Old Cats: Caring for Senior Cats

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A Cat’s Age in Human Years

Much like their humans, every cat will experience aging differently. Many cats start to undergo physical changes between the age of 7 and 10 years old, and most will have begun this process by about 12 years old. While many people subscribe to a common rule of thumb that one “cat year” is equivalent to seven “human years”, this isn’t quite accurate. Instead, we should keep in mind that by the time a cat is one year old, they will have developed along the same timeline as a 16-year-old human. 

At two years old, a cat is more similar to a human between 21 and 24 years old. After that, each year for a cat equals roughly four human years (for example, a 10-year-old cat = a 53-year-old human; a 12-year-old cat = a 61-year-old human; a 15-year-old cat = a 73-year-old human, and so on). 

Once your cat is 11 years old, they will be considered a “senior”. If your kitty is over 15 years old, you’ll be caring for a “super senior” cat. It is sometimes helpful to think of a cat’s age in human terms when caring for senior cats, as this may help you to better understand potential health issues in relation to years lived. 

Aging Cats 

You may see your cat experience many changes in their behavior and physicality as they age, just like their humans. While aging is not a disease in itself, keeping your vet updated about changes in your senior cat is one way you can ensure they receive the most comprehensive veterinary care in their twilight years. Some changes to watch for include: 

Physical Changes

Grooming & Appearance 

As cats age, they may become less effective at grooming for a few reasons, and their fur may become oily or matted. This can lead to inflammation, painful hair matting and skin odor. Senior cats’ claws are also often brittle, thick, or outgrown, and will need more attention from their caregivers. You might also notice the iris (the colorful part of a cat’s eye) develops a lacy appearance or slightly hazy lens. While there is little evidence that a cat’s sight is significantly impacted by this, several diseases such as those related to high blood pressure can severely and irreversibly impair a cat’s ability to see. 

Unintentional Weight Gain or Loss 

Weight loss in older cats can point to numerous internal health issues such as kidney problems, diabetes, and heart disease.

Aging cats may also be at risk for dental diseases, which can inhibit eating and lead to weight loss and malnutrition. Oral health problems can also cause significant pain in your cat’s mouth. 

Physical Activity & Abilities

Arthritis or degenerative joint disease often becomes an issue for older cats who may have difficulty accessing food and water bowls, litter boxes and beds. 

If your kitty needs to climb stairs or jump to specific heights to reach essential places such as a sleeping spot or litter box, these may not be as accessible to them. 

While your cat’s sleep patterns may change as they age, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep may warrant contacting your vet. A great increase in energy may indicate hyperthyroidism and should also be investigated. Hearing loss is also a common health issue in senior cats for many potential reasons. These should all be checked by your veterinarian. 

Behavioral Changes

Cognitive Issues

If you notice that your cat has started being confused by tasks or objects that are part of their daily routine, this may be a sign of issues with memory or cognition. Behavioral changes such as litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and seeming disorientated, are also potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be examined by your vet.

Issues Caused by Disease

A cat may become aggressive due to pain from health issues like dental disease or arthritis, so keeping an eye on your cat’s mood is important because cats tend to hide discomfort. Diseases and disorders affecting urination (e.g. diabetes, kidney failure) can cause an increase in litterbox usage, which may lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate areas. Cats that are experiencing mobility problems due to joint inflammation may have challenges accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also lead to your senior cat eliminating in inappropriate places and should be addressed by a vet.

Caring for Senior Cats

When it comes to looking after a senior cat, they will have different care requirements than kittens or even middle-aged cats.  Your observations are some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy. Incorporating simple changes to your grooming, feeding, and general interactions with your cat can be a low-pressure way to watch for any changes in your aging pet.

Grooming

Brushing your cat’s fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are great ways to keep older cats clean and healthy, while also checking for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.

Nutrition

A lot of cats get heavy or even obese as they get older, which can be controlled with diet and activity if the weight gain is non-medical. Other weight issues include elderly cats being underweight, which may be caused by a variety of medical conditions and should be assessed by a veterinarian.

Home Life

Older cats can be more sensitive to changes in routine or household, which can lead to stress. Patience and accommodations (extra affection, a favorite toy or blanket, a quiet room for them to stay in) go a long way to helping your senior cat adjust to upsetting changes. Don’t forget to keep playing with your cat as they age; mental and physical stimulation is beneficial for their well-being.

Vet Care

Because cats are adept at hiding illness until it is advanced or severe, it’s important to take them regularly to the vet for wellness checks even if they seem perfectly healthy. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor any conditions that your senior cat may have, and catch any potential or emerging issues early when they’re more treatable. their behavior and health.

Vet Care for Senior Cats

Your knowledge of your cat and your observations are an important resource for your vet, as are regular wellness examinations. Depending on your cat’s needs (e.g. if they have a medical condition), your vet may suggest increasing the frequency of physical evaluations. A wellness examination of a senior cat includes the vet checking the cat’s weight, skin & fur condition, organ systems, and behavior, and running diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in older felines.

The combination of homecare and cooperative veterinary care is a great way to help ensure your senior cat has a healthier, happier life with you and your family.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

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