Caring For Your Older Cat

You can do a lot to ensure that your cat’s senior years are also golden ones. Your cat will be classed as senior from approximately 8-10 years old.

As your cat grows older it is important to be more observant about their behaviour. Start keeping an eye on them for any indications that they are beginning to feel ready to start taking things more steadily. Age related changes can creep in stealthily and may initially be quite subtle. It can be easy to miss them when you see your cat on a daily basis. Often it is when someone who hasn’t seen your cat for a while, comments on a change in their behaviour or appearance. This often happens when your vet sees them for their annual booster appointment.

Common signs of ageing:

  • Less active
  • Sleeping longer and more deeply
  • Less enthusiastic playing games
  • Reduced or loss of hearing
  • Impaired vision or blindness
  • Coat condition deteriorates
  • Muscle loss
  • Weakness in back legs

Joint Problems

Arthritis is relatively common in older cats although they do not often show the lameness signs we associate with dogs suffering from arthritis. This is because cats are relatively small and agile and they can hide and cover up mobility difficulties caused by arthritis.
Instead, affected cats are more likely to show subtle changes in lifestyle and behaviour. It is thought 20% of the UK cat population shows signs associated with arthritis. Because you know your cat best you are well placed to keep an eye out for the signs of this painful condition.

Freedom from pain can make a huge difference and this can be done using many different methods including anti inflammatories (pain relief), joint supplements, weight loss, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, acupuncture and physiotherapy.
Comfy beds are also important. Older cats tend to prefer to stretch out and may need an extra ‘step’ to help jump onto chairs or beds. They also prefer their beds to be in a quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of the house.

Litter trays should always be provided in the house, but an older cat may need extra trays as some control of bladder and bowel movements may be lost with age. Reduced mobility may result in a reluctance to walk too far to go to the toilet. The trays should always be large and shallow for easy access. Some have a dip at the front so cats can just walk in and out of them. Soft litter also tends to be better for older cats than wood pellets as it can be uncomfortable for cats to stand on.

Eating And Drinking

Older cats require a senior diet to help support them during their ageing process. Many cats lose weight and condition as they age. Sometimes this is due to deterioration in their sense of smell and taste but often it can be a sign of an underlying chronic disease like hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. Older cats often have increased water requirements and feeding wet food aswell as biscuits can help with this.
Fresh water should always be available. Sometimes an older cat will start to drink more than usual and in many cases this can be a symptom of kidney problems or diabetes. If you notice any of these changes you should arrange an appointment to come and see us.

Vaccination And Worming

Older cats immune systems become less efficient and weakened over time. Infections are picked up more easily and as a result, senior cats may not be able to fight off disease as well as they could when they were younger. We advise regular annual boosters in senior cats. Regular worming is also advisable, both for your cat’s health as well as your own.

Kidney Disease

Due to the ageing process important organs such as the kidneys may not function as well as they used to. It is important to detect these signs early and the warning signs are often increased thirst and urine production. Cats are three times more likely to develop kidney problems than dogs but most do not show signs of chronic kidney disease until 75% of the kidneys have been damaged. Regular check- ups by your vet along with urine and blood testing are vital to help detect the onset of kidney disease and we can help take steps to slow down the progression of the disease, allowing cats a longer and better quality of life.

Dental Disease

Dental problems are very common in older cats. Warning signs are smelly breath, reddening of the gums, salivation or chewing to one side. If left, it can lead to periodontal disease and loss of their teeth. The bacteria in plaque can even spread to other parts of the body and have been linked to heart, liver and kidney disease. If you notice any of these problems you should make an appointment to see your vet.
If severe dental disease is diagnosed, generally a general anaesthetic is required to scale and polish the teeth and remove any diseased ones. Many people worry about the risk involved with older pets having a general anaesthetic but although every anaesthetic carries a small risk, advances have been made in anaesthesia and it is now much safer. Intravenous drips and blood testing prior to anaesthesia also help. Many owners are amazed with the improvement of their cat’s quality of life once the pain of toothache has been removed.

