Your cat goes through defined life stages, reaching senior status at the age of 11. With love, care, and support, it’s not uncommon for house cats to live well into their twenties. So, you can enjoy many more happy years together if you take steps to keep an older cat healthy.
Keep your pet mentally and physically active. It’s natural for an elderly cat to slow down, but some activity is highly beneficial. The more ‘workouts’ your cat’s mind and body receive, the sharper he’ll remain. Don’t push him too hard, and keep an eye out for any visible signs of sickness. Senior felines should see a vet twice a year, just as a precaution.
Older cats have so much to offer. So, being able to enjoy many additional years together is a real privilege. You will have forged an unbreakable bond, and this guide will help you honor that.
How to Care for a Senior Cat’s Health
Like humans, a cat’s circumstances start to change with age. Your cat may be entering his senior years, but his time is far from up.
Part of keeping your cat as healthy involves acknowledging his age. You wouldn’t expect a senior human to live the lifestyle of someone in his twenties, and the same applies to your older cat.
1) Minimize Physical Obstacles
He may find it more difficult to maneuver. Where he once darted around effortlessly, you may find that your pet now labors a little. Minimize the physical effort needed to fulfill his basic needs.
Provide multiple water bowls and several litter trays. Making it to the tray will become more of a challenge. Having an accident is stressful for your cat, so don’t place him in this position. Provide at least one litter tray on every floor of your house.
Your tray should not have high sides. If your cat has arthritis, then he’ll find it challenging to climb in and out. Keep the tray low to the ground and easy to access.
You should always watch how your cat eats and drinks. Does he seem to be in discomfort, struggling to reach his food or water bowls? If so, look into raised feeders.
Ensure that your cat can still see where he is walking. Many felines struggle with their vision during their senior years. As cats emphasize scent and hearing, you may not even notice it initially.
If your cat seems to be uncharacteristically clumsy, you should take him to a vet. A blind cat can still live a happy life. You’ll need to make his home environment more open plan.
2) Keep Your Cat Physically Active
As cats grow older, it’s natural that they’ll start to wind down and sleep more often. This should be allowed, but only to an extent. Senior cats still need to exercise daily.
There are two reasons why. Your senior cat will likely retain the same appetite, but burn fewer calories. This will be a problem if he used to roam outside but is now kept indoors. You’ll still need to play with your cat to give him a workout so that he can stay healthy.
Many older cats have arthritis. In such instances, it’s tempting for your pet to lay still and not aggravate the problem. In reality, some exercise is good for his limbs. If your cat can stay active, without pushing himself too far, then he’ll keep his joints supple.
Play with a senior cat is slightly differently to younger pets. Don’t expect your cat to leap and jump as that’s unrealistic. He can, however, still chase laser pointers and hunt fishing rods.
Senior cats also tire easier than their younger counterparts. They still need a full day of physical stimulation, though. You should break up his playtime into small, manageable chunks.
3) Keep Your Cat Indoors
Even an indoor cat can get airborne viruses and illnesses, but it’ll likely happen less frequently. If your pet is outside meeting other animals, he’s far more likely to become infected in some way.
Older cats also lack the reflexes of their youth. This can make crossing the road hazardous. Studies reported by Lost Pet Research suggest that senior cats are less likely to be struck by cars. This is presumably due to enhanced road sense, borne of experience. But why take the risk? It only takes one speeding driver. Your older cat may no longer have the speed to get out of the way.
Your senior pet may encounter less friendly felines. Feral and stray cats observe a stringent social hierarchy and are highly territorial. If your pet happens to encounter such an animal, confrontation may occur. Older cats will struggle in such a scenario and could get seriously hurt.
If your cat has always roamed outside, he may struggle to adjust to life as an indoor pet. If that’s the case, consider letting him out for a couple of hours each day at set times. Allow your cat to explore a little of the local terrain. You will likely find that he wants to come home soon anyway.
4) Keep Your Cat Mentally Stimulated
Older cats need to have their minds occupied. Failing to exercise the mind doesn’t just lead to boredom. Feline dementia is more likely to occur if a cat’s brain is left to waste.
Keeping your cat mentally sharp can be as simple as talking to him. There is no shame in holding conversations with your cat. When he meows back at you, he’s holding up his end of the deal because cats only meow at humans, not other cats.
You can also keep your cat entertained with toys and games. There is no need to do anything too physical. Many pet stores will stock treat-dispensing games that require basic, logical thought from your cat. These can be valuable if your senior cat is home alone for several hours a day.
5) Age-Appropriate Diet
Diet takes on an ever-greater level of importance. Pet food manufacturers create senior recipes for a reason. The nutritional needs of a cat adjust as he gets older.
Protein is crucial to a senior feline. High-quality protein, ideally contained within wet food, keeps the joints supple and flexible. Also, wet food will provide your pet with essential hydration.
Cheaper cat foods are packed with fillers, which are bad for a senior cat’s digestion. If you are unsure as to which food to select, ask your vet.
