Friday, September 16, 2011

Does An Apple a Day Keep the Veterinarian Away? - Feline Health Myths, Part 5

Myth: Cats lose weight because they are old.

A thin cat with poor hair coat associated with poor diet
Unhealthy weight loss is often accompanied with a change in hair coat.
Reality: This is a great myth to talk about right now, since September is Senior Cat Month!  It is generally true that older cats will lose weight, but old age is not a cause of weight loss. Cats don’t diet, so your obese cat is not likely losing weight because he didn’t like his silhouette in the mirror. If you look more closely at these older cats that are losing weight, some may be eating normally, some may be eating less, and some may be ravenous! 

The older cat that is eating normally or less than usual: Is your cat drinking more water than usual? Are you noticing larger clumps of urine in your litterboxes when you scoop? Your cat may be showing signs of kidney disease.

Is he no longer jumping up on the counters like he used to? Do stairs seem to intimidate him? If so, then your cat may be suffering from arthritis, or may be experiencing some changes to his vision. His food may be in an area where he can no longer easily access it.

Does he drool? Or does his breath smell bad? Many cats seem to ignore extremely painful dental disease, but others will decide not to eat as much food if their teeth are painful.

Are there no other signs besides weight loss? Or maybe your cat’s stools are less than ideal – runny or malodorous? It is possible that your cat has chronic inflammation in the intestinal tract, or lymphoma, which is a cancer that attacks the intestinal tract.

A cat eating dry kibbleThe older cat that is ravenous and/or vomiting: If your cat is vomiting more than usual or ravenously hungry, it can be a sign of hyperthyroidism. The thyroid gland is located in the neck region and can become overactive as cats age. The gland may grow in size, too, and can sometimes be felt by running a finger over the underside of the neck. This has effects on the metabolism, heart rate and energy level of a cat, generally speeding things up. This gives them less time to digest their food, which can cause runny stools. The changes to the heart can cause high blood pressure and can cause damage to the heart muscle itself. A high energy level may make your cat seem kittenish again, but may also cause him to keep you up at night with inappropriate yowling or high activity levels. Thyroid problems can also cause increased thirst and urination which can mask kidney damage. Fortunately, hyperthyroidism is very treatable – but the sooner it is treated, the less lasting damage is done to the body.
Another reason your cat may be ravenous or eating normally but losing weight may be diabetes. Often diabetic cats will drink more and urinate more than normal. They eat a lot because their bodies cannot use the sugar (glucose) that is in their food to make energy. Instead, the sugar is circulated in the blood and then eliminated in the urine. In order to make energy, the body starts to use another method to produce energy, which can result in muscle loss and a severe medical condition called ketoacidosis.

A large, obese orange tabby cat showing his belly
A word about healthy weight loss in obese cats:
It is a good idea to encourage weight loss in overweight senior cats, to avoid problems such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, or other heart and respiratory complications.

Just like with humans, there is no easy quick weight-loss miracle - getting a cat to lose weight in a healthy way takes time, and a combination of diet and exercise. An overweight cat on a weight loss plan should not lose more than half a pound in four weeks. 

One pound of weight loss may not seem like much, but for a 10 pound cat, it is 10% of its body mass - that's equivalent to 15 lbs. in a 150lb. human.  

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends wellness exams every 6 months in senior cats because they age much more quickly than humans do. If you have noticed that your cat is losing weight or if it has been more than 6 months since your senior kitty’s last exam, it might be time to schedule a checkup!