As cat lovers, we all know that they have their own distinctive personalities and quirks. But did you know that health needs change as your cat ages?
Cats are beloved furry feline family members, and as a pet parent, it’s important to understand their unique health needs at every stage of life. From kittenhood to senior years, felines face a range of health concerns that can impact their quality of life.
Whether you’re a new pet parent or just looking to level up your feline health care knowledge, we’ve got you covered! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll be diving into vaccinations, parasite control, diet and nutrition, behavioral concerns, and more. We’ll also offer tips on how to keep your furry feline friend happy and healthy. So, let’s start our deep dive into feline care health at every life stage.
WHAT ARE THE 4 LIFE STAGES OF A CAT?
These stages generally reflect an accepted guideline of life stages from the veterinary profession. Keep in mind that age groupings tend to be subjective limits along a continuum.
According the AAHA the life stages are as follows:
Stage 1: Kitten (birth – 1 year)
Stage 2: Adolescent or Young Adult (1 – 6 years)
Stage 3: Mature Adult (7 – 10 years)
Stage 4: Senior (10+ years)
I. KITTENHOOD: THE ADORABLE, CAN-DO-NO-WRONG STAGE
The key to promoting proper health care in kittens starts with vaccinations and parasite control, spaying/neutering at the appropriate time, and delivering a balanced and healthy diet. We recommend that you work with our veterinarians to create a health care plan that meets the unique needs of your kitten. This will build the best possible foundation for a happy, healthy life.
1. VACCINATIONS AND PARASITE CONTROL FOR KITTENS
Due to their developing immune systems, kittens are particularly vulnerable to disease and parasites in the early stages of life. It’s critical to keep up with their vaccinations and parasite control. At about 8 weeks, kittens should receive their first core vaccination – the FVRCP vaccine – which includes protection against feline panleukopenia, feline calicivirus, and feline viral rhinotracheitis. Subsequent visits in the following 4 to 8 weeks will see FVRCP boosters and protection against rabies (by law) and leukemia.
Depending on the kitten’s lifestyle and exposure risk, additional non-core vaccinations may be recommended. In addition to vaccinations, parasite control is of vital importance. This includes regular treatment for fleas, ticks, and other external parasites, as well as preventative measures for internal parasites such as worms. Kittens are often infected (and re-infected) by intestinal parasites which can occur during nursing and through their immediate environment. De-worming treatments occur at 8, 12 and 16 weeks.
2. SPAYING / NEUTERING
Spaying or neutering is an important aspect of cat health care, especially for kittens. Not only does spaying or neutering help reduce the population of unwanted cats, but it can also help prevent certain health problems later in life. Spaying a female cat before her first heat cycle (about 5 weeks) can reduce the risk of mammary cancer and eliminate the risk of uterine infections. Neutering a male cat at 5 weeks can prevent testicular cancer and reduce the risk of behavioral problems such as spraying and roaming.
The appropriate age for spaying or neutering can depend on the kitten’s size, breed, and overall health but is generally recommended at the five-week mark.
3. DIET AND NUTRITION
Kittens have different nutritional needs than adult cats, and their diets should be specifically formulated to meet those needs. Proper nutrition is critical to the health and development of kittens, regardless of breed, and it directly influences their developing immune system and body composition. Growth rates for kittens vary by breed and involve a multifaceted process of interactions between nutrition, genetics and the environment.
Kitten diets – in general – should be high in protein, fat, and essential nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus to support growth and development. The nutrient density of food and the amount of food fed can mean the difference between optimal growth and maximal growth.
Our practice carries three premium brands that meet all the requirements to get your kitten off to the right start.
Hill’s Science Diet
II. FELINE ADOLESCENCE: THE CHEEKY, YOUNG ADULT STAGE
At this stage, it’s time to consider dental care and regular dental checkups for your cat, as it is an important component of cat wellness. During this adolescent stage, you may have to address behavioral concerns – such as spraying and scratching – and provide appropriate exercise and play.
