Senior Cats: Benny, a case example by Dr. Sarah Martin

So Benny is presently my oldest pet.  He is a 13 year old grey, shorthaired domestic cat. I have had him since he was about 1 year old. He has been pretty healthy, but then I like to think he has also been well cared for.

When Benny was 6 years old I found that he had multiple ‘neck lesions’- these are areas on their teeth where the enamel has eroded. They are also called FORL (feline odontoclastic  resorptive lesion). They occur at the gum line and there is severe gum inflammation associated with it. They are painful!

If you touch one of these lesions their jaw often chatters and the gum bleeds. Benny was still eating and there was no sign of discomfort or pain: OF COURSE!!! If you had to choose between not eating and eating I bet you too could cope with a toothache or a dull, persistent headache just to keep eating. Many people with chronic pain still live their day to day lives; that doesn’t mean they want to be in pain everyday.

After bloodwork  showed that Benny’s internal stuff was all working normally I gave him an anesthesia and removed the 5 teeth with the erosive lesions. The rest of his mouth had pretty marked inflammation but I elected to only remove the affected teeth and monitor, I could always do a second procedure. Well, today at 13 his teeth and gums look great. He has eaten Hill’s t/d (a prescription dental diet) all his life.

Benny suffered from being fat. Truthfully it was because I filled up a big bowl and let him eat whenever he wanted. Kibble (dry) cat food is extremely calorie dense! Once I started to measure his meals he trimmed down—he gets 1/3 cup twice a day, only. Middle age to older, overweight male cats are the highest risk group to developing Diabetes. Feeding my cats I have to admit I am lazy. I do not feed wet (canned) food to my cats- and I should! Cats do not drink enough water, none of them do, period. Canned food increases their water intake and that is the most important protective factor for urinary tract health. I am not switching Benny over to a senior diet. Mature cats need to maintain their protein requirements; if we protein restrict our older cats they get skinny.

I did try Benny on a prescription diet for arthritis though (RC’s Mobility) and I love this diet! Many of our older cats, Benny included, are stiff and sore. I have seen cats that no longer jump change into nimble jumping machines after starting this diet. Unfortunately for me Benny threw up on this food… lots of throwing up. He is the only cat I have put on this diet that has done this though, so I still recommend it frequently. So how do I manage Benny’s arthritis? Presently I have him on a very low dose of Metacam: daily (or when I remember!) He loves the medication and I see a huge improvement in his mobility and jumping.  In Canada this is an off-label use of Metacam, I would be happy to discuss this further with anyone if you think it may help your cat too!

I am considering starting Benny on Cartrophen injections. Cartrophen halps maintain joint health and cartilage. I also use it for inflamed bladders! Cartrophen is given as a weekly injection for a month and then goes to every 6- 8 weeks (usually).

The final thing I do for Benny and all the wonderful senior cats I look after is trend their weight. An older cat losing weight alerts me to a handful of more common disease states and a few less common ones too. In my older cats that are getting skinny I need to rule out hyperthyroidism (see Rebecca’s blog about her cat Mirror!!), diabetes and chronic renal disease.  I can rule out these diseases with a good history, a good physical exam, bloodwork and urinalysis. Ideally I would love to have a current weight on all my older cats every 6 months!!

So there is a snapshot of how I look after my own senior pet. And it will change over time. Their health status can change dramatically over a few months so I am always on the lookout!