Cats can reach senior status in what feels like the blink of an eye. One moment you have a playful kitten, the next you see gray in your cat’s muzzle. The truth is, cats spend more of their lives as seniors than any other life stage. This makes appropriate care for older cats critical.
An age-appropriate diet and regular exercise are vital for keeping your cat’s weight under control. Be mindful that your cat will likely become arthritic, so provide it with a comfortable place to sleep and an easy-to-access litter box. Assist your cat with grooming to prevent its fur from clumping up, and do what you can to provide a stress-free home.
Senior cats are easy pets to care for in certain ways. Demands upon you will be minimal once you have established a set routine. Do what is necessary to keep your older cat healthy and you’ll enjoy many more years together.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Caring for a Senior Cat
- 1.1 Feed an Appropriate Diet
- 1.2 Encourage Exercise
- 1.3 Manage Pain and Ill Health
- 1.4 Accommodate Limited Mobility
- 1.5 Help with Grooming
- 1.6 Territory and Tranquility
- 1.7 Minimize Stress
- 1.8 Discourage Outdoor Roaming
- 1.9 Physical Comfort
- 1.10 Stimulate Mental Health
Caring for a Senior Cat
When your cat reaches double figures in age, it is considered senior. This means that your cat is about to start slowing down. Part of this is by choice, but the cat’s body may also start to feel its age.
You know your own cat better than anybody. If it reached senior status happily and healthily, you are clearly doing something right. All the same, focus on specific age-related care to maximize your cat’s quality of life. This will ensure good health and contentment.
Feed an Appropriate Diet
The correct balance of vitamins and minerals is always essential to cats. At senior status, it becomes increasingly vital. At these life stages, cats have particular and unique food requirements.
Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice explains how medical diets are only required in set circumstances. All the same, older cats should be switched to senior-specific food. This could be kibble or wet food. You can even stick with an established brand that your cat enjoys. The taste will be largely identical. It’s the quality of the food that differs.
A senior cat food will focus on the protein that your cat needs. This will come from animal fats. Senior cats need protein more than carbohydrates or fat, which are minimized in such meals. This makes senior food easier to digest and less likely to lead to weight gain.
In addition, senior food is often sized and designed for cat’s mouth and digestion. Usually, the chunks will be smaller and easier to swallow. They will also be softer, to provide respite to ageing teeth. Many cats can swallow senior food whole without needing to chew.
A cat will become less active as it ages. Less exercise means fewer calories are being burned. This will invariably lead to weight gain.
Obesity is always dangerous for cats. It is especially so in senior felines. If the cat is already arthritic, additional weight creates more pressure on the joints. This will worsen the problem, not improve it.
The ever-present risk of diabetes is also prevalent in senior cats. The Veterinary Journal confirms that the mean age for diagnosis is between 10 and 13. Diabetes will impact any cat’s quality of life. Older cats have weak organs and limited immunity. This makes diabetes even risker.
Be just as cautious of allowing a senior cat to become underweight. Some older cats can resemble skin and bone despite eating well.
As cats grow older, they are less inclined to exercise. This is only natural. It takes a great deal of energy and effort for cats to go about their business. Senior cats will not move unless they consider it necessary or beneficial.
You should encourage your cat to exercise as much as possible. This will control weight and prevent joints from seizing up too much. Be realistic – your cat will not be an Olympian. Short, controlled bursts of exercise can be invaluable, though.
Start by placing your cat’s favorite apparatus, such as trees, in proximity. If your cat enjoys catnip, rub some on the base of the climbing tree to encourage investigation. If your cat starts to climb reward it with attention or, if necessary, food-based treats.
The more your cat moves of its own accord, the more comfortable it will be. If it remains reluctant to exercise in conventional ways, attempt to rouse the cat with play.
Many older cats start to lose interest in toys. You may need to work to get an older feline to engage with play. The secret is to tap into the cat’s hunting desire. This never dims in most felines, and it’s a great way to encourage movement.
Play games with your cat that replicate the hunting experience. This typically involves small toys on string. You may need some catnip or another tempting scent to initially interest your cat. Once the cat starts the game, though, it will not stop. Instinct will take over.
The Compendium on Continuing Education for the Practicing Veterinarian recommends rotating toys every few days. This way, games remain novel for your cat. Playtime may not last long, or be as regular as it once was, but it remains essential.
Manage Pain and Ill Health
Senior cats are subject to a range of aches and pains. Do not rely on your cat making this obvious. Cats have excellent poker faces. You will not be informed that your cat is struggling.
Equally important is watching your cat’s general health. Older cats can find themselves at risk of an array of medical issues. These include:
- Kidney disease
- Cushing’s Disease
It is advisable to attend a veterinary check-up at least once a year with senior cats. Any potential issues can be managed before they take hold. This removes the risk of failing to discover an illness until it’s too late.
