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An old cat that looks scruffy could be suffering from an age-related disease like hyperthyroidism.

Siouxsie looked pretty scruffy by the time she was 17.

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a 17-year-old neutered male cat. He’s been losing weight as he gets older. Recently, he’s been looking unkempt and is wet when I touch him. Despite regular brushing, his hair is matting. He smells awful. He seems to be eating normally and using his litter. He’s always trying to get warm and keeps trying to sit on everyone. I’m afraid my cat is suffering and that a trip to the vet will only result in costly tests and a slim chance at treatment for another large cost. What can I do?

~ Lori-Ann

Thomas: It’s always hard to watch a cat get older, Lori-Ann. An elder kitty does tend to look unkempt and scruffy, and it may be due to age-related diseases.

Bella: The good news is that it may not be as expensive as you think to find out what’s going on, and that it may be easier and less expensive than you think to get your kitty to enjoy a good quality of life for his remaining years.

Tara: You see, old kitties can suffer from illnesses such as hyperthyroidism and chronic kidney disease, and both of those can be treated without a huge cost.

Thomas: But the first thing you’ll need to do is get your cat to the vet and find out what’s going on. The vet will want to run a blood test, which may run you a couple hundred dollars, and a urinalysis, which may run about $60 or so.

Bella: That is expensive for a lot of people — including Mama, because she’s on a pretty tight budget — but those two tests will tell you a lot about what’s going on with your kitty.

Tara: Your vet will be able to tell you if your cat has hyperthyroidism, which is what we suspect given the symptoms you mention, or some other illness.

Thomas: Keep in mind here that we are not veterinarians, and even if we were, we couldn’t diagnose your cat without seeing him and running that blood test. We’re telling you what we suspect based on our experience with our beloved Siouxsie Mew (may she frolic forever in the catnip-filled fields on the other side of the Bridge).

Bella: The good news is that there are several treatment options for hyperthyroidism, and although two of them — radioactive iodine therapy and surgery to remove the thyroid gland — could be quite expensive, there are two that are much more affordable.

Tara: One is a drug called methimazole. It helps reduce the overactivity of the thyroid gland and can help your cat feel better and maybe gain back some of the weight he’s lost. The other is a special diet designed to reduce the thyroid gland’s activity.

Thomas: When Mama was dealing with Siouxsie’s hyperthyroidism, she considered all of her options. Although she did do radioactive iodine therapy, it unfortunately didn’t work for Siouxsie, so she put her on methimazole.

Bella: It’s also possible that your cat has chronic kidney disease. This is pretty common in older cats. In fact, Thomas has chronic kidney disease.

Tara: Kidney disease is treated by providing lots of water and possibly administering subcutaneous (sub-Q for short) fluids.

Thomas: I’m not at the point in my kidney disease where I need sub-Q fluids yet, but when I do get there, Mama’s going to give them to me at home, which is a lot less expensive than going to the vet and having them do it. And I promise to behave!

Bella: Ultimately, Lori-Ann, the only way you’re going to know what’s going on with your cat will be to take him to the vet and have them run a few hundred dollars’ worth of tests.

Tara: Once you have the information you need, you’ll be able to decide on treatment options.

Thomas: And to keep your cat smelling better, we recommend regular brushing and using kitty cleaning wipes.

Bella: You see, as cats get older, they get arthritic and it makes it hard for them to clean themselves as effectively, and that’s probably why your cat smells bad.

Tara: It’s very rare for a cat to like baths, so the cleaning wipes are a good way to get your little old man smelling better.

Thomas: We think it’s worth the money to find out what’s going on with your cat so he has the best possible quality of life for his remaining years.

Bella: What about you other readers? Have you had a cat that got scruffy as he aged? What did the problem turn out to be, and what did you do to help keep your cat clean? Please share your tips in the comments.