Helpful Tips for Disease Management in Cats

Helpful Tips for Disease Management in Cats

As with middle-aged and older people, a range of illnesses can occur as your cat ages. Being alert to changes in your cat’s behavior and habits and seeking veterinary care will help ensure early detection and timely treatment. Here are some of the common diseases affecting older cats and signs to watch for.


Kidney disease is most common in older cats, but often begins in middle age. Your veterinarian can often diagnose kidney disease with blood and urine tests before any signs occur and make treatment recommendations based on those results. Signs may include:

  • Mild changes in behavior
  • Change in drinking frequency or location
  • Excessive thirst
  • Larger volumes of urine
  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decrease in muscle or weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Poor hair coat


Most commonly diagnosed in obese male cats, diabetes is a significant disease in senior cats, with nearly 75% of all diabetic cats ranging in age from 8 to 13 years. Blood and urine tests will help your veterinarian determine if your cat has diabetes; treatment may include diet changes and insulin injections. Signs of diabetes include:

  • Excessive hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination


Hyperthyroidism is the production of excess amounts of thyroid hormones, resulting in an abnormally high metabolism. This condition occurs most commonly in cats that are middle-aged or older. If hyperthyroidism is suspected, the veterinarian will run a blood test to verify and then recommend treatment options. Signs of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Changes in behavior, which may include hyperactivity or not using the litter box
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart murmur or rapid heart rate
  • Thyroid nodule (lump)


Hypertension, or high blood pressure, most often occurs secondary to another disease such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism, but can occur in any older cat. Although there are usually no noticeable signs of high blood pressure, it can cause damage to the eyes, heart, brain and kidneys. Your cat’s blood pressure can be measured using a cuff placed around a leg or the tail. Although most cats tolerate this painless procedure well, some that are easily stressed make accurate measurement more challenging.


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a digestive disorder that begins in adult cats and may require lifelong treatment. Your veterinarian can run tests to determine if your cat has IBD, which may be treated with diet and/or medication. Clinical signs of IBD are nonspecific and can be confused with other diseases of older cats, but may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss


Many feline cancers are treatable or manageable. Remission and good survival times can often be achieved for cats with the most common cancer, lymphoma. Treatment goals are to control the cancer and to improve the cat’s quality of life. Biopsy of the affected areas is necessary to obtain an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Common signs of cancer in cats include:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite; di«culty swallowing
  • Lethargy
  • Abnormal swelling
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Bleeding or discharge
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating or passing stools


As in older people, joint pain caused by arthritis is common in older cats. However, this significant problem can be easily overlooked because the signs are often attributed to simply “getting old.”

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help make your cat’s life easier. These include managing weight; placing food and water at floor level, but slightly raised; using a large and conveniently located litter box with a low entry point and higher sides filled with a finer-consistency litter; adding ramps or steps for easier access to favorite areas; and providing softer bedding with more cushion. Your veterinarian may also recommend joint health supplements or pain medications.


Older cats can experience behavior changes that you may find confusing and troubling. These changes may be triggered by a number of causes, the most common being an underlying medical problem (such as hyperthyroidism, hypertension, or problems secondary to kidney disease), brain disease (such as a tumor), behavior problems (such as separation anxiety), or degenerative changes that occur in the brain with age.

If your elderly cat is experiencing these changes, contact your veterinarian to rule out underlying causes. Also discuss with your veterinarian ways you can help your cat remain comfortable in the environment. For example, using a night-light and avoiding moving furniture into new locations may help the cat with declining senses.


As your cat ages, multiple health issues are more likely to develop. Make the veterinary staff aware of any new symptoms or behavior changes you observe, even if subtle, as well as what you are feeding your cat and any medications or vitamins you are administering, since treatment for one disease may affect treatment of another.

Administering medication for multiple illnesses can be stressful for both your cat and you. Ask your veterinarian about ways to reduce that stress and still maintain the bond between you and your cat. For example, pills can sometimes be hidden in food or offered in treat, liquid or paste form. If you are having diffculty coping with this responsibility, ask your veterinarian for advice. He or she can also recommend resources to help you learn how to give pills to your cat.

Central Texas Animal Hospital is a Cat Friendly Practice® and provides a variety of veterinary services for cats in the Pflugerville/Austin-Round Rock area including vaccinationsparasite preventiondental careweight managementspaying and neutering, and more. Call us at 512-251-BARK today to learn more!