In the United States, cats are more popular than dogs yet they receive less than half the veterinary care provided to their canine counterparts.
This deficiency is likely driven by many factors, including:
- The myth of feline self-sufficiency
- Mixed signals from the veterinary profession regarding feline health and welfare
- The remarkable ability of cats to mask signs of illness
- The perceived value of cats in our society
- Even something as fundamental as the difficulty in getting Fluffy into the carrier
Another reason for lack of veterinary care could be that owners of indoor cats assume because their kitties never leave the house, they aren’t exposed to potential health hazards the way dogs are.
There’s some truth to that theory, but even pampered indoor cats need regular wellness exams to help them stay healthy.
An organization dedicated to the welfare of cats, the nonprofit CATalyst Council, in conjunction with American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), recently developed a tool to help pet owners and veterinarians better understand the health needs of cats at all stages of their lives.
This tool, called the Feline Life Stage Guidelines, is as comprehensive a document as the current state of research allows. Unfortunately, feline health studies are rare, and there is very limited data available on what types of problems are most apt to develop at each stage of your kitty’s life.
Older cats can present a special problem. Often, traditional veterinarians will run routine diagnostic tests on an elderly cat with poor body condition.
If the test results are normal, the health workup stops there, when further investigation of less obvious conditions could make a huge difference in the cat’s life.
Your older kitty could be dealing with multiple health issues, each of which must be addressed in order to improve and extend the quality of his life.
Cat Life Stages
The following categories were developed by the Feline Advisory Bureau and adopted by the AAFP:
|Life Stage||Age of Cat||Human Equivalent|
|Kitten||1 to 6 months||1 to 10 years|
|Junior||7 months to 2 years||12 to 24 years|
|Prime||3 to 6 years||28 to 40 years|
|Mature||7 to 10 years||44 to 56 years|
|Senior||11 to 14 years||60 to 72 years|
|Geriatric||15 to 25 years||76 to 116 years|
Health Considerations for Every Stage of Your Cat’s Life
Regardless the age of your feline companion, her good health and quality of life will depend on several factors including:
- Nutrition and weight management. Your kitty’s health begins with what goes into her mouth. Ideally, she should be eating a species appropriate raw or minimally processed diet containing high quality protein and sufficient moisture content.
Your cat’s perfect weight will depend on a number of factors including her breed, activity level, and any underlying health conditions. You should consult your holistic veterinarian about the optimal weight for your kitty and how many calories she needs to consume per day to achieve and maintain that weight.
It’s a good idea not to keep a continuous supply of food available for your cat. Cats are natural hunters, not grazers. If you leave food around for her to eat whenever she wants, you’ll turn your hunter into a grazer -- and very likely an overweight one. If your cat is currently overweight, you can find solutions to the problem here.
- Environment and behavior. Your cat needs adequate exercise, play time, and mental stimulation. Most indoor cats – especially kittens and juniors -- make good use of climbing trees, scratching posts, hiding spots, elevated rest areas, and toys that encourage natural behaviors like stalking and hunting.
As your cat ages, easy access to soft, warm napping spots will become increasingly important.
Kitties have claws, and how you manage scratching behavior can have a tremendous impact on the quality of your cat’s life (and the condition of your valuable belongings).
How well your cat adapts to his litter box is another very important consideration. Litter box problems are the most common behavioral complaint of cat owners, and they can occur at any stage in your kitty’s life.
- Dental care. Tooth and gum-related diseases are extremely common in both dogs and cats. What many pet owners don’t realize, however, is problems in the mouth can lead to more serious systemic health conditions. Your kitty will require home and veterinary dental care at each stage of her life.
- Parasite control. Another reason for regular visits to your holistic veterinarian is to determine which if any parasites present a risk to your cat’s health, and to implement preventive measures as required.
I strongly encourage you to visit a holistic practice rather than a traditional vet facility to insure your cat is not over treated for either the prevention or elimination of parasites. Check here for a list of holistic veterinarians in your area.
- Vaccination. This is another area of pet care where you will often see holistic veterinary practitioners veer away from traditional recommendations.
There are significant medical risks associated with over vaccinating your pet. It’s very important for your cat’s overall health and longevity that you not get sold on an overblown, dangerous and unnecessary schedule of vaccinations.
Further discussion and my vaccine recommendations can be found here.
How Often Should I Take My Cat to the Vet?
Ideally, I recommend semi annual (twice yearly) visits to your holistic veterinarian. This may seem over cautious, but there are several good reasons for twice yearly checkups including:
- Changes in your kitty’s health can happen in a short period of time.
- Sick cats often show no signs of illness, but early detection allows for early intervention.
- Semi annual visits give you and your holistic vet the opportunity to closely monitor changes in your kitty’s behavior and attitude that require further investigation.
I also recommend you perform regular at-home physical exams on your cat to learn what’s normal and what’s not. This will allow you to really stay on top of your kitty’s health, and if you can only manage an annual visit to your veterinarian, at-home exams will help alert you to changes in your feline companion’s health in between checkups.
If Your Kitty is Getting Up in Years
Older cats – those in the mature and especially senior and geriatric life stages – require regular health and behavior monitoring to insure they remain in the best possible condition as they age.
As your older kitty slows down and perhaps develops osteoarthritis or another condition that makes movement more difficult, you’ll want to ensure she has easy access to her food and water bowls, favorite napping spots and her litter box. This might require moving her bowls from the counter to the floor, or replacing her high-sided litter box with one she can more easily climb in and out of.
Monitor her for subtle changes in behavior that might signal a health problem, such as increased sleeping, decreased activity, signs she’s feeling pain somewhere in her body, or odd activities like hiding in unusual places.
Keep an eye out as well for signs of mental confusion and increased vocalization.
Monitor her food and water intake to insure she’s receiving enough of both, but not too much. Excess calories will make her overweight, and excess thirst can be a sign of a serious underlying health condition. Also watch her as she eats for any sign of mouth soreness due to a dental problem.
As you can see from the life stages chart above, your aging kitty has the potential to live into her twenties. She needs your help to insure all the years of her life are healthy, happy ones.