Veterinary Surgery confirms that almost all senior felines experience degenerative joint disease, aka osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, the reason is unknown. Popular opinion pinpoints wear and tear on a cat’s joints and limbs through hunting and movement.
Arthritis will be simple to spot in a senior feline. The cat will become increasingly reluctant to walk and move. It may also show signs of lameness, especially in the rear legs. An arthritic cat will also strongly reject any handling. It finds this painful.
Be aware that no painkiller is approved for long-term use in cats. As per the British Veterinary Journal, you certainly cannot offer aspirin or ibuprofen to a cat. Feline arthritis cannot be cured, or even avoided. It can be managed, though. Look for supplements.
Any reputable pet store will stock supplementary pills that ease arthritis pain. These will not require a prescription. You should also look into massaging your cat’s limbs. This will keep the cat supple and improve levels of comfort.
Another common ailment for cats is dental pain. All cats are likely to have tooth issues at some stage in their life. Most often, this happens before the age of 3. Senior cats can be susceptible, though. Feline teeth age along with their bones.
If your cat is pawing at its mouth, refusing to eat or drink or drooling to excess, seek advice. The likelihood is that your cat has gum disease. Treatment for such a concern can be complicated for senior cats. A veterinary assessment will likely be required.
Regular brushing can stave off the threat of dental pain. Unfortunately, professional tooth cleaning becomes dangerous for senior cats due to the use of anesthetic. Your cat may need teeth removed if the issue cannot be resolved with cleaning.
Accommodate Limited Mobility
In the likely event that your cat becomes arthritic, consider how to accommodate this. If your cat is not quite as mobile as it once was, it will appreciate the support.
A cat does not need even need to be arthritic to endure limited mobility. Certain illnesses and general age can leave a cat exhausted and breathless. Factor this into the arrangement of your cat’s belongings.
Litter tray considerations are arguably the most important factor when assessing arthritic cats. Your cat needs access to the tray, so it needs at least one low side. In addition, consider multiple litter trays around the home.
If a cat is struggling for mobility, it will not move as quickly as it once did. You may find that your cat sleeps in its litter box.
In addition, senior cats sometimes suffer from weaker bladders. Your cat may not be capable of an extended walk to the litter box. It will grow incontinent before it completes the journey.
An arthritic cat must have a soft, comfortable bed to call its own. Even if the cat prefers to sleep elsewhere, invest in a bed. Eventually, the cat will be unable to jump onto your own bed or sofa.
Soft bedding has been shown to improve arthritis symptoms. It will also enable your cat to get comfortable and enter deep sleep. This can be indispensable for a senior cat, as sleep is when the body heals itself.
Food and Water Dishes
Keep an eye on your cat’s relationship with its food and water dishes. If your cat is reluctant to eat or drink, there may a logistic reason.
Most cats need to stoop and eat or lap water. This may become painful of troublesome as the cat ages. The cat may lack the ability to bend, or experiences stiffness in the neck. Help your cat by investing in raised feeders for food and water vessels.
You could also purchase a water fountain for your cat. This appliance will release a constant stream of water at head-height. This will encourage your cat to stay hydrated – always important, but especially so when older.
Help with Grooming
Another issue with aging for cats is an inability to groom. Cats are proud and fastidiously clean. The average feline spends up to 50% of its day grooming. An inability to do so will become distressing.
This insistence on personal hygiene is not simple vanity. Cats groom to mask their scent. This makes them more efficient hunters, and ensures they remain undetectable to predators. A cat that cannot groom will likely feel unsafe.
Grooming requires significant flexibility and energy. Many senior cats lack both of these qualities. This means that it will fall upon you to aid a senior cat with its grooming needs.
Washing and Bathing
If an older cat cannot groom, its fur will start to look matted and greasy. This is because the cat is not redistributing skin oils throughout the fur. You can do this through brushing and combing.
You should also look to wash your cat at least once a day. Do not use a bathtub or sink unless strictly necessary. The cat will resist, and the water will reduce body temperature to dangerous levels. If you must bathe the cat, use a feline-specific shampoo.
Wet wipes are typically fine for washing a cat. Rub unscented wipes over your cat once or twice a day. Focus on the back and head, but also keep your cat’s genitals and bottom clean. This will reduce the risk of urinary tract infections or similar complaints.
Brushing and Combing Fur
You should brush a senior cat’s fur at least once a day. Ideally, do so twice – especially if your cat is a longhaired breed. A cat that is unable to groom will struggle to keep its fur looking neat.
Brushing will also aid with any shedding. It’s an opportunity to pull loose hair loose and dispose of it. This reduces the risk of a cat swallowing hairballs and potentially choking.
While brushing a cat’s fur, be sure to check for parasites. Fleas and mites can spread like wildfire. Keep on top of your cat’s preventative measures, taking immediate action if you spot an infestation.
