As cats grow older, they undergo numerous changes. So, you’ll see a little gray in your cat’s muzzle, and it will spend more time asleep. However, in some cases, your cat may become increasingly bad-tempered and cantankerous.
If an older cat is grumpy, it could be in pain. Your cat could be arthritic, which will make day-to-day tasks more difficult. Your cat may also be overtired, as senior cats sleep more and dislike having their naps interrupted. Elderly cats may struggle to groom as thoroughly, which can leave a fastidious feline feeling moody and irritable.
A slow and steady decline is likely to be due to age-related concerns. However, sudden and inexplicable changes in behavior and demeanor could signify a medical problem, such as cognitive decline (feline dementia).
Do Cats Get Moody as They Age?
Every cat is an individual, so we shouldn’t assume that all cats become moody as they age. Some cats remain as gentle as kittens in their dotage, while others will become less tolerant of handling, change, and company.
Any sudden and unexplainable change in a cat’s demeanor merits investigation. Aging introduces a range of challenges for cats, though. Your cat will not be as nimble as it once was. This can be frustrating. Your cat will be antagonized by an inability to run and jump as it once did.
Older cats are more tired, too. Senior cats sleep as much as twenty hours a day. Just like humans, a tired cat does resent being bothered. Adjust your expectations of interaction with a senior cat. It may not wish to play or cuddle as much as it used to.
All the same, do not simply write off curmudgeonly behavior as, “just old age.” There will likely be an explanation, even if it is not immediately obvious. Try to determine why your cat is grumpy and resolve the problem. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of discomfort.
The likeliest explanation for a cranky older cat is pain. Cats of any age do not like to show signs of pain. Felines consider this an act of weakness. If the cat is uncomfortable, it will be reflected in its behavior.
A cat’s pain may not be related to a medical ailment, though. Two issues that plague many older felines are arthritis and dental pain. These problems can be identified through observation. Taking steps to improve your cat’s quality of life will, in turn, improve its mood.
Arthritis is the bane of many senior’s cat lives. As a cat ages, its joints age with it. This makes movement increasingly stiff and difficult. If you live with chronic pain, you will know how miserable this can be. Warnings that a cat is growing arthritic include:
- Lethargy and general malaise
- Inability or refusal to climb
- Eliminating outside the litter box
- Lameness and limping
- Swollen joints
- Resistance to handling
If your cat has arthritis, make it as comfortable as possible. Massage your cat’s joints, if it will allow this. Provide a soft, comfortable bed with easy access. Minimize the need to walk by relocating litter boxes. Warmth, such as a hot water bottle, can also provide respite.
Never give your cat human medication to manage arthritis. As explained by Veterinary and Human Toxicology, aspirin and ibuprofen are toxic to cats. A professional will prescribe short-term painkillers if necessary.
If your cat has paired cantankerousness with the refusal to eat, dental pain is likely. As explained by The Journal of Nutrition, feline appetite rarely subsides with age. Your cat is acting this way because eating is painful.
All cats are almost certain to experience dental problems at some stage in life. Oftentimes, the problems manifest by the age of 3. Some cats can reach senior status without problems, though. When dental pain does strike, your cat will be in significant distress.
Signs that your cat is in dental discomfort, other than antagonism and refusing to eat, include:
- Excessive drooling
- Pawing at mouth
- Bad breath
- Discolored gums
Rectifying the situation depends on how advanced the problem has become. Attempt to brush your cat’s teeth, using specialist equipment. If you are fortunate, this will relieve the pain. Your cat will then return to its old self. Make this a regular part of cat care.
In some cases, a full professional tooth cleaning may be required. This can be dangerous in older cats, as anesthetic carries risks. Equally, though, your cat cannot be left to suffer. Discuss options with a vet and find a solution.
Lack of Cleanliness
Cats are clean animals. Given the opportunity, a cat will spend up to 50% of its day grooming itself. As a cat grows older, this becomes more difficult.
Grooming is not a simple process for cats. It requires a great deal of dexterity and movement. If your cat is older, this will become increasingly difficult. Your cat’s coat will start to look greasy and unkempt. Your cat may also suffer fecal or urinary staining.