Brain Changes

Older cats can suffer from signs of dementia and reduced brain function-cognitive dysfunction. Some of the first signs that can point towards senile changes are:

  • uncharacteristic aggression
  • confusion
  • staring into space
  • a reduced ability to cope with stress or changes in their routine
  • frequent and sometimes loud vocalisation
  • urination or defecating in inappropriate places
  • memory loss

It is thought over 50% of cats over 12 years old show signs of cognitive dysfunction.

We can support and hopefully improve the brain function by medication or dietary supplements so it is important you book an appointment to see your vet if you start to notice any of these signs.

Play should also be encouraged for an older cat as this provides exercise and mental stimulation. The games may not be quite as energetic as when they were a kitten but will be very beneficial for your cat.
Also make sure your cat is microchipped in case they become disorientated while out and about and cannot find their way home. If this is a problem consider trying to keep your cat indoors.

Grooming

Regular grooming can be helpful especially if your cat suffers from arthritis as this can make it painful for them to groom themselves. It also allows you to regularly check for any lumps and bumps and seek prompt veterinary attention if you are concerned. Regularly nail trims will also be required as older cats nails tend to grow thicker and longer. They are also less able to retract their claws and therefore more likely to become stuck in carpets.

Even if your older cat seems fine it is essential to take them to the vet a minimum of twice a year, instead of just the usual annual booster check up. This will aid in the early detection of problems as a lot of changes can happen in 6 months to an older cat. Blood and urine tests will also help to check all their vital organs are functioning properly. If you do spot anything, don’t put off booking an appointment because you are worried about what the vet may find. It is important problems are detected early to aid in treatment. Constant low grade pain reduces quality of life considerably and many owners are always amazed at the improvement of their cat’s wellbeing once their problem has been alleviated or controlled.
Early warning signs of health problems:

  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urine output
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Difficulty in movement
  • Incontinence
  • Lethargy
  • Unusual lumps and bumps
  • Behavioural changes
  • Discharges
  • Unpleasant odours
  • Hairloss
  • Uncharacteristic aggression
  • Senility with associated loss of memory

Our veterinary nurses also offer senior club appointments to help ease your pets into their mature and senior years as comfortably as possible. Why not answer our Senior Pet Questionnaire and come along and see us.

Click on the videos below to find out more about Cognitive Dysfunction and Caring For Your Older Cat.

Useful links:
Feeding Your Older Cat
Cognitive Dysfunction
www.royalcanin.co.uk

Caring For Your Kitten

1.Feeding:
From weaning age we recommend feeding a complete and balanced good quality kitten food until your kitten is at least six months of age. After this your cat can move onto an adult food to continue their optimum development. We recommend the Royal Canin range which is available from the veterinary practice and we will be happy to advise you on a suitable diet for your cat throughout their life. The food is specifically designed to provide the correct levels of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals for a growing kitten. The diets are fully balanced but always ensure there is a constant supply of drinking water available.

2.Vaccination:
This consists of a course of two vaccinations– one which is given at 8-9 weeks of age and the second which is given at 12 weeks. These protect against Feline Influenza, Feline Infectious Enteritis and Feline Leukaemia. To maintain your cat’s immunity against these diseases (which in some cases can be fatal) a yearly booster is required. We will send you a reminder when it is due but please make sure you keep their vaccination certificate in a safe place and make a note on the calendar when it is due!

3.Worming and Flea Control:
This  is necessary  for all  cats  throughout  their  life  not just when they are kittens. They should be wormed with a veterinary supplied broad spectrum multiwormer. Often supermarket and pet-shop wormers will only treat one or two types of worms so will not always be effective. Your kitten should be wormed every 2 weeks until they are 12 weeks and then once every 3 months thereafter. There are spot on treatments available for easy administration as well as tablets. To help you remember we will send you a reminder when the next dose is due!
We advise regular treatment for fleas all year round to prevent infestations. This is easily achieved by using a treatment available from the veterinary practice. Please feel free to ask for advice on the products which best suit your kitten’s situation.

