Sticky Matted Hair in an Older Cat

Kidney Failure may Cause Excessive Licking

While oooing and ahhing at the beautiful and peaceful new Cattery at Animal Humane last week I was asked about a 17 year old cat. While active and feeling well for her age she’s been licking her coat excessively for several months. When her owner pets her she often finds gooey saliva on her badly matted hair which has been recently falling off in clumps.

Cats who don’t groom themselves normally often end up with sticky dread locks that are not so stylish. Itchy skin is one possible cause. A skin scraping and fungal culture would help rule out mange and ringworm. An oral exam will also be important to check for chronic, aching dental infections and tender gums. But the worst risk for this sweet old girl may be kidney failure.

Cats between ages 10 and 14 need annual exams and lab profiles to screen for signs of organ failure, cancer, and other age-related changes.  After 14, during their social security years, every 6 months is best. There is so much we can do to extend a good quality of life – but only if we find problems early enough. This means cat owners not waiting for the “sudden” appearance of a medical crisis.

All aging feline kidneys gradually lose their ability to eliminate normal waste products. As these toxins accumulate in the blood they wreak havoc elsewhere in the body. The non-stop nausea and painful oral ulcers in cats with advanced kidney disease can lead to incessant licking, resulting in a telltale bad hair day every day. This elderly kitty needs to see her doctor. Her problems are probably not curable but I’m betting she can feel better and improve her curb appeal.

Cats are physiologically wild animals with a life expectancy in nature of only about 3-4 years. They just aren’t programmed for old age. We can cheat Mother Nature with good food and medical care as we coax their systems into the golden years but their bodies are slowly wearing out anyway. The reality is that kidney failure is a medical certainty for all cats in the shuffle board set.  In order to keep them happy and functional in retirement we need to pay close attention.