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Unfortunately for cat owners, cats don’t live nine lives. However, the one life they do have is a long one. Cats have been known to live up to 30 years! The average life span is in the 14-17 year range. When you count each cat year as 7 human years, you can see cats lead a rather long life. Care and feeding, as well as heredity, have much to do with cats having such long lives.

There are some factors that contribute to the longer lives of cats today. Among them are:
--Improved diagnostic procedures for cats and kittens.
--Improved medical care for cats and kittens.
--More highly trained veterinarians.
--Better control of infectious cat diseases.
--Better control of inoculations.
--More confinement of the cat to the house.
--Better education of cat owners.
--Better cat nutrition through better commercial cat food.

Some cats may be old in calendar years but remain symptom free of senility or aging until they are 20 years or older. Good health can usually be determined from a good thick, soft, alive coat of hair. Also, a cat’s teeth are an indication of good health as well as bright eyes, alertness, and smooth body movements and agility. If a cat has stopped playing, it’s generally a good indication something is seriously wrong.

Ordinary senility changes in cats are seldom observed before the cat is eight or nine years old. Senility in a cat is a slow, gradual progression that usually does not cause greatly increased problems except impaired agility. Similar to dogs, a cat is not handicapped by failing eyesight or deafness.

The aging of specific tissues proceeds at a different rate during the various phases of growth, maturity, reproduction, and disease. As with humans and all other creatures, aging starts at birth in cats. And as with all creatures, besides heredity, care and treatment given over the life of the cat makes the difference.

Some factors to consider:

--Good nutrition is very important to a cat during old age. Making sure the cat’s diet contains plenty of high quality protein and adequate fat, minerals, and vitamins is essential. Supplementary vitamins are not needed and are usually discouraged with proper diet. With increasing age, the cat’s sense of taste and smell may dwindle, thus causing the desire to eat to lessen. Giving smaller portions more often as does tempting the pet with their favorite treats. Be careful not to overfeed the cat, because obesity in old age is very dangerous. Older cats often become dehydrated, so make sure plenty of water is available.

--Older cats lose their former vigor and require more sleep. The coat becomes stiff and grayish. Hearing and eyesight become impaired. In old age, most ailments in the cat are major. Regular veterinary care is very important. Follow the advice of the doctor. Some cat ailments in the geriatric cat are:

1. Loss of teeth. (Eating becomes more difficult.)
2. Gum and tooth infections. (Vet may suggest extraction.)
3. Cancerous and inflammatory lesions in the mouth.
4. Difficulty swallowing. (A form of cancer can occur in the esophagus and make swallowing difficulty. Other symptoms are more frequent regurgitation and progressive emaciation. Consult the vet.)
5. Constipation caused by less interest in food, lower intake of fluids, hairballs. (Change in diet and assistance in grooming may be needed.)
6. Diarrhea (can be stopped by medication, but is usually a sign that something else is wrong.)
7. Tumors (some malignant)
8. Diabetes Mellitus (more common with overweight cat) characterized by increased appetite, increased water intake, loss of weight, and loose stools.
9. Skin diseases (eczema, such as small crusty scabs that can become infected, or dry thinning hair areas.) Grooming is essential.
10. Anemia is often secondary to a larger problem. See the vet.
11. Central nervous system (epileptic convulsions, stroke, paralysis)
12. Locomotor System (lack of coordination and sometimes arthritis similar to that of man which includes painful swelling at the joints, malaise, and anemia.
13. Feline leukemia which requires immediate veterinary attention.

Most cats are jealous, but aging cats are especially jealous of other animals and even human members of the family. It is important with an aging cat to remember all the good years you shared and make the cat feel comfortable, loved, and wanted.