4.Microchipping:
This is an extremely important way of identifying your kitten should they ever go missing. It is a permanent form of identification, which is especially important if your cat does not wear a collar or ID tag. A small microchip (about the size of a grain of rice) is inserted in the excess skin of your kitten’s neck. This chip contains a unique number which is read by using a scanner. This number is registered along with your contact details with the microchip database. It is important to inform the database if your details change. All stray animals are scanned and on reading the chip, the database would be contacted and you would be reunited with your cat as quickly as possible. Without this permanent method of identification your cat may not be traced back to you and may even be re-homed.

5.Neutering:
Our policy is to neuter both male and female cats from 4-6 months of age before they become sexually mature. This significantly reduces the number of unwanted litters and helps to eliminate medical and behavioural problems associated with entire male and female cats. Once your cat has been neutered you may need to reduce the amount of food they require as it is quite common for neutered cats to gain a little weight due to the change in hormones. There is a diet lower in calories available for neutered cats at the veterinary practice and we will be happy to advise you.

6.Dental Care:
We clean our teeth several times a day and have regular check ups with a dentist. Imagine what our mouths would be like if we didn’t- Cats are no exception! It is important to develop a dental care regime for your kitten at an early age, which you can continue throughout their life. The gold standard of dental care is to brush your kitten’s teeth once a day (usually at bedtime) with a special cat toothbrush and toothpaste.  Human formulas are not suitable as they require rinsing. Cat toothpastes are available in a range of flavours and your cat will probably regard it as a treat! These kits and other dental products, including  dental biscuits are available from the veterinary practice. We will be happy to advise you on the most suitable products for your kitten.

7.Pet Healthcare Plan:
Cinque Ports Vets Pet Healthcare Plan enables you to pay monthly for your preventative veterinary treatments. We all want to use the best products available for our pets and at Cinque Ports Vets we want to make preventative healthcare easy and affordable to help give you and your pets the best care possible. You also receive an overall saving on your pets’ vaccinations, healthcheck, worming and flea treatment as well as many other discounts as a reward for joining our scheme. The plan is available for dogs, cats and rabbits from any age and the monthly payment plan will be dependent on the bodyweight of your pet. Please see Pet Healthcare Plan or contact us for more information. Please be aware this is not an insurance policy but a preventative healthcare plan to help spread the cost of routine treatments which insurance does not cover.

8.Insurance:
Pet insurance is an essential requirement to help cover the cost of unexpected veterinary fees. Accidents can happen especially with inquisitive kittens! These can be expensive but being insured means you can have peace of mind. There are a variety of policies available to suit you and your budget and it is always important to read the small print!

9. House Training:
Most kittens will now have a good basic understanding of appropriate toileting behaviour. Their litter tray should be placed in a quiet corner of a room. A covered litter tray may be preferable to your kitten if they are shy and may be more inclined to use a private area. It is normal for your kitten to have accidents but it is important to remember not to tell them off. A variety of litter and litter trays are available. If you are concerned please feel free to ask for advice.


10. Grooming:
Handling your kitten regularly will improve their confidence and your relationship with your kitten. This allows you to look in their ears, check their teeth, open their mouth and examine their paws with ease which will become very important later on in life if medication is required for any problems. Grooming your kitten regularly (on a daily basis if long haired) will prevent their coat becoming matted and allow you to check for any problems.

Caring For Your Rabbit

1. Feeding:

Rabbits are herbivores- animals that need a plant based diet. The most important part of their diet which they require to stay healthy is fibre. If the wrong diet is fed, one that is low in fibre and high in carbohydrates, for example a commercial muesli mix, problems such as dental disease, facial abscesses, obesity, diarrhoea and furballs may occur. The best diet for your rabbit should consist of at least 99% grass and good quality meadow or timothy hay which should be available at all times. Greens such as broccoli, cabbage and watercress are also essential. Some rabbits fed on mainly commercial muesli mixes (high in sugar and starch) will only pick out the unhealthy, sweeter pellets of the mix leading to potentially fatal health problems.We recommend the Supreme Science Selective feeding range. This product is veterinary recommended because it contains the same amount of high quality nutrients in each individual nugget, eliminating the problem of selective feeding. Rabbits should only be fed a maximum of 25g of nuggets per kg per day as the nuggets are a complementary food. The bulk of their diet should be made up of hay and grass. We will be happy to advise you on a suitable diet for your rabbit.

