Senior cats require specific care to keep them happy and healthy throughout their old age. Today, our Clarksville vets discuss when a cat is considered a senior and share essential tips for proper care.
Your Cat's Age in Human Years
Like humans, each cat experiences aging differently. Many cats start exhibiting age-related physical changes between 7-10 years, and most have by about 12 years old. The common understanding that one "cat year" is equivalent to 7 "human years" isn't quite accurate; instead, the accepted wisdom is that the first year of a cat is similar to the growth of a 16-year-old human, and a cat at 2 years old is more similar to a human between 21-24 years old.
After that, each year for a cat is equal to roughly four human years (e.g. a 10-year-old cat = 53-year-old human; a 12-year-old cat = 61-year-old human; a 15-year-old cat = 73-year-old human, etc).
Cats are considered to be "senior" when they are about 11 years old, and "super-senior" when they reach over 15. Caring for older cats sometimes helps to think of their age in human terms.
Changes in an Aging Cat
Like their owners, cats go through various physical and behavioral changes as they grow older. Although aging is a natural process and not a disease, keeping your veterinarian informed about your senior cat's changes is crucial to ensure their overall well-being. Some changes to watch out for include:
- 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. Behavioral changes such as litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and seeming disorientated are also potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be examined by your vet.
- Issues caused by disease. Your cat's mood is crucial to watch as they might display aggression when in pain from issues like dental disease or arthritis. Cats tend to conceal discomfort, making it essential to be attentive. Health problems like diabetes or kidney failure can cause cats to use the litterbox more frequently, and if left unaddressed, they may start eliminating in inappropriate spots. Mobility issues due to joint inflammation might make it hard for senior cats to access their litterbox, leading to further inappropriate elimination. If you notice any of these signs, consult a vet promptly.
- Grooming & appearance. Matted or oily fur is caused by less effective grooming by an aging cat, which can result in painful hair matting, skin odor, and inflammation. Senior cats' claws are often overgrown, thick, and brittle, requiring more attention from their caretakers. Aging cats commonly have a slightly hazy lens and a 'lacy' appearance to the colorful part of the eye (iris), but there is little evidence that this significantly affects their sight. However, several diseases, especially those associated with high blood pressure, can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see. Unintentional weight loss or weight gain: In an older cat, weight loss can be a sign of any number of problems, from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Dental disease is extremely common in older cats and can hinder eating, causing weight loss and malnutrition in addition to causing them significant pain.
- Physical activity & abilities. Older cats often experience degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, making it difficult to access litter boxes, food and water bowls, and beds. This is especially true if they have to jump or climb stairs. Changes in sleep are a normal part of aging, but a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep could cause you to contact your vet. Aging cats that suddenly have an increase in energy may have signs of hyperthyroidism and should be seen by a vet. Inappropriate weight loss/gain can be a sign of issues ranging from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Hearing loss is common in geriatric cats for several reasons and should be monitored by your veterinarian.
Keeping Your Senior Cat Healthy
Observing your senior cat and making simple changes to grooming, feeding, and interactions can play a crucial role in ensuring your furry friend stays happy and healthy as they age.
- 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.
- Homelife: 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 exams, 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.
How Your Vet Can Help
Your understanding of your cat and what you notice about them are valuable resources for your vet. Regular wellness check-ups are also essential. Depending on your cat's specific needs, your vet might recommend more frequent physical evaluations, especially if they have any medical conditions.
When it comes to senior cats, a wellness examination involves the vet checking their weight, skin and fur condition, organ systems, and behavior. The vet may also run diagnostic tests for common conditions in older cats. To ensure a healthier and happier life for your senior cat, it's crucial to combine proper homecare with cooperative veterinary care involving you and your family.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.