geriatric-catMost of us have that older cat that lives in the house, eats our food, and takes over the easy chair. We take them for regular check-ups but now our veterinarian is talking about blood work more and more. Why are they doing this and is it necessary? Our older cats are at risk of three common problems that can be diagnosed through the blood work the veterinarian is advising.

As our cats age, one of the problems that can arise is diabetes. As with humans, there is insulin dependent and non-insulin dependent. The non-insulin dependent variety will especially arise with our obese patients. Does this sounds like something your human doctor has said? These obese animals can be a little more difficult to handle, but the solution is the same as for humans – weight loss. Your veterinarian can advise you on special diets, correct portions, and of course, exercise.

Insulin dependent diabetes will require more hands-on work by the owner. In these cats, there is insufficient insulin to allow proper usage of glucose by the cells. The cells do not have the necessary energy and there is excess glucose in the blood. Initially, it is advisable to start the insulin regiment, also called regulation, in the hospital under the care of your cat’s veterinarian.

Not every cat reacts to insulin in the same manner. Some cats are very easy to regulate, and others are very difficult to regulate. Once regulation is achieved, they are ready for the owner to start insulin injections at home. This might seem scary, but it’s not as hard as it seems.

Another common geriatric cat issue is called hyperthyroidism. Essentially, the thyroid glands are producing too much thyroid hormone. This can lead to weight loss, high blood pressure, and heart failure. However, once diagnosed it generally regulates very easily.

Treatment option one is radioactive iodine therapy. This treatment is done at a specialty practice. It is a treatment that is given once and does not have to be repeated. However, since this is radioactive material, it can cost a little more than other treatments.

Medication is the more common therapy. This may involve pills, liquids, or even dermal gels. The medication can regulate the thyroid over time but it is not permanent. If you stop the medicine, the symptoms will recur.

So why not just surgically remove the thyroid gland? That is only advisable if it is cancerous and it should only be done by an experienced veterinary surgeon. There are many potential complications if the veterinarian is not good and comfortable with this surgery.

The third potential geriatric problem that can be diagnosed through blood work is renal disease. Essentially, the kidneys stop filtering waste properly and the toxins accumulate in the blood. Once again, there are a couple of treatments for this issue. Kidney transplants are a relatively new treatment and this can be rather expensive. It also carries the same risks as with human transplants.

The most common therapy is diet change and fluid therapy. If the disease is bad enough, the cat may need to stay in the hospital and be given intravenous fluids. This will help flush the toxins out of the blood. Once the patient feels up to eating, they should be offered a special diet that is low in protein. The lower protein will make less by-products or toxins that the kidneys have to filter. This will in turn put less stress on the kidneys. Occasionally more fluids will be needed that can be given under the skin by the veterinarian or even the owner. These cats can live several years with this problem and be very happy.

As we age, our doctors seem to draw more and more blood at each visit. This is to give the human doctor a better idea of how our insides are working. This is also true for our fur babies.  Even the best veterinarian cannot tell you about the workings of your cat’s insides with a physical examination. That is the reason we advise blood work, especially as the cat becomes older.  So next time your veterinarian discusses blood work, there is a very good reason.