This will cause your cat no end of stress. Cats remain clean for their own safety. By grooming themselves, cats remove traces of their scent. This, in turn, leaves the cat feeling secure from potential predators. A cat that cannot groom feel exposed and stressed.
Help out your senior cat by aiding with cleanliness. Take a brush to your cat twice a day and offer semi-regular washes with unscented wipes. This will aid your cat in feeling more like its usual self.
Lack of Sleep
Sleep is important to all cats, but it becomes increasingly critical with age. Senior cats like to spend the majority of their day sleeping. This provides essential rest for both body and brain.
Cats sleep takes two forms. Felines spend any nap alternating between REM sleep and deep sleep. REM sleep sees the brain remain active. The cat may dream, twitch, and verbalize in its sleep. Deep sleep, meanwhile, will see the cat completely at ease.
Both of these styles of sleep are important to cats. REM sleep allows a cat to sift through memories, retaining important information and discarding unnecessary data. Deep sleep sees the cat’s muscles rest and repair, alleviating everyday aches and pains.
If your cat’s sleep is disturbed, irritability will follow. Interrupting REM sleep provokes anxiety, as the cat has not had time to clear its mind. Waking a cat from deep sleep is inadvisable. The cat will be jerked from restful slumber before it was ready. As a result, its body will not yet be healed.
It is essential that your cat has somewhere warm and quiet to sleep. Ideally, this will be in special, designated territory. Cats are much happier in a location they feel they will not be disturbed. If your cat gets sufficient sleep, its mood will be enhanced upon waking.
Frustrated Hunting Instinct
Your cat’s bad mood may be explained by inability to hunt. Hunting instinct never dulls in some cats. Your cat may be as keen as ever to stalk, capture and kill mice or birds.
Unfortunately, while the spirit may remain willing, the flesh can grow weak. Hunting is an energetic activity for cats. It requires speed of thought and agility. As your cat ages, it will not move as fast as it once did.
Sometimes, a second or two is all it takes for prey to escape. Rodents and birds understand their place in the food chain. They typically remain vigilant about watching out for cats. If prey sees your cat coming, it may have time to escape.
This will leave your cat irritated and frustrated. It was worked up enough to start the hunt but did not receive its reward. This frustration will need to be channeled somewhere. Oftentimes, this will be redirected toward owners or other pets.
Work off your cat’s frustration with hunting games and toys. This may take some coercion, though. Many older cats lose interest in play, and the cat will be tired from its fruitless hunt. Tempting a cat into play before it tries to hunt may yield greater results.
One of the most pivotal things to consider in older cats is nutrition. Walk around a pet store and you’ll find a range of food designed for senior cats. This is critical that a cat’s diet matches its life stage.
As explained by Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice, older cats often struggle to digest fat and protein. These are the core ingredients of many foods. Not switching to senior food can impact a cat’s quality of life. The cat will feel sluggish and tired, leading to irritability.
Changing food as your cat ages need not be a hardship. In most cases, you can stick to the same brand. Just make the adjustment to senior food that meets your cat’s complex nutritional needs. This will leave your cat more alert, active and happy to interact.
We have the possibility of cognitive dysfunction. As discussed by the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, understanding of the aging cat brain is advancing. If your cat is geriatric (aged over 15), senility becomes increasingly likely.
Unprovoked aggression is one of the primary symptoms of feline cognitive dysfunction. Your cat will be disoriented, and thus act out of sorts. This diagnosis is likelier if your cat alternatives between belligerence and affection, seemingly at random. Other signs to be alerted to include:
- Reversed sleep/waking cycle
- Staring into space
- Verbalizing to excess
- Rubbing head against walls and hard surfaces
- Lack of recognition of human and animal companions
While there is no cure for feline cognitive dysfunction, degradation of the brain can be slowed. Essentially, this means keeping your cat’s mind sharp.
Treat your older cat like a kitten, undertaking daily training and thought exercises. Talk to your cat too, encouraging it to respond in kind. The more your cat thinks and interacts, the more faculties it will retain. This will reduce uncharacteristic outbursts of crabbiness.
Senior cats deserve a little leeway when assessing their moods. Do not allow your cat to become overly dominant or demanding. That will sour your remaining time together. Do make allowances to keep your cat comfortable, though. This will invariably improve its mood.