed price Dental Scale and Polish

Following this we can formulate a plan that suits you for on-going dental care. This may include brushing your pet’s teeth, special dental diets and treatments for the drinking water to reduce further problems.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure can be caused by a number of underlying diseases.

Left untreated it can damage the:

  • kidneys
  • liver
  • heart
  • eyes

It can lead to a rapid deterioration in general health and well-being and loss of vision.

Once diagnosed; regular checks and treatment with daily tablets can vastly improve your cat’s longevity.

Hyperthyroidism (overactive Thyroid)

Hyperthyroidism is a common condition in middle aged to older cats where the thyroid gland becomes overactive. It is usually caused by a benign growth or overgrowth of the thyroid gland that leads to excessive production of the thyroid hormone.

Thyroid hormone is responsible for a number of functions in the body and regulates the basal metabolic rate. Excess hormone leads to weight loss despite an increased appetite, high blood pressure and further problems associated with this. If left untreated structural changes can occur within the heart and heart failure can develop.

There are a number of effective treatment options following diagnosis. Most commonly we treat hyperthyroidism with oral medication which can keep the condition well controlled and improve your cat’s quality of life and longevity. There are other treatment options available that can be discussed with the vet including surgery, radioactive iodine therapy or a prescription diet.

Cognitive dysfunction (‘dementia’)

Metabolic processes in the body are constantly producing harmful by-products called free radicals which in a young animal are neutralised by anti-oxidants. In older animals, free radical production increases but unfortunately the amount of anti-oxidants decrease. This leads to excessive amounts of free radicals which can damage cells within the brain.

Your cat may show signs of being:

  • more restless
  • pacing behaviour
  • disorientation
  • vocalisation
  • decrease in interaction with you
  • show signs of inappropriate toileting behaviour

Specialised supplements are available to help reduce free radical damage and improve nerve transmission in the brain. This helps to improve your cat’s energy and feeling of well-being.


You may notice signs of weight loss, despite an initially increased appetite, drinking more and urinating more. Diabetes is simple to diagnose with a blood and urine sample initially.

Treatment usually involves twice daily insulin injections. The needles are tiny and often your pet won’t even feel them. A prescription diet can really help to keep the condition well controlled.


Difficulty defecating and constipation can become a problem in older cats. This may be due to previous pelvic injury or other intestinal-related diseases. Chronic constipation can be difficult to manage but there are formulated diets and medications that may help with this condition.

Occasionally enemas may be necessary, and if the constipation is particularly severe this may be under a general anaesthetic.

Urinary incontinence

Cats are prone to urinary tract problems at all ages. Younger cats can develop urinary crystals which can lead to cystitis or blockages (particularly in males). Stress can also trigger problems such as cystitis.

Older cats are prone to urinary tract infections as urine concentration decreases with reduced kidney function.


Sadly cancer becomes more common as cats age, and like other diseases a cat with early cancer may not show signs of ill health. You may notice a ‘lump’ or the vet may be able to feel one when feeling your cat’s abdomen at a health examination.

It is also possible that abnormalities may be picked up on laboratory screening, suggesting further tests to check for cancer should be considered.

While some types of cancer are obviously very serious others, if found early, are more treatable than you may imagine, for example simply removing it surgically.

Please ask if you would like further information or advice on any of these conditions. If you are concerned your cat may be showing signs of a problem book in for an appointment with the vet for an examination. The earlier these conditions are diagnosed the better they can be treated.

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