Preventative care for old cats?
March 5, 2013 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Do you have OLD cats? How often do you take them to the vet, and do you do the 6 month preventative testing-type visits that cat vets typically recommend? If so, how much do you pay for the visit and lab tests? Do I really need to do this?

I have two 19 year old cats. One was throwing up what looked like faint amounts of blood 2 years ago (I didn't know which one cat) and I took them both to the vet.

It turned out one cat was hyper thyroid, so we got some meds and we're treating her. No biggie. Of course we need ongoing T4 tests for that cat to make sure her medication is at the appropriate strength.

However, I feel hounded by the vet about getting both cats in every six months for an exam and multiple blood, urine, and fecal lab tests, at the cost of more than $275 per cat. This is what they do for all cats older than 7 (really? 7? that's an old cat?) and they act INCREDULOUS that I think it's weird to bring a cat to the vet every 6 months for no particular reason.

Honestly, I'm kind of blown away that people do this. Am I a bad pet owner if I don't? I adore my cats and they are very healthy, particularly for their age (the vet did confirm that, other than the HyperT of course). They are 19! I feel lucky to have had them this long and if they decline, I will not prolong their lives. If they have problems, I take them to the vet. Is this enough?
posted by peep to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I think there are separate questions here.

Can it have value to take them in every 6 months? (and yes a cat is considered old at around 8 years, indoor cats live 12-14 years on average --- 19 is approaching Methuselah territory). Yes -- my cat was diagnosed with feline CRF last year and in retrospect had had it for a while, but I didn't know because he hadnt been to the vet in well over a year. Catching it earlier _could_ have extended his life (without pain, just diet and such). Or not. No guarantees.

So basically --- you're likely to catch certain things earlier, some of which can be managed much more easily if caught early. Just like in humans.

But your other question is a moral one, and I don't know how to answer that. I think everyone has to make their own decisions. Personally, I did everything I could to extend my cats life while he wasn't in pain, and once things got much worse and extending his life would have been miserable for him, I stopped. Some people would have done more, some would have done less. I am mostly comfortable with how I did things, even if I question it sometimes when I really miss him.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:16 PM on March 5, 2013

I would find a new vet based solely on the fact that yours is incredulous with the path you would like to choose.

In contrast, we take our pets to a wonderful vet who stands by each decision we make and never, ever makes us feel like we're bad owners. Our oldest cat is 19, too, and a couple years ago I asked the vet if we could stop vaccinating her for anything she wasn't likely to encounter while being an indoor-only cat. She readily agreed and we stopped those vaccinations. I figured it wasn't necessary to spend the money and it wasn't necessary to put her body through anything as she was already ancient and was doing really well anyway.

Katie (our granny kitty) only goes in once a year for a check-up. I'll call if anything seems amiss and they'll tell me to keep an eye on her or bring her in but really, mostly, we're just doing the bare minimum with her. I monitor her weight and food intake just to make sure there aren't any surprises. She eats, she drinks, she pees, she poops, she purrs, and she sleeps. She plays and she cuddles and it's all fine.

I'm happy with the arrangement and so is the vet. It really seems like you need to find another vet with whom you can have a happy arrangement.
posted by cooker girl at 5:31 PM on March 5, 2013 [9 favorites]

Our situation was the same as cooker girl's and were were all very happy.
posted by michellenoel at 5:32 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

My cat is about 15 and I only take her in every three years to get a rabies shot. Or if she is sick which has never happened. Country vets are more used to this style. I took her to a city vet years ago who made me feel bad that I didn't have her teeth cleaned every 6 months! That's crazy.
posted by cda at 6:04 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've had several cats make it to the age of yours and more ( one made it to 22). They pretty much never went to the vet except for vaccinations. If you are of the "they lived a good long life" school of thought and are likely to treat anything like that by simply making the cat as comfortable as possible then waiting until they are showing discomfort to go to the vets seems reasonable to me and what we did with our cats. Of the five cats in my life all but one made it to 17 and the one that didn't died in a freak accident.

I'd save the money and buy both your cats heated cat beds, best thing I ever did for our old cats. You might want to look into pain management or arthritis treatment, and look out for your cats drinking a lot or suddenly loosing weight oh and find another vet.

Since moving to the US I have been amazed at how much vets try to upsell you over here for unnecessary treatments and tests (I still haven't had a good explanation from my US vet as to why my good old country vet in Australia could immunize for the same diseases once every 3 years that need yearly shots in the US). I'd be either looking for another vet or using your own best judgement, while I am sure vets love animals they are in the end businesses.
posted by wwax at 6:23 PM on March 5, 2013

We have 19 year old cats. I've had cats make it into their 20s. We don't do the crazy full-workup routines. They're cats. They get old. They die.

