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Behavior Issues In Older Cats (long)

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
It is not at all unusual for behavior problems to develop in older pets. Many of the problems we see occuring in geriatric cats have similar causes to those in younger pets. Changes in the household, changes in the environment and new stressors can lead to problems regardless of age. For instance: moving, a change in work schedule, a family member or long-time animal companion leaving the home, or new additions to the family such as a spouse, baby or even another pet can have a dramatic impact on the pet's behavior.

It needs to be said that these issues may very well be a part of daily life when caring for an animal companion. When we choose to adopt or purchase an animal to share our homes and lives, we must also consider the LIFETIME COMMITTMENT we will be making to this pet's care, no matter how long that lifetime lasts. We must fulfill our responsibilites to that committment. We must also teach this committment to our children, so that future generations understand and respect animals as well.

Unfortunately, our older pets are likely to develop an increasing number of medical and degenerative problems as they age. Any of the organ systems can be affected and play a role in the development of a wide variety of behavior problems. For example, dental problems such as gingivitis and periodontitis can lead to anorexia (not eating) or in serious cases, early chronic renal failure. Diseases of the urinary system and kidneys can lead to house-soiling. Diseases of the endocrine organs such as the thyroid gland and pituitary gland can lead to a variety of behavioral and personality changes. A decline in the senses (hearing and sight), painful conditions, and those that affect mobility may cause the pet to be more irritable or more fearful of approach and handling. Aging pets may develop many of the same changes as are seen in Alzheimer's disease in people.

Regardless of age, every behavior case MUST begin with a complete veterinary physical examination and a clinical and behavioral history. In addition, blood tests and a urinalysis may be needed to rule out organ disease and endocrine imbalances. Sometimes a more in depth examination of a particular organ system may be indicated. Additional laboratory tests, radiographs, ultrasound, spinal tests, brain scans, or perhaps a referral to a specialist may all be appropriate depending on the initial findings.

Unfortunately many pet owners do not even discuss behavior changes with their veterinarians since they feel that they are a normal part of aging and perhaps nothing can be done for their pet. This is far from the truth. Additionally, when age-related behavioral issues occur, instead of trying to find the underlying cause, we choose to simply not deal with it, instead throwing the animal away in the shelter, or having the vet perform euthanasia. Our furniture and carpets seem to mean so much more to us than our pets. I can honestly say that I have never heard my carpet or sofa purr when I cared for them.

Many problems have an underlying medical cause that can be treated or controlled with drugs, diet or perhaps surgery. Hormonal changes associated with an underactive or overactive thyroid gland, diabetes, diseases of the pituitary gland and testicular tumors can all lead to dramatic changes in the pet's behavior and many of these problems can be treated or controlled. Degenerative organ systems can often be aided with nutritional supplementation or dietary changes. High blood pressure, cardiac disease and respiratory diseases may be treatable with medication, which may dramatically improve the quality and even length of the pet's life. And new drugs are now available that are useful in the treatment of age related cognitive dysfunction.

Changes in behavior, including activity levels and litter box habits, an increase or decrease in appetite or drinking, an increased frequency or amount of urination, loss of urine control (dribbling urine, bedwetting), changes in stool consistency or frequency, skin and hair coat changes, lumps and bumps, mouth odor or bleeding gums, stiffness or soreness, excessive panting, coughing, changes in weight (increase or decrease), and tremors or shaking are some of the more common signs that should be reported, should they develop in your pet.

In many cases, geriatric behavior problems can be treated. Of course if there are medical problems contributing to the behavior changes, the problem may not be treatable. The key therefore is to report changes and bring in your pet for assessment as soon as new problems arise.

My continued best to all,

post #2 of 5
While I am fortunitly gifted with still young cats, we are also very lucky to have a wonderful vet - her specialty is feline geriatrics.

post #3 of 5
Thank you Gaye for posting that. I agree with everything that was said. I have become very upset and disturbed at a lot of what I have been seeing and reading reguarding peoples pets. Pets are a lifelong commitment and need to taken care of properly and not thrown to the curb or left to die.
post #4 of 5
Grey thanks you for the great post on behalf of his fellow "senior citizens".

I've only had Grey for a few months of his 16 years, but I'm already head over heels in love. To paraphrase the famous line from "Jerry Maguire", "He had me at 'Meow'."

It is possible to live with an incontinent cat. (Grey has been having urinary incontinence, but all the tests are normal.) Although it was an adjustment, I've gotten used to cleaning up cat pee. I buy the petstain remover by the gallon jug and the huge multipacks of paper towels. I have a carpet/upholstery shampooer i use often. Grey isn't allowed in the bedroom unsupervised, but he has the run of the rest of the house. I couldn't stand to have him locked in the basement all the time. It just comes down to this--do you love your cat, or your things? Things can be cleaned or replaced. My Grey can't.

I wonder if the people who put elderly animals down because they are "difficult" would be understanding if they get same treatment from their family when they are old.
post #5 of 5
Alexnell, try sprinkling some of that smelly carpet fresh stuff on your rugs and leave it there for about a week. The smell will keep the cat away even after you vaccuum it up. Although it looks a bit silly sitting on the rug for a week, that allows it to really sink in and keeps the cat away long enough for the cat to "forget" that the rug was a fun place to pee.
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