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Old Cats – Caring for Senior Cats

Our senior cats are living longer than ever with advancements in veterinary care and medicine. Today, our Woburn veterinarians discuss how you can keep your senior cat happy and healthy.

A Cat's Age in Human Years

Every cat ages differently, like humans. Most cats start experiencing physical changes between 7 and 10 years old, with the majority experiencing these changes by age 12.

The common belief that one "cat year" equals 7 "human years" is inaccurate. A cat's first year of life is similar to a 16-year-old human's development. At two years old, a cat is more identical to a human between 21 and 24 years old. After this, every cat year is equivalent to approximately four human years. For instance, a 10-year-old cat is similar to a 53-year-old human, a 12-year-old cat is similar to a 61-year-old human, a 15-year-old cat is similar to a 73-year-old human, and so on.

Cats are considered "senior" by the time they reach 11 years old and "super senior" if they are over 15. Understanding your cat's age in human terms might help you identify potential health issues and care for them better as they age.

How to Care for a Senior Cat 

As cats age, they undergo several physical and behavioral changes similar to those experienced by humans. Although aging is not a disease, informing your vet about changes in your senior cat's health is crucial. This proactive approach will help ensure your cat receives the best possible geriatric veterinary care. Some signs to look out for include:

Physical changes

  • Grooming & appearance. As cats grow older, they may experience a decline in grooming abilities, leading to matted or oily fur development. This decline in grooming can lead to skin odors, inflammation, and painful hair matting. Additionally, senior cats' claws tend to become overgrown, brittle, or thick, requiring more attention from their caregivers. You may also notice a lacy appearance or a slightly hazy lens in the iris (the colored part of the eye). While there is little evidence that their sight is significantly impacted, several diseases, such as those related to high blood pressure, can severely and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see.
  • Unintentional weight loss or gain. Older cats may lose weight, indicating numerous problems, from kidney and heart disease to diabetes. Aging cats also commonly develop dental diseases, hindering eating and leading to weight loss and malnutrition. Oral health problems can also cause significant mouth pain.
  • Physical activity & abilities. Degenerative joint disease or arthritis is a common problem in older cats, making accessing essential areas such as water and food bowls, beds, and litter boxes difficult. The need to climb stairs or jump may exacerbate the issue. While changes in sleep patterns are a normal part of aging, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep may be a reason for concern and a good reason to contact your veterinarian. A marked increase in energy may indicate hyperthyroidism and warrants checking. Veterinarians should also check for hearing loss, which is a common health issue in geriatric cats due to various factors.
  • 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. 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 inappropriate areas. Cats experiencing mobility problems due to joint inflammation may have challenges accessing or climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also lead to your senior cat being eliminated in inappropriate places, which a vet should address.

Caring for Senior Cats

As your cat ages, their needs change, requiring more attention and specialized care. This is especially true for senior cats, as they have different care requirements than kittens or middle-aged cats. One of the most important ways to keep your senior cat healthy and happy is through observation. By paying close attention to your cat's behavior, you can detect any changes early and take appropriate action. Simple changes to your grooming, feeding, and general interactions with your cat can help keep your aging pet healthy and happy.

  • Grooming: Brushing your cat's fur, trimming its claws, and brushing its 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: Many cats become heavy or even obese as they age, which can be controlled with diet and activity if the weight gain is non-medical. Other weight issues may arise in elderly cats, such as being underweight, which various medical conditions may cause 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 benefits their well-being.
  • Vet care: Cats hide their illnesses until they become severe, which is why regular vet checkups are essential, even if they appear healthy. Visiting a veterinarian for wellness checks will help monitor any underlying conditions in senior cats and catch any emerging problems early when they are more treatable. Therefore, being mindful of your cat's behavior and health is important.

Vet Care for Senior Cats

As a cat owner, your knowledge of your pet and observations are valuable resources for your vet. Regular wellness examinations are essential to meet your cat's health needs. If your cat has a medical condition, your vet may recommend more frequent physical evaluations.

During a wellness examination of a senior cat, the vet will check their weight, skin and fur condition, organ systems, and behavior. Additionally, the vet may run diagnostic tests for specific conditions common in older cats.

Combining homecare with cooperative veterinary care can help your senior cat have 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 to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.

Want more information on how to care for your senior cat? Contact our Woburn vets.

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