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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a 15-year-old cat, Midnight, who is constantly licking and sort of biting herself. She even has a couple of bald spots on her skin. And for the last month she has insisted on laying on my chest. Sometimes I see her just staring into space, like a person who daydreams. Also, she all of a sudden may shake . Can you tell me what might be wrong with her?

~Phyllis

Siouxsie: Well, Phyllis, what you’ve described is pretty vague, so we can only give you some ideas about what it might be. However, the person you really need to talk to is your vet.

Thomas: Especially for senior cats, regular vet visits are crucial. And here’s why.

Cat age chart

This chart shows cat ages in terms of the human lifespan. Notice, too, that outdoor cats age a lot more quickly than indoor cats.

Dahlia: Cats age a lot faster than humans, and according to most sources, a 15-year-old cat is considered geriatric — the equivalent of a 74-year-old person. The chart you see here, which came from the Cat Owner’s Manual published by Quirk Books, by way of our friends at Catster, will show you how to calculate your cat’s age in human years.

Siouxsie: The chart only goes up to 14, but for every year of age after that, most sources recommend adding two human years for every cat year.

Thomas: As is the case with humans, health problems associated with aging can crop up pretty quickly, and regular checkups are the best way to detect these problems before they become life-threatening.

Dahlia: Some vets recommend “senior cat” visits every six months, while others will suggest you stick with annual visits and come in more frequently if you have a concern about your elderly feline’s health.

Siouxsie: There are a lot of factors that will ultimately determine whether a cat will be more or less healthy as she ages. Genetics, environment, nutrition, and stress level are key among these. For example, I’m 14, but aside from a few white furs in my gorgeous black coat and a few aches and pains, you’d never know.

Thomas: But even though Siouxsie’s a very healthy cat, Mama takes her in for checkups once a year. And this summer when she suddenly lost about half a pound, Mama took her in again (Doctor Jim gave her a physical and she didn’t have any symptoms of serious illness, but he told Mama to keep an eye on her weight).

Dahlia: She takes Thomas and me for annual checkups, too. We hate them!

Siouxsie: So, with that said, Phyllis, your cat’s problem could be something as simple as fleas, which cause chewing and biting at the skin because that’s the way we groom them out and because those little suckers itch!

Thomas: It could be an allergy to flea bites or something in the environment, which would also cause excessive grooming, or it could be ringworm (if the spots are round).

Dahlia: Or she could be chronically stressed. Usually with stress grooming, you’ll see the naked spots on the abdomen or in mirror-image strips on the forelegs or the back.

Siouxsie: As for the shaking, we’re not sure whether you mean that her skin twitches and ripples, or if she actually has spasms of body shaking. These could mean very different things.

Thomas: Ultimately, Phyllis, you’re only going to get the answer to your question by taking Midnight to the vet for a physical exam. If something seems “off” to the vet, he or she may recommend blood tests, a urine test, or other diagnostics. The vet can also tell you how to monitor your cat’s health and behavior to detect early signs of any potential illness.

Dahlia: After her vet visit, you’ll know what is — or isn’t — wrong with Midnight, and even if nothing major is going on, you’ll have peace of mind from the knowledge that you had her checked by a professional.

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