We absolutely provide treatment when they are obviously sick, or in discomfort, but preventative care is too expensive to justify.
posted by ellF at 6:41 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a 16-yr-old cat and my vet suggested I might want to have her teeth cleaned, and that was it. And he is an awesome vet--I'm way more into dogs, and all the breeders and performance dog people take their dogs to him. By the time a cat is 19, I don't think it would be right to stick them for blood every six months even if money were no object. Sounds like your vet is a little overly entrepreneurial.
posted by HotToddy at 6:53 PM on March 5, 2013

Your cats are old enough that, if they got seriously ill, I'd question the wisdom of treating them. A ninteen-year-old cat is Methuselah living on borrowed time.

I'd go to another vet. Vets who push pet owners to treat elderly pets for everything are, in my opinion, irresponsible and not putting the animal's welfare first. Your cat just wants to live out its days doing its normal, cat thing. I know that some dogs don't mind going to the vet, but I've yet to meet a cat who doesn't hate it a little.

And, um, what is an AskMe pet thread without pictures?!?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:59 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

My older cats are 16 and the younger one is 13. My vet suggests the 'every 6 months' thing, but is fine with me only bringing them in annually unless something is unusual. Well, two of them. The other has to get blood draws occasionally because she's hyperthyroid. I think it's every 4 months or so.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:04 PM on March 5, 2013

Sounds like your vet is sticking to the letter of AVMA guidelines. However, I've been using the same well-rated & respected vet office for the past 22 years and they've never suggested more than 1x/year routine checkups for any of my healthy cats, no matter how old they've gotten (and some have gotten quite old). $275 seems pretty steep for an routine visit, that's in the neighborhood of what my vet charges for a new kitten package (neuter, microchip, vaccinations, fecal parasite test, 3 months worth of Revolution, 3 well-kitten visits). I pay half that for a routine annual and also get a small additional discount for bringing in two cats at the same time.

Just visiting the vet once a year is plenty stressful enough for an otherwise healthy old kitty: I'm in the annual vet visit, indoor-with-enrichments, heated bed, best quality food, ample water, and keeping a close eye for physical/behavior changes camp of cat stewardship.
posted by jamaro at 7:24 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would find another vet or just ignore her advice. Yes, your cats are bloody old, but unless you think they are really ill, or think preventative check-ups on 19 year old cats are worth $650, don't listen, and enjoy every day you have with your moggies.

You do know that every day with a 19 year old cat could be the last, don't you? Spending $1300 per year isn't going to change that. Give them lots of love and snuggles and freedom and enjoy them while you have them.
posted by goo at 7:24 PM on March 5, 2013

I have an 18 year-old cat. He is on daily doses of prescription strength laxative, and I end up feeding him with a syringe more often than not. He's hanging in there.

My main concern with any vet visit at this point is the stress. The older they get, the worse they tend to handle any kind of big upset. And being taken to the vet and blood drawn can definitely be a big upset.

Thus, I need a clear mandate if I'm going to take him in. Weight loss, change in eating habits, change in litterbox habits: these are all signs of danger that should trigger a vet visit. I don't think it's wrong to take a super-elderly cat to the vet every six months for a check-up, but I question the utility.

Don't think that just because your cat is old, they don't deserve medical care. My own cat is a great example: turns out, constipation is a common issue in older cats. They stop eating, lose weight, and will have a too-firm lower belly. But the treatment (giving a laxative either mixed in the food or by mouth with a syringe) is simple, effective, and cheap.

Cats in good health receiving good care can often live to 20 and beyond. You have clearly done quite well for your two so far. I think your instincts are right.
posted by ErikaB at 7:44 PM on March 5, 2013

My cat is somewhere between 16 and 19, and is on some maintenance meds. We only take her to the vet when she's miserable, and we treat every visit like it might be her last. So far she's recovered quickly every time. But as she's aged, it's clear that even those trips are more and more stressful for her.

I wouldn't walk at the suggestion she needs to come in more, but I sure as hell would at the incredulousness.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:49 PM on March 5, 2013

I just put down a 14 year old cat yesterday (lymphoma). It was about the fifth vet visit of his life. I have no regrets about not bringing him in more. What useful information you would gain from doing these tests on a cat that old is beyond me. These vets don't sound like very nice people.
posted by deadweightloss at 8:50 PM on March 5, 2013

I have a 19-year-old cat and I agree with most of the folks here. A really old cat has dodged most of the health bullets and no amount of tests will prolong their lifespans past about 22 whatever you do. You love them, just keep an eye on their condition and they will advise.

