Pets are more than just our companions—they are a part of the family. As your pet ages, it is important to consult your veterinarian for help providing the proper care for your senior pet’s changing needs.
Every animal is different, so the senior life stage occurs at different ages in different pets.
For instance, dogs are typically considered seniors at seven years old, but older dogs age more quickly than smaller dogs.
Cats can be considered mature at 7 years and seniors at 11 years old.
Breed and species aside, your pet’s genetics, nutrition, health and environment will ultimately determine when your pet is considered a senior.
Cat growing older? Here is 17 tips to follow for your aging cat.
What can you do to help your aging cat? Here are some tips:
1. Schedule Regular Wellness Check-ups.
It’s best to develop a close relationship with your cat’s veterinarian while your cat is still healthy, so they get to know your cat and can detect subtle changes that may indicate a health condition or disease.
Feline experts agree that cats need to visit their veterinarian more often as they age, usually about every 6 months, even if your cat appears healthy.
While this may seem very frequent, please keep in mind that 6 months in cat years is roughly equivalent to 2 years for a person and a lot can change in that time.
2. Set Your Senior Cat Up for Success at the Veterinarian.
Reduce the stress of veterinary visits by getting your cat accustomed with his carrier in advance of the appointment and making the carrier cozy with soft, familiar bedding.
Leave plenty of time to arrive so you are unhurried and calm.Prepare a list of questions or concerns to ask your veterinarian at your cat’s regular check-up.
3. Know Your Cat’s Habits and Pay Attention to Changes.
Cats are masters at hiding illness. Signs are often subtle and easily missed.
If you notice a difference in behavior, such as sleeping more or hiding, don’t ignore it! Speak up and tell your veterinarian.
It can be helpful to keep a diary to track of appetite, vomiting, and bowel movements. Also, make sure to tell your veterinarian about any changes in your cat’s behavior because you know your cat and his routines better than anyone.
4. Beware of Changes in Weight.
Both weight gain AND unplanned weight loss requires a visit to the veterinarian. Weight gain can predispose your cat to chronic diseases and a shortened life span.
Weight loss in senior cats is usually a sign that something is amiss. Some of the most common diseases causing weight loss – hyperthyroidism, intestinal disease, and diabetes – occur with a normal or even increased appetite.
Gradual changes in weight are hard to notice and monitoring your cat’s weight is one of the most important reasons for routine examinations by your veterinarian.
5. They’re Not Just “Slowing Down.”
Slowing down is often a sign of underlying discomfort or pain. Arthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is present in the vast majority of older cats. Appropriate treatment can help them remain active and engaged.
If your cat has difficulty going up or down steps, does not jump like he used to, or isn’t using the litter box, talk to your veterinarian.
6. Look When You Scoop.
Are your cat’s stools becoming softer, harder, or changing color? Is she not defecating daily?
Constipation is a common, yet under recognized sign of dehydration in older cats, but if attended to early, your veterinarian can help get your kitty comfortable again.
Has the amount of urine in the litter box changed? Increased urine output can signal some of the most common illnesses in elderly cats – from diabetes or an overactive thyroid gland to kidney disease and high blood pressure.
7. Take a “Cat’s Eye View” of the Litter box.
If your cat starts to miss the litter box and or have “accidents” around your house, there may be a medical issue causing your cat to house-soil.
Urinary infections, constipation, arthritis, and muscle weakness are just a few of the reasons an older cat can develop litter box issues.
Your veterinarian can evaluate the various medical issues and help you address home or environmental concerns that may be contributing to the change in your cat’s behavior.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is the litter box easy for your elderly cat to get into (i.e. there isn’t a high step into the box)?
- Is the litter box in a location that is not hard to access such as up or down stairs?
- Is the litter box in an area that is quiet and protected from other pets that may startle or frighten your older cat?
- Are you scooping and cleaning the litter box often enough to keep up with that increased urine output?
- Is the litter gentle on your senior kitty’s paws?