2.Vaccination:

Your rabbit should be vaccinated against Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) (both strains RHD and RHD2) regardless of whether it is a house rabbit or not. These diseases can be fatal within several days of your rabbit becoming ill. Myxomatosis is spread by bloodsucking insects such as mosquitoes or rabbit fleas. Once infected, fluid filled swellings occur around the head and face leading to blindness. Swellings around the genitals and ears along with eye infections are also common. Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease is spread by direct contact between rabbits (wild and domesticated) and also via fleas, people, shoes and other objects. The vaccine is given from 5 weeks of age and a yearly booster is then required to maintain immunity.

A second strain of RHD has also been discovered, called RHD2. Rabbits infected with the RHDV2 virus typically DO NOT show the symptoms that are common with the original RHD virus so it is far more difficult to diagnose.

Fatality from RHD2 occurs later and over a longer period of time than RHD. Although RHD2 is less virulent than the original strain of RHD, its difficult early diagnosis actually means it is more challenging given rabbits can carry the disease for a longer period of time without any visible signs of infection. At present as we are not in a high risk area for RHD2 we are recommending yearly vaccination against the new strain. This can be given 2 weeks after the Myxomatosis and RHD  vaccination.

We will send you a reminder when the vaccination is due but please make sure you keep their vaccination certificate in a safe place and make a note on the calendar when they are due!

3.Worming and Flea Control: 

We recommend worming your rabbit with a veterinary supplied wormer available from the veterinary practice. This helps protect your rabbit against worms and a parasite called E.cuniculi. It can cause symptoms similar to that of a stroke leading to blindness, kidney failure and death. Not all rabbits that carry E.cuniculi show any signs of illness but they are still capable of infecting other rabbits that live with them either by their urine or passing it from mother to babies. Please ask for more information.
We advise regular treatment for fleas all year round once your rabbit is over 10 weeks of age. This helps  prevent infestations and helps protect against the spread of Myxomatosis. It is easily achieved by using a spot on treatment available from the veterinary practice. These are applied to the back of your rabbit’s neck and will treat any flea infestation for up to one week.

4.Neutering:   

Male and female rabbits can be neutered from four months of age before they become sexually mature. It is important to have your rabbit neutered if you are keeping both male and females together or if there are any behavioural problems such as dominance or aggression. Please see our information sheets on neutering for more information.

5.Dental Care: 

Rabbits teeth grow continuously as much as 10-12cm every year. Rabbits which are not fed a suitable diet are more prone to suffer from dental disease in the form of overgrown teeth, malocclusion (incorrect alignment of teeth) and tongue ulceration. This can be due to a lack of fibre in their diet to gnaw on. Regular dental checks by the veterinary surgeon are essential for early detection of these problems. Your rabbit’s nails can also easily become overgrown and should be closely monitored.

6.Flystrike: 

During the summer months your rabbit is at an increased risk of having Flystrike. This is caused by flies which lay their eggs on your rabbit usually in the hindquarters area. These eggs then hatch into maggots in as little as 12 hours burrowing into your rabbit’s skin and eating it away. The fly season generally runs from April to October so your rabbit could potentially be at risk most of the year. High risk rabbits are those that suffer from obesity, dental disease, diarrhoea, arthritis and those kept in dirty hutches that attract flies. It is always important to check your rabbit daily but during the summer they should be checked at least twice a day. If Flystrike is not treated early enough it can be fatal. Your rabbit can be protected from Flystrike for up to 10 weeks by applying a product available from the veterinary practice. We will be happy to advise you on the suitable treatment.

