Assessment and care of the senior cat (Proceedings)
Whether you call these patients geriatric, or "mature", special considerations are required in evaluating, examining, hospitalizing, and generally caring for older felines. Veterinarians and owners must understand that OLD AGE IS NOT A DISEASE, IT IS A STAGE OF LIFE.
None of us would be very happy with our physicians if we went to their offices complaining about an ache or pain, lump or bump and were told, "You are just getting old, and there's nothing we can do about that". Like humans, older cats do develop problems associated with advancing age.1 We veterinarians must be aware of these common problems so that we can recognize and treat them specifically and enhance our feline patients health and longevity in their golden years. The objectives of a managed program of feline geriatric health care include recognizing and controlling health risk factors, detecting preclinical disease, correcting or delaying the progression of existing disorders, and improving or restoring residual function.Aging in the body is time dependent. However, various tissues age at different rates, depending on their cell and organ type. Some types of cells (e.g., nerve tissue) have little or slow regenerative capacity. Other tissues (e.g., epithelial cells) generally have a good regenerative response. Kidneys have a great reserve capacity, as does the liver. Myocardium is much less forgiving of injury. Environmental effects including husbandry (diet, housing, medical care) also have a great impact on longevity. Feral tomcats have an average lifespan of 3 years, whereas castrated male housecats can live well into their late teens or early 20s with proper care.
Genetics may also play a role in longevity although this has not been well documented. Some highly inbred cats may be more likely to have heritable defects in organ development or function or immune system defects that may limit longevity.2
Owners often ask us to compare cat years to human years. A figure that is commonly used is 7 cat years for each calendar year. However, this rule of thumb is not completely accurate. Feline development through puberty to young adulthood is accomplished over a period of about 18 to 24 months rather than 21 years as in humans. Thus, the cats first calendar year is more like 18 human years and the cat's second calendar year is more like 5-7 human years (up to an equivalent age of 21 to 23 years in humans). After that, add about 4 years for each calendar year of cat life. Thus, an 8-year-old cat is like a 46 year old person. A ten-year-old cat would be 54, a 15 year old cat 74, and a 20 year old cat, 94 cat years of age. Experts differ as to when one would consider an aging cat to be geriatric, but you can select your own cut-off based on this comparison to the equivalent age in humans.