1. DENTAL CARE AND REGULAR CHECKUPS
Just like humans, cats require regular dental care to help maintain their overall health and preventative measures to fend off any future problems. Dental disease is a common in cats, and if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems such as tooth decay and loss, infections, and other systemic illnesses.
During a dental cleaning, our veterinarians will clean your cat’s teeth and gums, check for signs of dental disease, and perform any necessary extractions or other treatments. Regular dental checkups are also an opportunity to discuss your cat’s overall health and any concerns you may have.
2. BEHAVIOURAL CONCERNS
This is an important time of growth and change for teenage felines, and with it behavioral challenges. Common developmental concerns during this stage include spraying, scratching, and destructive behaviour. These behaviors are often related to stress or changes in a cat’s environment. They can usually be addressed with appropriate behavior modification techniques and environmental changes. Sure sounds like their human counterparts!
Our veterinarians can help you identify the root cause of these adverse behaviors and develop an action plan to address them. In some cases, medications may be required to help manage behavior problems during this stage.
3. APPROPRIATE EXERCISE AND PLAY
Cats are innately curious and playful animals and need regular exercise and play to maintain their physical and mental health. From an internal medicine perspective, exercise can help prevent obesity and reduce the risk of certain health problems, such as feline urinary tract disease.
Play also helps satisfy your cat’s natural hunting instincts and provides mental stimulation – important where destructive behaviours are concerned. Interactive toys, cat trees, and even simple things such as chasing a laser pointer can satisfy these innate desires. Quite simply, find an activity(s) that your cat enjoys and ensure they get regular exposure.
III. ADULTHOOD IN CATS: THE LIVING LARGE STAGE
Now is the time for routine wellness exams and lab work – at least once a year. These two essential pieces will ensure that your adult cat is living their best life in the prime of their life. Yearly exams can help detect potential health problems early, while lab work can provide important information about your cat’s overall health. Common health concerns in mature cats include dental issues, obesity, and arthritis. If not preventable, these issues can be managed with a balanced diet and regular exercise.
1. YEARLY WELLNESS EXAMS AND LAB WORK
We highly recommend that your beloved feline receive a yearly wellness exams and standard lab work. During a routine exam, our veterinarians will perform a physical examination, check your cat’s weight and overall body condition, and discuss any changes in behavior or health that you may have noticed.
Regular exams and lab work can also help your veterinarian establish a baseline for your cat’s health, making it easier to identify changes over time. Lab work may also be performed to check your cat’s organ function, blood cell count, and other important health indicators. Examinations and lab work provide important information about your cat’s health and aids early detection of potential health issues when they are most treatable.
2. COMMON HEALTH CONCERNS IN ADULT CATS
Dental problems are common in adult cats, and they can lead to more serious health problems if left untreated. Regular dental cleanings and checkups can help prevent these problems and maintain your cat’s dental health.
Obesity is a constant risk in adult cats, which can lead to a range of health problems, including joint issues, heart disease, and diabetes. To prevent obesity, pet parents need to monitor their cat’s weight and provide a balanced, calorie-controlled diet. Add in some regular play time and exercise and you are well on your way to helping your cat maintain a healthy weight.
Arthritis is a common health concern in mature cats. Anyone with arthritic joints will tell you that it can cause constant pain and discomfort. It’s the same for your cherished feline friend. Symptoms of arthritis in cats include difficulty jumping, stiffness, and reduced activity levels.
If you think your cat may be experiencing these arthritic symptoms, our veterinarians can perform a physical examination and recommend appropriate treatment options.
3. MAINTAINING A HEALTHY DIET AND EXERCISE ROUTINE
To sustain optimal health, adult cats need a balanced diet that provides the nutrients they need to thrive. If you’re unsure about the proper balance for your cat’s specific situation, our veterinarians can help you determine the right diet based on their age, health status, and any other underlying conditions.
