If you've just invited a senior cat into your life and home, or if your feline friend of years is just getting up there in age, you may have some questions about how to best take care of him. For the most part, caring for an older cat requires the same commitment as that of a younger cat, with some additional considerations, and added efforts for some. Generally, senior cats will display less energy and playfulness than younger cats, and may show signs of aging in the forms of arthritis, dental issues, and changes to their bathroom habits.
What is a senior cat?
While there is no hard line set for cats to cross over into senior age status, most medical professionals note that changes caused by age begin to occur in felines sometime between seven and 10 years old. By age 12, cats are considered to be in their senior years, and changes should be made in areas like veterinary care and diet to ensure the best health and wellness into their later stages of life. Senior cats will sometimes require more quiet time than younger cats, and may be more susceptible to illness as their immune systems grow weaker. However, a cat in her golden years is certainly capable of providing love and affection, may still hunt later in life, and does still need the opportunity to exercise regularly, just like any other cat.
Common issues among senior cats
For the most part, older cats are capable of living lives just as full as their younger counterparts, although some changes in physical health and behavior are noted among many felines later in life. One common source of issues among older cats is the urinary tract. Feline lower urinary tract disease, or FLUTD, is not uncommon among middle-aged and senior cats who may display symptoms like straining to urinate, crying while urinating, and urinating outside of the litter box. Dental issues can also come up for senior cats, like periodontal disease, which is not uncommon but can be treated and prevented with regular dental care throughout a cat's life. Sometimes, food intolerances may appear in older cats, as will changes to their eating habits, like over or under eating.
Finally, you will likely notice behavior changes in your cat as she gets up there in age, many of which are nothing to worry about and just come with the natural aging process. Like any animal of advanced age, a cat will experience changes in their memory, awareness, perception and cognitive functioning. All of these limitations can result in changes to their behavior, and some cats may become more shy, anxious, aggressive or irritable, while others may find themselves seeking comfort and being a bit snugglier than they once were.
Veterinary care for older cats
As your cat progresses in age, veterinary care should increase to having checkups about every six to 12 months, and the type of care your cat receives will change to reflect his age. For example, blood work and fecal exams should be given about once a year at checkups to help with spotting any illnesses or conditions that may require treatment.
While it's not guaranteed to happen with every aging cat, medical issues like thyroid problems, cancer, sight and hearing impairment and even senility can affect many cats later in life. Regular veterinary visits can help cat guardians determine if symptoms like increased sleeping or decreased appetite are symptoms of a medical problem or merely side effects of aging. Your vet can also recommend a diet that's appropriate for your aging cat.
To help keep your cat as healthy and comfortable as possible in the later years of his life, staying on top of basic cat care is the best place to start. Providing clean water and food, a fresh litter box, and affection when needed can contribute to a great quality of life for an older feline. Additionally, grooming usually slows down as a cat gets a bit older, so offering regular hair brushing, teeth cleaning (if advised by your veterinarian,) and nail trimming can help keep your cat comfortable. If your cat has mobility issues, making everyday items accessible, like food and water bowls, litter boxes, and favorite resting places can help your cat adjust to these newfound limitations, which often occur over time. Many cat parents will add additional feeding stations and litter boxes around the house, as well as steps or sturdy surfaces for a cat to climb and reach spots off the ground.
Finally, part of making life comfortable for an aging cat is to respect his space and limits, and not put him in a position where he might become agitated. If you know your cat doesn't appreciate being petted by new people, handled by young children, bothered by dogs or picked up by anyone, be sure to inform anyone in the home to abide by his limits. When possible, allow for some private time and space for your older cat to find some alone time if he needs it.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.