When Does a Cat Become a Senior? Expect These Stages of Life as Felines Age

Happy sleeping ginger cat
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Thanks to advances in veterinary care and nutrition, domestic cats are living longer than ever. But how do you know when your cat becomes a senior?

At what age does a cat become a senior?

According to the American Animal Hospital Association, a cat between 7-10 years old is mature; a cat between 11-14 years is senior; and a cat older than 15 years is geriatric. Cats are considered seniors by age 11.

How long do cats live?

Outdoor cats live shorter lives than indoor cats, so keeping your senior cat indoors is highly advisable. Indoor cats generally live between 13-17 years, but with advancements in veterinary care and nutrition, it's not uncommon for cats to live into their early twenties.

The difference in lifespans comes down to health and safety. Outdoor cats are at greater risk of traumas such as car accidents or attacks from other animals. They are also more susceptible to life-threatening viruses like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia. These viruses can be transmitted through contact with another outdoor cat. You may consider moving your outdoor cat inside to reduce these dangers.

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How to spot signs of aging in cats

The signs of aging in cats are similar to the signs of aging in humans. They include:

  • Graying hair
  • Hearing loss
  • Change in the appearance of the eyes.
  • Slowing down, less inclination to play
  • Sleeping more

All of these symptoms of aging are normal. However, as your cat gets older, keep a closer eye on her for major changes in appetite, bathroom habits or anything else that appears unusual. Any peculiarities with your senior cat should be examined by a veterinarian.

Stages of your senior cat's life

You can think of your senior cat as being roughly 70 years old in "human years." As your cat passes each stage of senior life, expect signs of aging to increase, and energy levels to decrease.

Mature: 7-10 years: Your cat has probably slowed down a bit, likes to nap and responds to changes in her environment with eye rolls. Mature cats often begin to suffer health problems like kidney disease, arthritis and diabetes. Be sure to take your kitty to the vet for her twice-yearly wellness check ups.

Senior: 11-14 years: Your cat might be napping more, but don't worry too much — she's just older and needs to rest. Senior cats often suffer hearing and vision loss, so be sure your vet performs a complete geriatric workup.

Geriatric 15 years and older: Your geriatric cat has not only slowed down, she may be reluctant to move and is less responsive than she was when she was a senior. You may notice signs of constipation or incontinence, reduced cognitive abilities, and even aggression. So give your geriatric cat lots of love.

The best food for senior cats.

Senior cats' dietary needs aren't wildly different from those of younger cats, but it's helpful to supplement their diets with vitamins and to provide them with increased hydration. Older cats also need fewer calories than younger cats.

Hydration is important for cats of all ages. However, as a cat ages, she becomes more prone to renal failure. This means that hydration is critical. Feed your senior cat canned wet food instead of dry food. Canned food has a much higher percentage of water and is easier to chew for older cats, who may have dental issues.

Most pet food manufacturers offer a variety of options for senior cats. Many senior cat foods incorporate higher amounts of vitamins B6 and D, fiber, calcium, omega fatty acids and antioxidants (though it varies by manufacturer).

Wet food: Wet food comes in cans and is about 75 percent water. This food is great for senior cats because it provides so much hydration. It's also soft and easy to eat, which is preferable for cats with any dental issues.

Dry Food: In contrast, dry food typically contains about 10 percent water. Most younger kitties do not have difficulty eating dry food (as long as they don't have kidney or urinary issues). Dry food, however, doesn't provide the hydration that senior cats need extra help with. Older cats often have sensitive teeth and many find dry food more difficult to eat. For senior cats, dry food is best as an occasional treat, or not at all if your cat has dental problems.

Fresh/ homemade food: Homemade food for senior cats is generally not advisable. It may sound like a good idea, but it carries a risk of nutritional deficiency, since you (probably) aren't a trained expert in feline nutrition. (If you are, please disregard this paragraph.) Unless your veterinarian recommends homemade food for your senior cat, stick to canned food, which contains all the protein and nutrients your cat needs.

Cat eating out of bowl
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How to care for a senior cat.

Senior cats have different dietary needs than younger cats do, but not as different as you might think. The main thing to remember is that senior cats need extra help with hydration and vitamins. Older cats also generally need fewer calories than younger cats.

Warmth: Most cats like warm places, but this becomes especially true as cats age and become more prone to arthritis. Make sure cat beds are placed in warm spots and are easily accessible.

Watch her closely: Keep your eyes peeled for any irregularities in your cat's health or behavior, and take her to the vet if anything seems off. Cats are alarmingly good at hiding ailments, so it's important to keep a careful eye on them, especially as they age.

Hydration: Hydration becomes increasingly important as a cat ages. Feeding your cat canned food is a great way to help her stay hydrated. In addition, make sure she has multiple water bowls around your home, so that water is easily accessible to her. If she's not that interested in drinking water, try making the water more delicious by adding a little bit of clam juice or chicken broth.

More frequent vet visits: The Cornell Feline Health Center recommends taking senior cats in for check ups every six months to ensure optimal health and wellness.

Extra love: Older cats benefit from a predictable schedule and a bit of extra attention. Make sure you schedule some cuddle time into your days. If your senior cat isn't much a snuggler, then schedule gentle playtime or whatever kind of attention she likes.

Conclusion

Your senior cat is well established as both a significant part of your life, but also as the true head of your household. She will live a long and healthy life by providing her with the appropriate food, dental hygiene, proper hydration, extra love and regular trips to the vet.

The right food for senior cats is crucial for their longevity, and wet food will help your older cat by providing a substantial source of hydration in an easier-to-eat form. Just be sure to keep an eye on your feline's mouth as older cats are more susceptible to dental disease.

Look for changes during this stage. Limping or less movement could mean joint pain, and excessive meowing can have underlying issues that should be treated.

Your relationship with your cat is made up of countless moments throughout your lives. Make each one as healthy as possible to enjoy as many as possible.