Caring for Senior Cats

Thanks to modern veterinary medicine, our cats and dogs are living longer than ever. With this benefit comes the need for owners to know how to care for their pets in their senior years. Here, our Sharpsburg vets share some tips for caring for senior cats.

A Cat's Age in Human Years

Like humans, each cat experiences aging differently.

Many cats begin to change physically between the ages of 7 and 10, with the majority beginning by the age of 12 years. While many people believe that one "cat year" is equal to seven "human years," this is not entirely correct. Instead, keep in mind that a cat's first year is comparable to the development of a 16-year-old human.

At 2 years old, a cat is more similar to a human between 21 to 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, etc.)

Cats are considered senior at 10 years old, and "super senior" at 15 and up. Their needs might change during these years, as cats also become more fragile with time.

Aging Cats

Cats can experience many changes in their physicality and behavior as they age, just like their humans. While aging is not a disease in itself, keeping your vet abreast of changes in your senior cat will play an integral role in ensuring they receive the most comprehensive geriatric vet care possible. 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 develop matted or oily fur. This can result in odors on the skin, inflammation, and painful hair matting. Senior cats' claws are also often overgrown, brittle, or thick and will need more attention from their caregivers.
  • Unintentional weight loss or gain. Older cats may lose weight. This can point to numerous problems, from kidney and heart disease to diabetes. Aging cats also commonly develop dental diseases, which can hinder eating and lead to weight loss and malnutrition. 
  • Physical activity & abilities. Degenerative joint disease, also known as arthritis, is a common problem in older cats who may have difficulty accessing water and food bowls, beds, and litter boxes. The requirement to jump or climb stairs may further impede their ability to reach vital locations. While changes in sleep patterns are a normal part of aging, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep may be cause for concern and should be reported to 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.
  • 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. 

How to Care for a Senior Cat

Here are some simple changes you can incorporate into your kitty's routine to make them more comfortable in their senior years:

  • 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, as well as regular wellness exams, are valuable resources for your veterinarian. Depending on your cat's needs (for example, if he or she has a medical condition), your veterinarian may advise you to increase the frequency of physical examinations. A senior cat wellness examination includes the veterinarian checking the cat's weight, skin and fur condition, organ systems, and behavior, as well as running diagnostic tests for certain conditions common in older cats.

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. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.

Have more questions about caring for your feline friend in their golden years? Contact our Sharpsburg vets today!