Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, cats are living longer than ever before. It's not uncommon for a cat to live into their late teens or early 20s. This is great news, but it means we have to make sure we know how to care for our senior cats. Just like humans, senior cats have different needs than their younger counterparts.
What happens as my cat ages?
According to the American Animal Hospital Association, cats between the ages of 7-10 years are mature; cats between 11-14 years are seniors; and cats older than 15 years are geriatric.
Signs of aging in cats are similar to 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
- Seeking out warm places more than they used to
As your cat passes each stage of senior life, expect signs of aging to increase, and energy levels to decrease.
How to care for a senior cat: the basics.
Food and water: Senior cats' dietary needs aren't that different from those of younger cats. However, it's helpful to give them boosts of hydration and vitamins. Older cats also generally need to consume fewer calories than younger cats.
Hydration is important for cats of all ages, but 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, as canned food has a much higher percentage of water. Plus, canned food is easier to eat 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).
Some older cats also need help gaining weight. If this is the case with your cat, talk to your veterinarian, who will prescribe the best course of action.
Dental health: No one likes to hear this, but cats' teeth need to be cleaned regularly. Dental health becomes especially important in later life. If possible, brush your cat's teeth regularly. You can also supplement dental brushing with other teeth cleaning remedies — just make sure you choose the ones that are soft enough for a senior cat to chew. (For example, raw chicken necks are best for younger cats, but not seniors.)
Warmth: Almost all cats like warm places, but this becomes especially true as cats age and become more prone to arthritis. Make sure your cats' beds are in warm places, and are easily accessible to them. You might even want to purchase more beds, pillows or other soft items for her to lay on. Place them in sunbeams accordingly.
Behavioral changes: Be on the lookout for any irregularities in your cat's health or behavior, and take her to the vet if anything seems unusual. Cats are alarmingly good at hiding pain and illness, so it's important to keep a careful eye on them, especially as they age.
Vet visits: The Cornell Feline Health Center recommends taking senior cats in for check-ups every six months to make sure their health is at optimal conditions. This is about twice as often as younger cats, who generally only need a check-up once a year. Like we mentioned above, it's best to err on the safe side with older cats, as they're more prone to health issues (just like us).
Extra love: Senior cats benefit from a predictable schedule and some extra love and attention. Make sure you schedule some cuddle time into your days, if your cat is a cuddler. If she's not, schedule some gentle playtime or whatever kind of attention she prefers. Your cat likely won't be as playful as she used to be, but she still needs lots of love.
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.
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.