Territory and Tranquility
All cats are territorial. They need a place to call their own in order to feel safe and secure. This is especially important for senior felines. An older cat must have a private space to sleep, where it will not be disturbed.
Ideally, make this this a separate room that you rarely enter. The cat will be much happier knowing it can hide itself away. If that isn’t an option, make it clear that the cat will never be disturbed in its chosen territory.
Wherever your cat decides to relax, leave it be. Work around the cat, even if it is inconvenient. Avoid loud noises, and certainly do not shake the cat unless you want to be scratched. A senior cat in a deep sleep must never be woken.
Cats need to enter deep sleep in order to rest and heal their aching bodies. The more a cat sleeps, the better it feels. This is why older felines can spend as long as 20 hours per day dozing. If your cat has uninterrupted sleep, comfort is improved upon waking.
Cats may look like the picture of indifference, but they nervous animals by nature. It’s easy to cause stress to a cat. Senior felines can struggle with this. Your cat’s heart is weaker than when it was young. Constant anxiety will take its toll.
By the time your cat has reached senior status, it will have a set routine. Respect this and stick with it. This is not a time to start experimenting. Let your cat live out its days without any unwelcome surprises.
This can include visitors to the home. New arrivals will often provoke apprehension, at least initially. Try to avoid a parade of different people coming and going from the home. Once the cat recognizes a human, it will be indifferent. It’s strangers that cause consternation.
A word of caution about other pets, too. As your cat starts ageing, you may think about bringing in a younger playmate. In some cases, this will give the senior cat a new lease of life. More often, alas, the two animals will clash.
Introducing a kitten to a senior cat is not for the faint-hearted. Think carefully before committing to this. You may be better served allowing your senior cat to remain a pampered only pet. This will certainly be more relaxing for most felines.
Discourage Outdoor Roaming
As gets grow older, they should be kept indoors. This can be challenging if your cat has wandered free in the past.
You must remember, you are not punishing your cat by keep it inside. As per Applied Animal Behavior Science, indoor cats are typically healthier and live longer.
This is due to the minimizing of hazards. You cannot and should not wrap a senior cat in cotton wool. It still needs to live its own independent life. All the same, certain risks can be averted by avoiding the outside.
Cats are ruthless and never hesitate to act if they sense weakness. If a neighborhood feline considers your cat old and frail, it may attack. This is a display of dominance, designed to claim territory belonging to your cat.
This will be stressful for your cat. It may also be hazardous to its health. If the other cat bites, it may pass on contagious disease. Even friendly neighborhood can innocuously share respiratory conditions such as feline herpesvirus or feline calicivirus.
All being well, your cat will be vaccinated. Even so, these respiratory diseases hit older cats harder. They are best avoided altogether. If your cat does not mix with other felines, the likelihood of growing sick is reduced.
Road Traffic Accidents
The older a cat gets, the more streetwise it becomes. This can be invaluable when it comes to potential road traffic accidents. As explained by Veterinary Record, the odds of an accident decrease by 16% with each passing year.
Unfortunately, senior cats remain at significant risk. It’s a simple matter of mobility. The older a cat is, the slower it moves. If surprised by a vehicle, senior cats lack the dexterity to dart to safety.
With this in mind, it is highly advisable to remove the risk altogether. If a cat stays home, it cannot encounter live traffic. This, alone, may be enough to extend your cat’s life.
Physical comfort should be at the forefront of your mind. Senior cats spend more time inactive than moving. They should have suitably soft furnishings to recline on.
Physical comfort is not just related to cushions and pillows, either. Think about the ambient temperature in your home. Senior cats spend more time napping than younger counterparts. As per Science, a cat’s body temperature drops every time it sleeps.
Combat this by retaining an ambient temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This should help your cat retain a safe core temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Any less and your cat is too cold; higher and your cat risks overheating.
Stimulate Mental Health
Although physical exertion is important, you should also keep your cat mentally sharp. A cat’s mind starts to fade over time. Your cat may become more forgetful or behave erratically. Eventually, it may succumb to feline cognitive dysfunction, or cat senility.
Any cat older that 10 may experience FCD. It becomes more prevalent beyond the age of 15, though. The signs of this issue can be unmistakable. Cats undertake personality changes, experience a reversed sleep-wake cycles and start eliminating outside the litter box.
FCD cannot be cured, only slowed down. A better approach is to keep your cat’s mind sharp, preventing it from taking hold. Talking to your cat will be helpful. As per Animal Cognition, cats recognize owners by voice. Your cat may even meow back, engaging in conversation.
In addition to this, give your cat plenty to think about. Play puzzle games together and get your cat to work for treats. This sensory input prevents your cat from growing bored and slows the risk of FCD. It is also a low energy but enjoyable way of spending time together.
A cat’s golden years should be peaceful, comfortable, and relaxing. Do not despair when your cat starts to slow down. You can still enjoy many happy years together. You’ll just need to amend your care accordingly.