Caring for a senior cat is both rewarding and challenging. While they are less likely to tear up your couch or knock something over from having the zoomies, they will rely on you to pay close attention to them and their habits as they mature and become less active. Senior cats may snuggle more as their body weight reduces and their need for warmth increases, or they might become less of a lap cat due to aching joints from the extra pounds they’ve gained in their increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Whichever way their bodies change, it will be up to you to read their signals and do your best to keep them comfortable and secure in their golden years.
The stages of a cat's life are broken down by age ranges which determine their equivalence to a human’s life. Most professionals agree a cat reaches the senior stage at 11 or 12 years of age, with the geriatric stage starting at age 15. (Check out this Cat age converter to see how old your cat is in human years.) Not unlike humans, cats tend to slow down when they hit their senior stage. They are less interested in playing and may begin to sleep more than before. Knowing your cat’s normal behavior as it ages is important in order to recognize when there might be an underlying problem needing veterinary assistance (and not merely normal signs of aging).
Annual well visits are recommended throughout the life of your pet, but once you start to notice signs of aging it is important for your vet to assess your pet’s condition. Early detection of diseases which afflict elderly cats, when treated early, can enhance your cat’s quality of life and reduce more frequent vet visits for the future. Here is a brief list of signs that your senior cat needs your help:
Changes in sleep habits - Sleeping longer or more deeply, as well as excessive energy could indicate a thyroid-related matter. Speak to your vet regarding sleeping concerns.
Extreme weight gain or loss - Changes in weight could be related to a number of problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, or kidney disease. Changing metabolism could also cause weight changes. Speak to your vet with any weight related problems.
Changes in behavior and/or grooming - Depression and reduced grooming habits can be a symptom of joint pain, or stomach or urinary tract issues and should be professionally addressed.
Loose Stool or Constipation - Dehydration is common in older cats, which can cause constipation. Irritable Bowel Syndrome can manifest as loose or bloody stool, but can be medically relieved when addressed. Being aware of your cat’s litter box habits is an important part of senior care.
These are but a few symptoms of aging in your cat. While many issues need to be diagnosed by a medical professional, there are many things you can do to assist your cat while it settles into its final stages of life. Following are a few suggestions to help your senior better adapt to its changing body.
Brush your cat’s coat - As grooming becomes more difficult for your senior, using a soft brush to smooth out any mats can help ease pain from knotted fur. The skin of an aging cat will thin the same as humans, so keeping their coats free of mats with a soft brush will ease any potential nerve pain and aid in circulation.
Make things more accessible - Switching to a lower litter box threshold, raising food and water dishes for less bending, and providing stairs to get onto couches and beds will help your cat whose joints might have begun to ache. Keep their necessary items close so they don’t have to travel far to get what they need.
Maintain adequate household temperatures - Consider keeping a pet-safe heater near your cat’s sleeping area or using a body-heat reflective pad for their bedding. During hotter months, be sure your cat has proper air flow and cooling methods available.
Assess nutritional needs - Always provide plenty of water that is freshly refilled often, and clean your cat’s food and water bowls with every meal. Discuss with your vet the possibility of prescribed or senior cat foods to help control proper weight and medical conditions. Remember that high-value food earlier in life can produce a healthier senior with less medical problems.
Whether your cat has been with you since its kitten stage or came to you later in life, your connection to one another has deepened since you first began to become aware of your cat’s needs and habits. And though seeing your cat grow old may cause your heart to ache a little, it cannot compare to the years of joy your unique and special bond has brought to you.