Before we begin this week’s column, we’d like to give a giant Happy Birthday purr to our great-great auntie cat, Asti, who just turned 19 yesterday. That’s like 92 in human years! Many happy returns, Asti — and Mama sends lots of petties your way, too.
Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have a 19-year-old female cat who is unable to keep anything down that she is fed. Over the last year, we’ve tried everything — soft food, soft food that is ground to gravy, special dietary food for elderly cats, feeding her small amounts at a time. Nothing seems to work. In the last week, she has thrown up everything we feed her. Any ideas? She’s wasting away.
Siouxsie: Connie, your cat needs to see a vet right away.
Thomas: If your cat was eating voraciously and still getting thinner, we’d suspect hyperthyroidism or diabetes, conditions that occur with some frequency in in older cats.
Dahlia: But since she’s not eating, that’s clearly not the issue.
Siouxsie: Geriatric cats are subject to a variety of conditions that can cause vomiting and inability to hold food down. Late-stage chronic renal failure can cause vomiting — but there would be many other signs of disease present before the vomiting began, most notably increased urination and thirst or a smell of ammonia on the breath.
Dahlia: We suspect that your cat has an obstruction of some kind. Obstructions can be caused by anything from severe constipation to cancer.
Siouxsie: As cats age, their muscles get weaker. They can also develop arthritis in the hips. This combination of weakness and pain can make it very difficult to assume the proper position for having a bowel movement. This can lead to chronic constipation.
Thomas: Chronic constipation can then lead to fecal impaction. An impacted stool is virtually impossible to pass because the sheer size of it can cause great pain. This condition is treated with laxatives, enemas, and possibly manual removal of the impacted feces. We can’t stress enough that treatment of fecal impaction must be done by a veterinarian! Enemas and removal of impacted feces require sedation and possibly even anesthesia.
Dahlia: Obstructions can be caused by foreign bodies such as large hairballs or a toy that was ingested. Again, this condition must be treated by a veterinarian, as an object that’s too big to pass and is causing the cat to vomit will need to be surgically removed.
Siouxsie: The worst case scenario is, of course, a tumor. We hate to say this, but most tumors found in elderly cats are malignant. If your cat does have a tumor that is easily treatable, you may choose to have your veterinarian surgically remove it. However, if your cat has a lot of tumors, has other serious illnesses along with the tumors, or won’t have a decent quality of life even with treatment, humane euthanasia may be the best option.
Thomas: Whatever is going on with your cat, you must take her to a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment! It’s not fair to let her suffer. And rest assured, slow starvation absolutely is causing your cat to suffer.
Dahlia: When cats reach their senior years, generally defined as 10 or older, it’s more important than ever that they receive regular veterinary checkups. Some vets even recommend that geriatric cats visit the vet twice a year, because serious illnesses can develop very quickly.
Siouxsie: And when an old cat starts to have symptoms like vomiting, weight loss, excessive thirst, or changes in mood or temperament, it’s crucial that he or she see a vet as soon as possible. Many chronic illnesses can be treated in a way that allows a cat to enjoy a good quality of life for several more years.
Thomas: But if you wait too long, you’ll run out of options — even with treatable diseases. So we urge anyone who is a caretaker of an elderly cat to please, please make sure to get your cat regular veterinary checkups!
Dahlia: Mama says she uses the “rational human being” guideline for seeking veterinary care, which is: Assuming you had adequate health insurance coverage or could otherwise afford health care — if you were having the symptoms you’re seeing in your cat, would you seek medical attention? If the answer is yes, get your cat to the vet!
Siouxsie: And trust me, if you couldn’t keep any food down for weeks and weeks and weeks — you’d get to the doctor even if you knew there was no way you could afford it!
Thomas: We cats can’t tell you where it hurts, and we instinctively hide our pain, so we rely on our human caretakers to see when we’re ill and take us to the vet when we need it.
Dahlia: Good luck, Connie. We hope everything turns out OK.