A lot of animals will come to see us with these symptoms but fortunately it is only a sign of an underlying disease in a small number of them.
Bella had a lot of tests to find a diagnosis so that we could treat her condition successfully, including faecal analysis, blood testing, ultrasonography and fine needle aspirate biopsies (needle biopsies) taken from her liver and lymph nodes.
Following these tests, Bella was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This is a condition that results in chronic persistent diarrhoea and/or vomiting in cats. It is diagnosed by the typical clinical signs and also finding evidence of inflammation in the wall of the intestines. The treatment for IBD often involves a prescription diet to reduce the reaction to particular ingredients in the food. Bella was started on a food called Feline Z-D Ultra, which is a hydrolysed prescription diet. This means that the proteins in the food have been reduced to such a small size that they are unable to cause a reaction in the intestines. Bella has also been treated with steroids (which reduce the body’s reaction to allergens) and antibiotics.
Unfortunately this is a condition that can take a while to stabilise and can be associated with regular flare ups as we can only control the symptoms rather than cure the condition. Bella is doing really well at the moment on her new diet but will need to stay on this special food for the rest of her life and may need intermittent courses of medications to keep her happy and comfortable.
Cats rely heavily on their ability to taste and smell food and these are both reduced in elderly cats. If your cat has a reduction in appetite it is always advised to get them checked with your vet, however sometimes it can be due to their decreased senses.
There are ways that you can encourage food intake at home, this includes the following:
- Warming foods to 30˚c – A cat’s taste receptors are most receptive when food is at body temperature as this mimics the temperature of live prey.
- Strong smelling foods such as fish can help encourage them to eat as a cats sense of smell may be reduced due to age.
- Offering foods that you know they have enjoyed in the past as familiarity is important to cats.
- Offer a different variety and consistency of foods. Often a cat that has always enjoyed biscuits may develop a preference for wet food due to dental disease causing pain. Adding water to the diet and mashing it up may encourage your cat to eat.
- Shallow bowls that do not restrict your cat’s whisker movements are important. In the wild your cat would use their whiskers to wrap around their prey to help them bite in the appropriate location. Whiskers are also important to help cats locate food and objects that are close to their face.
- It is also important to offer fresh, high protein diets. Cats possess taste receptors that are able to detect the amino acids produced by meat and this can help them to distinguish the nutritional quality and protein content of the food. Offering a variety of foods, including wet and dry as well as a variety of food shapes will give your cat the opportunity to choose their preference.
- Offer food little and often, do not leave uneaten food down for long periods or lots of different food choices at once as this can be overwhelming for them. Place the food in a quiet, easily accessible part of the house.
- Raise food bowls up on stands or boxes as this may provide more comfort for cats suffering with osteoarthritis affecting the neck.
- Providing your cat with attention whilst they are eating can help increase appetite.
- Spend time grooming your cat, ideally weekly to prevent matts forming. It is important to be gentle and use a soft brush as they may be stiff and arthritic.
- Keep their face clean using damp cotton wool and make sure that their anogenital region is clean, you may need to do this a couple of times per day. If they are prone to getting a dirty bottom it is a good idea to shave the area around the bottom and tail to prevent them from becoming soiled.
- Older cats are more prone to hairballs due to their sluggish digestive system, this makes regular grooming even more important to remove a build-up of dead hair. You can also purchase a paste from your vets to assist with hairballs.
Arthritis – This is a common condition seen in older felines and can result in chronic pain, often owners will notice that their cat is less reluctant to jump or looks a little stiff when they walk. Most of the time owners just associate this with their pet getting older and do not actually act on it. It is important to remember that when you see your cat is looking stiff or struggling this means that they are in pain. There are pain relief and joint care medications that the vet can prescribe to make your cat more comfortable.
There are also things you can do at home to make your cat more comfortable:
- Ensure that your cat’s resources (food, water and litter trays) are close by and easily accessible, and provide multiple resources around the house.
- Make sure that the resources and safe places are on ground level to prevent your cat having to jump. You could provide steps up to the resources, beds or cat flap.
- Make sure that litter trays have low sides for easy climbing in and out and provide a litter that is soft on the feet pads. Even if your cat usually goes outside to the toilet it is a good idea to provide litter trays in the house for times when they do not feel up to going out. It is important to monitor faecal and urine output and consistency to identify underlying disease processes.
- Pay close attention to your cats claws. We advise that you check these weekly as elderly cats are less able to retract their claws, this often results in them getting stuck on soft furnishings. They are also at risk of them overgrowing and cutting into their pads as they will be less active.
- Carpet and mats can provide more comfort for elderly cats walking around, wooden and laminate flooring can be slippery for elderly cats that are less stable on their legs.
- Cat flaps – If your cat usually uses a cat flap to access outdoors ensure that they can get up to the cat flap ok, providing steps may aid them climbing in and out.
- Scratching posts – If your cat is suffering from arthritis they may be reluctant to use a vertical scratching post as stretching up high may cause them pain. Horizontal scratching posts can be more comfortable for them.
We are delighted to be one of the few General practices in the country who have been asked to trial it.
The funduscope attaches to an iphone and enables visualisation (and photography) of the retina (fundus). The right-hand picture shows a human fundus when viewed through the IC2 (boring!)
It is early days yet and we are still learning but we have already had some quite good photos. There is a difference between what we see and what we actually get to photograph
Here are some photos (not ours) of a normal cat and dog fundus.
Pictures have been taken from Keith Barnett’s superb Diagnostic Atlas of Veterinary Ophthalmology.
You can see how they are much more exciting than the human (primate) ones! The colourful reflective part is the tapetum, hence “cat’s eyes“ (but could as easily have been dogs).
Dogs have blood vessels which cross the optic nerve head while cats do not, a common exam question for veterinary students. The far easier way to establish which species is to check out the animal before you look in their eyes.
Here are some photos we have taken.
This is both eyes of “Amber” who has been blind in the right eye (LHS) for many years. The dark “halo” around the optic nerve head gives us a reason why.
On the LHS we have a bit (oops) of the optic nerve head of a normal young dog. On the RHS we have “Hugo” an ageing cocker spaniel who is unfortunately suffering with retinal degeneration and going blind. You can see how the blood vessels are much less (atrophy) and the “shiny” part indicates retinal thinning enabling the tapetum to reflect more light.
Here we have the right and left eyes of “Mampi” who suffering from hypertension unfortunately suffered a total retinal detachment and haemorrhage in his right eye and partial detachments in his left.
In his right eye the top arrow points to a retinal bleed (post detachment), while the bottom arrow shows “perivascular cuffing” which is caused by leakage from the vessels due to the hypertension. In his left eye we can see dark “dead” patches of retina caused due to bullous (like little blisters) detachments of the retina.
These photos are all after treatment which has brought his blood pressure back to normal. His retina in his right eye is now mainly reattached but you can see the damage that has already occurred.
Finally to show that humans aren’t the only species with relatively boring retinae.
These pictures from David Williams Chapter 27 in Gelatt’s Veterinary Ophthalmology show two normal rabbut fundi, the left hand one being an albino.