7.Pet Healthcare Plan:

Cinque Ports Vets Pet Healthcare Plan enables you to pay monthly for your preventative veterinary treatments and medication. We all want to use the best products available for our pets and at Cinque Ports Vets we want to make preventative healthcare easy and affordable to help give you and your pets the best care possible. You also receive an overall saving on your pets vaccinations, health check, worming and flea treatment as well as many other discounts as a reward for joining our scheme. The plan is available for dogs, cats and rabbits from any age and the monthly payment plan will be dependent on the bodyweight of your pet. Please see Pet Healthcare Plan or contact us for more information. Please be aware this is not an insurance policy but a preventative healthcare plan to help spread the cost of routine treatments which insurance does not cover.

8.Insurance: 

Although insurance is most commonly thought about for cats and dogs, insurance is also available for your rabbit. Pet insurance can be essential to help cover the cost of unexpected veterinary fees and there are a variety of policies available. Please ask for more information.

9.Grooming: 

Grooming is an important part of looking after your rabbit especially if they are long haired! Regular grooming will aid in early detection of problems such as Flystrike and also enable your rabbit to become accustomed to being handled and examined. Older or overweight rabbits may have difficulty in keeping themselves clean and become matted around their bottom. It is normal for rabbits to eat their softer droppings (caecotrophs) usually at night as this is also an important part of their high fibre diet. If they become overweight or unable to groom then problems will occur with their digestive system and veterinary advice should be sought.

10.Poisonous Plants: 

Although feeding greens and plants to your rabbit adds variety and interest to their diet it is important to remember that some plants can be very harmful if eaten, causing illness or in some cases death.
The following plants are poisonous to rabbits and should be avoided-
Carnation, Buttercup, Foxglove, Clematis, Deadly nightshade, Lobelia, Woody nightshade, Elder, Yew, Rhododendron, Privet, Geranium, Ivy, Lily of the Valley, Lupin and Iris.
Please see www.supremepetfoods.com for a more comprehensive list.
For more information please read ‘Caring For Pet Rabbits’ and ‘A Comprehensive Guide To Caring For Your Rabbit.’

Dental Disease In Rabbits

Dental disease is one of the most common reasons we see rabbits in the clinic. Dental problems can present with lots of different symptoms, and although genetics and trauma can play a part, the most common reason for dental issues is being fed an inappropriate diet.

Anatomy

Rabbits don’t have baby and permanent teeth like humans and dogs. Rabbit teeth are open rooted, meaning they continuously grow. The front incisors can grow as much as 12cm a year!

Rabbits mainly chomp and chew their food, so they don’t need sharp canines to tear meat, they only have incisors, premolars and molars.

What signs do I look out for?

The main signs of dental disease are not eating, weight loss, drooling, swelling of the face, discharge from the eyes, reduced grooming and caecotroph accumulation around the bottom.

What will my vet do to diagnose dental problems?

  1. Take a patient history, especially focusing on diet
  2. Physical exam
  3. Oral exam – looking at both the front incisor teeth, and the cheek teeth with an otoscope (sometimes rabbits don’t like this very much so may need some sedation to get a proper look)

What are the most common dental issues?

Most often the front teeth (incisors) become overgrown, and the cheek teeth (premolars and molars) have small spurs that can damage the inside of the mouth and cause pain.

What treatment will my rabbit need?

As rabbit teeth are structured differently to ours, they can be easily burred when they are overgrown. Often sedation isn’t necessary as it is a painless process.

If your rabbit has a problem where the jaws are not aligned properly (malocclusion), then they may require regular trimming, or your vet may discuss with you about removal of the teeth.

More serious conditions such as tooth root abscesses or trauma will require more complex treatment, and your rabbit may require medications such as pain relief and antibiotics.

What can I do to prevent dental problems?

Proper nutrition is essential for preventing dental disease. Rabbits should be fed a diet of predominantly good quality hay, and high fibre food such as leafy greens that encourage grinding motions of the jaw. Commercial rabbit foods should only be fed as a teaspoon of pellets once daily (not the muesli mixes).