8. Know That Your Cat’s Needs Will Change.
Your household environment will likely need to have some adjustments made for your senior cat.
As cats grow older, they often need extra padding and warmth for comfort, so be sure to provide soft sleeping places.
Make their preferred sleeping and resting spots easily accessible by using stepping stools, ramps, and other ways to assist.
9. Know How Much Your Cat is Eating.
Nutritional needs change with chronic diseases and for some healthy older cats as well. Discuss nutrition with your cat’s veterinarian and get recommendations for your cat.
Owners are often unaware of how much their cat is actually eating on a daily basis, especially in households with multiple cats.
Monitor food intake so you know immediately if your cat is eating less. This helps your veterinarian intervene sooner when problems are easier to address.
10. Enjoy Your Special Bond.
Bonds with our older companions are special and we rely on our cats as much as they rely on us. Elderly cats often crave more attention than they had earlier in life.
Continue to provide physical and mental stimulation by petting, playing, and interacting in your special ways.
Help out with grooming by gently brushing or combing, and keep nails from becoming overgrown with regular nail trims. The nails of older arthritic cats sometimes overgrow into the paw pads, and this is painful.
11. Caring For Elderly Cat’s Teeth
Tooth or gum problems become common as a cat gets older, so they may not be able to chew harder foods which is why senior dry foods often have smaller, softer pellets.
It is almost inevitable that as a cat reaches old age, his oral health will deteriorate to the point where intervention is required.
Giving an anaesthetic to an elderly cat concerns many owners, but with modern anaesthetics age itself is no barrier.
Dental care under anaesthetic is now commonly carried out on older cats once they have been checked out for any underlying disease.
12. Grooming and Claw Care For Older Cats
Difficulty in grooming may be indicative of an underlying problem such as dental disease or neck pain, but sometimes it is due to senility.
In hot weather, a soiled and matted coat can lead to flystrike: an infestation with maggots that can be life-threatening.
Elderly cats that have coped with their own coat care throughout their lives may start to need regular grooming.
Claws should also be checked regularly too, because if a cat stops using a scratch post to pull off the dead outer claw they can grow around and into the pad, causing a lot of pain.
13. Keep an Eye On Water Intake
This can be sign of several common diseases that may develop in older cats, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism and kidney disease, so an increase in thirst is a really important sign to look out for.
With an indoor cat it is usually pretty easy to spot changes in water intake. Whether the cat lives predominately indoors or not, it is often changes in drinking pattern that are most noticeable – such as seeing a cat drinking more frequently, or from water sources that he did not previously use.
14. Lumps and Bumps
The chances of most types of cancer developing in cats increases with age, although not all tumours are cancerous – and even those that are can often be treated successfully.
Get into the habit of checking your cat regularly for any abnormal swellings, and if you notice any, get them checked out promptly.
15. Call your veterinarian
Sometimes a cat that once had a huge appetite may become reluctant to even approach the food bowl.
Cat owners have tried everything to get their pets to eat, from mixing in tuna juice to warming food, but these home remedies have limited success, Wakshlag says.
Any time your cat won’t eat (unless you’ve just switched his food), call your veterinarian.
Appetite loss is usually a sign of an underlying condition. Gastrointestinal disease, cancer, and chronic pain can all affect a cat’s appetite.
Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition and get your cat started on the right treatment.
If necessary, an appetite-stimulating drug, such as cyproheptadine or mirtazapine, may be prescribed.
16. Feed your older cat a diet with adequate protein levels.
Avoid vegan or vegetarian diets. Cats are obligate carnivores. They require nutrients such as taurine and arachidonic acid that are only found in animal sources.
They also require a higher protein level than dogs, comparatively. Learn to read a pet food label and feed a diet that is appropriate for your cat’s age and lifestyle.
17. Keep the cat warm:
Elderly cats can be the most cuddly of all, really craving the warmth of a human body at night, especially if they are thin.
If you don’t want your cat to sleep with you, you can provide a heating pad if it’s well-padded to keep it from being too hot, and to protect it well from cat claws.