Monday, August 31, 2015

Is that stray cat a senior cat? 5 signs shelter vets look for

Black cat in sunny window with plant
Stray cats don't carry a lot of paperwork. Typically, they just show up as if by magic, and the humans that find them and care for them must make a lot of assumptions about who they are and what happened to them in the past. Often, that involves making educated guesses about age.

Troy, for example, wandered into a yard in Salem about a year ago, and even though his finders worked hard to find his family, they couldn't connect him with humans who were missing him. So off to the shelter he went.

Once he arrived, he went through an intake and triage exam, and during that visit, the team determined that he was at least 10 years old (and probably older).

Why did they think that? Because he had these 5 hallmarks of an older kitty.

1. More than a few grey hairs. 

Troy was probably a solid black cat for much of his life. He doesn't have white paws, a white belly or a while nose. Even the skin inside of his ears is black. But he also has quite a bit of salt mixed in with that pepper.

Older black cat turning grey

See those silvery hairs around his shoulders? That's not dirt. That's grey hair. And it suggests that Troy is aging.

2. Stiffness and soreness. 

Older cats just don't move very quickly, and if they're extremely elderly, they may have a bit of arthritis (like Eamon). That means they can walk around an exam room, but they may not walk all that quickly. And they may need to do a bit of stretching when they start and stop the trek.

Troy did all of that on exam, and he continues to do it at home. He gets around, but he's not a fast mover at all.

3. Speckled eyes. 

This is a fascinating one. Older cats develop a unique form of eye color change. Rather than showing the humans clean and clear color, they have a few speckles of brown where pure color once was. Toy definately has this feature, but I've taken a few photos of cats in the shelter that show this feature more clearly.

Senior cat with green and speckled eyes

This pretty girl is Pockets, and she was about 6 years old in this photo. On the outer edge of her right eye, you can see the tiniest brown spot emerging. It's very faint and small, but there it is.

Now check out Quincey, who was 16 when I snapped this shot.

Quincey senior cat speckled eyes

He has one big spot in his right eye, and several more in his left eye. It's easy to see why he's older than sweet Pockets. His eyes tell the tale.

Now, some eye changes like this can be due to other things, including some types of eye cancer. But in general, tiny speckles of brown dots in the eyes are a general sign of age. If they appear, the cat's probably on the older side.

4. Gnarly teeth. 

Many cat people (including me!) make pet oral health a priority, and we brush those cat teeth on a regular basis. But that isn't a behavior that's universal at this point, so a lot of older cats have really horrible teeth. Troy certainly did, and he lost many of his teeth in a dental procedure performed right after I brought him home. That's really common in elderly cats.

5. Changing body shape. 

This might be hard to explain, but bear with me.

Lots of senior cats go through what experts call "fat redistribution." They end up with long, lean profiles when viewed from above, but from the side, they have low and swinging bellies. They may not have a lot of fat on their hips or backs, so they feel bony when you pet them. But they may have a great deal of fat just whirling around in their bellies.

Troy is too thin overall, so he doesn't have that low belly. But see his thin back and hips from above?

Thin back cat viewed from above
See that tuck at the hips and the widening at the ribs? That's really common for senior cats.

So these are the signs of seniors. And they're vital to look for, especially as winter comes on. Senior cats like this will struggle if they're left to their own devices when the weather gets cooler. They need warmth, shelter and food.

And they may not be able to survive as community cats, as the younger and stronger kitties among them will most assuredly beat them in competition for resources. So when you see these guys and you know their owners aren't to be found, take action. Scoop them up and take them to your local shelter for a chip scan and intake. You could end up saving that cat (and making an adopter like me very happy).

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this was really interesting - I never knew that older cats eye colour changes! We rarely see stray cats around our neighbourhood, but I will definitely keep these points in mind. Excellent post.

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