One thing I do know about old cats: pay attention to the state of their claws. Old cats get thicker claws just like humans do with toenails, so they're harder for the cat themselves to keep trimmed, plus if the cat has a touch of arthritis in its shoulders it won't want to scratch them on surfaces as they once did. Just check now and then that there's no claws growing around into the paw pads.
posted by zadcat at 9:36 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

My 20 year-old cat only went when there something going on, in the last few years. For her, at least, the stress of going was worse than any benefit there may have been for a possibly useless trip to the vet. And I wasn't going to do any aggressive treatment for her anyway, I only wanted the end of her life to be as peaceful as possible. Our vet was so kind when it was getting clear she was only going to get worse, and he helped me prevent her from further misery. I think you need a new vet, there's no reason you should be on the same page with the people caring for your pet.
posted by upatree at 9:47 PM on March 5, 2013

I put my 16 year old cat to sleep in the fall. She was in kitty hospice for the last 2 years of her life. I kept her comfortable by getting her an antibiotic shot once per month for a cyst in her ear that I could not afford to have removed. She was fine until this past October when she cried all the time and was loosing weight.

I discussed all my options with my Vet. I could test her to the the tune of hundreds of dollars with no guarantee of a successful outcome, I could do nothing, or I could pick the time to end her suffering. She was not happy and her unhappiness was killing me. She had a peaceful passing in my lap. My Vet never guilt tripped me into getting her tested for anything. She hadn't been vaccinated in years. Just her monthly shot to keep her comfortable.

Not all vets in my area are like this. I spent $600 to find out from another Vet that my dog had gas. They call me every six months to tell me he needs more blood work. What a racket.

I would shop around for another Vet.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:08 PM on March 5, 2013

and they act INCREDULOUS that I think it's weird to bring a cat to the vet every 6 months for no particular reason

This attitude would be enough for me to end this relationship immediately. First, given the deplorable state of health care in this country, I'm put off by the apparent assumption that our pets are entitled to a level of medical attention that is not available to millions of people. Although now that I think about it, I would likely drop a doctor who recommend that I come in twice a year "for no particular reason". I certainly wouldn't give a moment's thought to the idea that I should wrestle my "feisty" (some say "mean") 16 year old Janey into her cage twice a year to go to the place she hates most for a "well-kitty checkup".

More anecdata: the above mentioned Janey hasn't been to the vet for a good 10 years. She's an indoor cat, is never exposed to other pets, and generally has little interaction with anyone other than me (see above re "mean"). I would, of course, take her to the vet if I saw signs of illness. The cats before Janey—Dorothy and Wally—were regularly vaccinated and taken to the vet when ill. With just basic, common sense care, both lived long lives, i.e., 20 and 17, respectively.

As others have already said, you're doing just fine. The issue is with them, not you.
posted by she's not there at 3:02 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Our oldest cat is 19, too, and a couple years ago I asked the vet if we could stop vaccinating her for anything she wasn't likely to encounter while being an indoor-only cat. She readily agreed and we stopped those vaccinations.

Our vet actually suggested that for our elderly kitty, who was around 17 at the time. We just lost her to kidney failure at almost 18.5. Up until last May she was incredibly healthy; I don't think she'd ever gone to the vet for anything except her annual and shots.

I really do think the stress factor matters for elderly pets at the vet, so I don't necessarily think that six-month well visits are a good idea.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:11 AM on March 6, 2013

Thank you all for your kind answers. I feel much better. I feel like I should defend the vet a little bit: I think this vet office walks the talk. They have office cats and most vets bring their dogs in. For the most part all the animals are the deaf, diabetic, one-eyed, three-legged animals they've all accumulated along the way. So I know they are good people!

I'm going to bring in only the cat that needs the T4 test and request that only tests related to her HyperT be done. I'm going to mention that we've decided preventative visits for the other cat are too stressful and we don't feel them necessary. In the past I think maybe I've been too vague and non-committal about it, sort of deflecting and not directly addressing the issue. I wasn't confident about my position but I feel more so now. Based on their response, I'll decide what to do going forward.

Good point about the country vs. city vet attitude. I did grow up in a rural area (my childhood animals' vet just split his practice into small vs. large animal offices within the last few years!) so I'm very used to the "only take your animal in when it's sick" type of vet.
posted by peep at 10:12 AM on March 6, 2013

A good thing to do for cats of all ages but especially older ones is to give them a good, vigorous brushing every day.
You will collect the excess hair (furballs of the future) plus it has the important added value of stimulating their kidneys as the skin and the kidneys have a connection to each other. As you may know their kidneys can become very problematic as they get older.
They love it, too, and will be purring away all the while. It should last about 10 minutes at least.
Bottled water is easier for thier kidneys to process waste, also.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 3:12 PM on March 6, 2013

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