It bears repeating that regular exercise and play is very important for your adult cat’s health care. Playtime, scratching posts and interactive toys can help satisfy your cat’s natural instincts and fend off any impending physical or mental decline.
IV. SENIOR FELINES: THE GOLDEN YEARS
We realize we’re starting to sound like a broken record, but…regular checkups and lab work are critical components for extending the life of your senior cat. Common health problems for senior cats include kidney disease, diabetes, and cancer. These can be prevented or managed with a balanced diet and regular exercise.
When you work with our veterinarians, we’ll help you develop a senior cat health care plan that meets the unique needs of your aging cat and recommend any adjustments to accommodate their changing needs.
1. ANNUAL CHECKUPS AND BLOOD WORK FOR SENIOR CATS
Early detection is the main takeaway here. As cats get older, it’s clear that they become more susceptible to a broader range of health problems. Annual – or more frequent – checkups and lab work are indispensable pieces of senior cat health care and should not be dismissed.
During an annual exam, our veterinarians will perform a physical exam, note your cat’s weight and overall body condition, and discuss any changes in behavior or health that you may have observed. We highly recommend blood screening and urine testing at this stage – it helps detect a variety of other potential health concerns.
2. COMMON HEALTH CONCERNS FOR SENIOR CATS
- Kidney Disease: Renal failure is a genuine – and common – concern for senior cats. Kidneys help manage blood pressure, produce hormones, stimulate the production of more red blood cells, and remove waste from the blood. Symptoms of kidney disease in cats include increased thirst, decreased appetite, and weight loss. With a carefully managed diet. plenty of clean fresh water, a calm environment, you can help your cat live their best life in their remaining days.
- Diabetes: Often tied to obesity, diabetes is a growing problem in senior cats leading to a range of health problems, including vision loss and nerve damage. Symptoms of diabetes in cats include increased thirst and hunger, frequent urination, and weight loss.
- The Big “C”: Cancer in senior cats can take many forms, including skin cancer, liver cancer, and lymphoma. Symptoms of cancer vary depending on the type of cancer and its location, but they may include loss of appetite, weight loss, and changes in behavior.
If any of these symptoms emerge, book an appointment with us immediately. With early detection and treatment, dealing with these three common health concerns can help reduce their severity and extend the life of you beloved feline.
If treatments prove to significantly impede or lessen your cat’s quality of life, then there’s a very difficult decision to be made. We can help with an end-of-life plan for your senior cat to make their remaining days as comfortable as possible.
3. CARING FOR A SENIOR CAT
To maintain optimal health, senior cats need a balanced diet that provides the nutrients they need to thrive. Your veterinarian can help you determine the right diet for your senior cat based on their current health status and any other underlying conditions.
As with all previous three life stages, regular exercise is so important for senior cat wellness, as it helps maintain mobility and flexibility. This is especially important if you have an indoor-only or solo cat who doesn’t get any natural/outdoor stimulation.
Exercise helps your cat maintain a healthy weight by motivating them to pounce, jump, and claw at something they perceive as prey, while also providing hours of stimulation. As such, cat toys are designed with a feline’s primal instincts in mind. Anything that can help satisfy your cat’s natural instincts and offer exercise – such as toys, scratching posts and lasers – will help extend -and enrich – your cat’s life.
As cats age, they will experience changes in their agility, vision, and hearing. To accommodate these changes, you may need to make modifications in your home. Providing accessible places for your senior cat to rest and sleep (no stairs!) tend to be the easiest adjustments to improve your cat’s quality of life.
Attending to your cat’s health at every life stage is essential for ensuring a long and contented life for your furry feline friend. From kittenhood to senior status, there are many preventative care options that support your cat’s health and wellness, including the upkeep of required vaccinations, parasite control, spaying/neutering, dental care, and annual wellness exams. Wellness exams that also include blood and urine analysis can help detect potential health issues early on, while a balanced diet and proper exercise can help maintain optimal health throughout your cat’s lifespan.