In addition to their standard food, you may wish to consider providing an older cat with supplements. Remember that excessive vitamins can become toxic.
Every cat faces different challenges in his senior years. Your pet may be lacking in particular nutrients and would benefit from a supplement.
6) Watch Your Cat’s Weight
If your cat is less active than before, you’ll have to ensure that he stays trim.
It can be dangerous to allow an older cat to pile on the pounds. It’s harder for him to exercise and burn off those excess calories. Allowing your cat to carry excess weight could lead to diabetes and aggravate arthritis. This will make it significantly harder for your cat to jump.
Cats Protection has a visual guide on whether your pet is overweight. You may need to draw up a meal and exercise schedule to keep your elderly feline at hiss optimal weight and size.
7) Look Out for Signs of Sickness
You should always be vigilant for signs of sickness in older cats. Once your pet reaches senior status, health concerns can escalate quickly. Common warning signs include:
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Trouble breathing
- Eating more or less than usual
- Sudden and inexplicable weight loss
- Acute vomiting and diarrhea
- Excessive drooling
- Excessive verbalization, especially at night
- Changes in behavior, such as uncharacteristic aggression or becoming withdrawn
In the event of witnessing any of these symptoms, speak to a vet ASAP. Felines are very adept at hiding illness, especially as they grow older.
8) Help Your Cat Out with Grooming
He will likely find it increasingly hard to groom himself. A cat cleaning himself is akin to a cardio workout, and it may exhaust older pets. Also, senior felines may be restricted in their movement due to weight or arthritis (joint and flexibility problems).
At least once a day, give your cat a clean with wet wipes. These should be unscented to avoid damaging sensitive feline skin.
You should give your cat a thorough brush at least once a day. Use a soft, wide-toothed brush. When cats get older, their fur becomes more brittle and their skin increasingly sensitive.
A cat’s fur is the primary focus of grooming, but your responsibilities do not end there. Feline claws never stop growing, and an indoor pet will not grind them down. This means that you’ll need to clip your cat’s nails. Also, keep an eye on his teeth and gums as it can make eating food difficult.
Oral health is crucial to cats of all ages, but especially in senior pets. Placing a cat under anesthetic becomes increasingly risky. This may be necessary if your cat develops periodontal disease. Brushing your cat’s teeth at least once a week reduces the chances of this happening.
9) Take Your Cat for Regular Veterinary Check-Ups
Your cat must see a vet once a year. Once your cat gets older, this should be upgraded to twice annually. Vets know what to look for when assessing older pets for signs of sickness. They also have equipment that we lack at home.
As cats advance in years, their internal organs start to show signs of wear and tear. Your vet will run tests and scans to ensure they are still functioning at full capacity. If they spot a possible issue, they can take early action. This invariably leads to a far better prognosis for your pet.
You should also take out pet insurance on your older cat. Your policy may be priced higher if you have not insured your pet since he was young. No matter how costly the monthly repayments seem, they’ll be much cheaper than major surgery.
10) Discuss Vaccinations with Your Vet
Opinion varies surrounding the importance of vaccinating older cats. Vaccination always carries risks as there can be side effects. Of more concern is the risk of feline vaccine-associated sarcoma. This is an aggressive form of cancer that spreads at the point of injection. But very few cats are prone to this condition.
Although scientifically unproven, it is safe to assume that senior cats have weakened immune systems. We do know that the aging process takes a toll on the heart and kidney function. This could leave your pet at risk should they contract contagious viruses such as feline herpesvirus (FHV) or feline calicivirus (FCV).
Ask your vet which vaccinations they consider necessary for your cat, assessing potential risk vs. reward. An annual rabies booster will likely be required by law, depending on your home state. Beyond this, vaccinations are optional and should be tailored to your pet’s lifestyle.
11) Get Your Cat into a Strict Routine
Cats live for routine. If their lives descend into chaos, they become stressed and anxious. So, your senior cat must know what to expect.
Let your cat wake you at a particular time each day, if that’s his preference. Ensure that he knows exactly when he’ll be fed and played with.
If you work full-time, try to stick to a timetable that your cat can rely on. He’ll accept that you’re gone between 9 and 5, as long as you always come home at 5.15 or 6.15.
If you can’t maintain a routine with your cat, ask somebody to visit your cat during the day. Alternatively, drop him off with a friend during the day.
12) Make Your Cat Comfortable
Make sure that your cat has creature comforts. His bones will ache and he’ll feel the cold. You can’t reverse the aging process, but you can make his environment cozy.
Give your cat as many thick, warm blankets as he needs on his bed. This will help to ease his arthritic bones and joints. You may also want to put a hot water bottle under a blanket to keep him warm.
Your cat will also appreciate a private space that’s away from house visitors. Older, less mobile felines won’t be able to leap onto closets for peace and quiet.
Surround your cat’s bed with comforting, familiar scents. Provide favorite toys, and maybe some old clothing of yours. This will keep him contented as he enjoys his lengthy naps.