Last Updated on March 18, 2021 by Julia Wilson
A senior health check is a bi-annual or annual veterinary check to monitor an older cat’s health and pick up changes early so that they are easier to manage. Cats are expert at hiding signs of illness and pain, and senior health checks are beneficial to diagnose changes and reverse or at least slow down their progression.
Senior pet health examinations are similar to annual exams younger cats have but are more in-depth.
When is a cat considered senior?
A cat is considered senior from 10-12 years of age; however, this can vary from cat to cat. We recommend bi-annual health checks for all cats over seven years.
A disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue. Cancer occurs most frequently in middle-aged to senior cats. Common cancers include:
A painful condition in which the shock-absorbing cartilage which cushions the joints wears down and is eventually lost. Studies have revealed the following:
- 20% of cats over 1 have some signs of arthritis
- 60% of cats over 6 have arthritis
- 90% of cats over 12 have arthritis
Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease is an inflammatory infection that leads to the destruction of the supporting gums and bones and eventual tooth loss.
One of the leading causes of death in senior cats, chronic kidney disease is the gradual loss of kidney function over months or years which causes a build-up of toxins in the blood.
A cataract is a clouding/opacity of the lens within the eye, which reduces the amount of light reaching the retina, causing vision impairment and eventually blindness.
Also known as cardiovascular disease (CVD), heart disease is a collective term for diseases that affect the heart and the heart vessels. Heart disease can be a silent disease with many cats showing no outward signs of disease.
The end result of heart diseases is heart failure, which may be left-sided or right-sided, however, in late-stage heart failure, both sides are usually affected.
A common disease where the cells build up a resistance to insulin, a hormone necessary for glucose to enter the cells. As a result, glucose levels build up in the bloodstream.
Also known as thyrotoxicosis, hyperthyroidism (FHT) is an endocrine (hormonal) disorder that is caused by the overactivity of the thyroid gland due to a benign tumour that speeds up your cat’s metabolism.
Liver disease is a collection of diseases, all of which result in damage to the liver leading to impaired function.
Cats of any age can develop liver disease. Portosystemic shunt or toxic hepatopathy (ingestion of toxins or drugs) are more common in younger cats while primary cancers usually occur in cats who are ten years or older.
What does a senior health check involve?
As with every health check, the veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination on the cat, and look for signs of age-related problems. This will include:
- Complete oral examination
- Weight and body condition
- Evaluate the musculoskeletal system
- Check the skin for lumps and bumps
- Ophthalmic (eye) exam
- Check joint mobility
- Listen to the heart and lungs
- Feel the size and shape of the kidneys
- Take a blood pressure reading (if they don’t, ask them to as this test is under-utilised)
In addition to the physical examination, a medical history is important and can include:
Have you noticed any changes to the cat?
- Slowing down
- Eating more or less
- Changes to litter tray habits
- Urinating more or less
- Lumps or bumps
- Unexplained bleeding or discharge
- Reluctance to jump
- Sleeping more or less
- Bumping into furniture or sudden clumsiness
What is the cat eating?
Dry food, wet food, raw, prescription?
Is the cat on regular parasite control?
Is the cat on regular worming and flea medication? What about heartworm and tick preventatives?
Is the cat indoor or indoor/outdoor?
Risk factors increase in cats who go outside; this includes increased exposure to parasites and dangers, especially as the cat ages and hearing and eyesight decrease.
Have you noticed any other changes?
A senior health check provides the opportunity to discuss lifestyle and nutritional changes which can help the cat. For example, making small modifications for cats who have arthritis to make them more comfortable, how to manage weight gain or loss, and the use of therapeutic diets to manage underlying conditions.
What is the benefit of a senior health check?
If caught early, most diseases are easier to treat, and in some cases cure. Cancers can metastasise to other parts of the body; serious damage can develop in organs with kidney disease, heart disease, liver disease. Diagnosing these diseases in the early stages can slow down their progression and improve the quality of life.
For example, treating cancer before it has spread has a much better outcome than once it has metastasised to other parts of the body (commonly the lungs). Because symptoms of kidney disease don’t become apparent until 70% of kidney function is lost, early diagnosis can make it easier to implement changes to slow down the progression of the disease.
How to prepare
If you have any questions, write a list before the appointment as it is easy to forget at the time. Also, make a note of any changes in behaviour or symptoms you have noticed.
The importance of diagnostic workup increases with age as most age-related diseases can be cured or at least slowed down with early intervention.
Baseline tests: Complete blood count, biochemical profile and urinalysis are baseline tests that can provide important information on the overall health of the cat.
T3 and T4 tests: The most common test measures T4 concentrations in the blood. Medical conditions (especially chronic kidney disease), nutrition and medications can all affect T4 levels. 90% of symptomatic cats will have an elevation in T4 hormones, which is sufficient to diagnose hyperthyroidism.
Fecal test: A test on a small sample of feces to look for intestinal parasites.
What happens next?
If the results come back normal, all is good; if anything unusual is found, then, the veterinarian will call you or schedule a visit to discuss findings.