Alice M Wolf, DVM, DACVIM (Internal Medicine), DABVP (Feline Practice)
Professor, Small Animal Medicine and Surgery,
College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University
Whether you call these patients geriatric or (as some feline practitioners insist) "mature,"
special considerations are required in evaluating, examining, hospitalizing, and generally
caring for older felines. However, veterinarians must understand that old age is not a
disease, it is a stage of life.
None of us would be happy with our physicians if we went to their offices complaining
about an ache or pain, lump or bump and were told, "You are just getting old, and there's
nothing we can do about that." Like humans, cats do develop problems associated with
advancing age.1 We veterinarians must be aware of these common problems so that we
can recognize and treat them specifically and enhance our feline patients' longevity as
well as their health in their "golden years."1 The objectives of a managed program of
feline geriatric health care include recognizing and controlling health risk factors,
detecting preclinical disease, correcting or delaying the progression of existing disorders,
and improving or restoring residual function.
Aging is obviously time dependent; however, various tissues age at different rates,
depending on their cell and organ type.1 Some types of cells (e.g., nerve tissue) have little
or slow regenerative capacity. Other tissues (e.g., epithelial cells) generally have a good
regenerative response. Kidneys have a great reserve capacity, as does the liver.
Myocardium is much less forgiving of injury. Environmental effects, including
husbandry (diet, housing, medical care), also have a great impact on longevity. Feral
tomcats have an average life span of three years, whereas castrated male house cats can
live well into their late teens or early 20s with proper care.
Genetics may also play a role in feline longevity, although this has not been well
documented. Some highly