Cats are susceptible to illness and disease, especially as they approach their senior years. For cat owners, the problem lies in determining signs of aging in their pets. Cats are both prey and predator, which makes them highly skilled at hiding signs of sickness and pain, but increasing your understanding of your cat’s aging process will enable you to identify anything unusual.
Your older cat will be less active and will spend more time sleeping. Older cats are also susceptible to arthritis and weight gain, which makes them less inclined to climb or jump. Your cat may also have an unkempt appearance, along with some thinning and graying of the fur.
While the aging process of cats is unavoidable, it is vital not to ignore the signs. Any symptoms, such as loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, loss of appetite and changes in litter box behavior could be signs of a serious health condition that require veterinarian attention.
How to Determine Whether Your Cat Is A Senior
Cats are considered seniors when they’re around 7 to 8 years old.
Thanks to advancements in veterinary medicine and technology, an increasing number of cats are being kept indoors, and it’s now common for cats to live into their teens.
Some cats even live up to 20 years and above. Therefore, it may be difficult for an owner to categorize a 7-year-old cat as a senior, as it has more than half of its life remaining to live.
But because cats are living longer, it’s also not unusual for them to experience signs of aging. Furthermore, it’s important to understand that cats go through many biological changes after they hit the 7-year mark.
Your cat’s astute nature may be keeping you from noticing these symptoms, but keeping a close eye and taking your cat to regular medical checkups can ensure it lives healthily and happily for the remainder of its life.
What Happens To Cats As They Age?
According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, as cats get older, you’ll notice an overall decline in its activity levels, along with increased or decreased sleep.
Your cat may avoid human interaction and decline being rubbed or brushed. In addition to these behavioral changes, cats also go through physical changes.
The main health conditions to look out for in senior cats include arthritis, intestinal problems, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, renal disease, pancreatitis, feline dementia, and cancer.
Because cats are susceptible to various health conditions as they get older, you need to take your cat to the vet twice a year. Cats age faster than humans, and they can’t tell you if anything hurts.
Moreover, they always try to hide their illness, to not appear weak. Catching an illness in its early stages can increase the chances of treatment being more successful and less expensive.
Behavioral Changes in Senior Cats
By the time your cat turns 10, it may not be as active anymore. Your cat may be less willing to jump on high surfaces or climb to the highest spot to curb its curiosity.
Your cat may show behavioral changes and may become particularly stressed when introduced to anything new, such as a change in environment, a new family member or even a different litter box position. You may notice that your cat doesn’t initiate play as often, takes more naps and doesn’t run out to greet you.
It’s important to have an understanding of how a cat ages, especially behaviorally to avoid any surprises. The following are common behavioral changes cats display as they get older.
1) Increased Vocalizations
An increase in vocalizations during a cat’s senior years does not mean it is becoming more conversational. Instead, it is a sign of disorientation due to feline cognitive decline (FCD).
Your cat may be vocalizing in the night because it is having trouble navigating around the house, finding the litter box or seeing in the dark. It could also be because your cat is in pain, due to arthritis or is becoming deaf.
If your senior cat has been vocalizing more lately, take it to a vet for a thorough examination. This will help rule out any medical conditions, such as dementia and arthritis.
If there is no underlying condition associated with your cat’s vocalizations, your vet may recommend using pheromones, in case the meowing is from stress or anxiety.
2) Changes In Litter Box Habits
Your cat may be eliminating more outside of the litter box as it ages, but this doesn’t mean your pet is being deliberately disobedient.
Not using the litter box during a cat’s senior years is often a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as less control over the bladder or bowels, a constant urge to eliminate, a decline in mobility or inability to jump into the litter box.
It could also be a sign of severe organ issues, such as urinary tract infection, kidney disease, dementia, and brain tumors.
If your cat has been eliminating inappropriately, take your cat for a thorough medical checkup to rule out medical causes. Consider increasing the number of litter boxes in the house and using a litter box with lower sides so that your cat can comfortably enter it.
3) Poor Sleep
There are many causes for increases restlessness and frequent awakenings in the night in aging cats. Geriatric anxiety, which stems from being separated from the owner while they’re asleep can cause poor sleep in cats.
Your cat may also be worried about navigating around the house and finding its litter box. Alternatively, your cat may need to use the litter box more often and may have difficulty finding it as a result of feline cognitive decline.
Another cause is vision or hearing loss, which can affect the depth of your cat’s sleep.
4) Confusion and Disorientation
Mental decline in aging cats often resembles Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Your cat may not remember things clearly and what was once familiar may be confusing now.
To ease your cat’s stress related to FCD, pay attention to predictability in your cat’s environment and schedule. Avoid changing where its bed, litter box, and food are placed and do not make any changes to the litter and food you use.
If your cat becomes increasingly distressed, consider keeping it in a room along with its food and litter box at opposite ends of the room. This will avoid any anxiety associated with disorientation and increase your cat’s sense of security.
5) Decrease In Activity Levels
A decrease in activity with apathy can be a sign of an underlying health condition. If you notice anything unusual in your cat’s energy levels or interaction, check its eyes to see if the haw (third eyelid) is visible.
Look for other symptoms, such as not grooming enough and reduced responsiveness. If your cat doesn’t show any of these signs, it could just mean that it is just slowing down due to its natural aging process.
However, if your cat refuses to eat, it’s critical that you take it to a vet immediately. Refusing to eat can be a sign of fatty liver disease, which can progress quickly and become fatal.
6) Changes in Interaction
It may become more apathetic or less interested in interacting with you, despite being friendly and high-spirited in its younger years.
Or a cat that once used to be aloof may become overly dependent and clingy. It’s normal for aging cats to go through such changes, so it helps to take it as experiencing another side of your cat’s personality.
7) Increased Crankiness
Your cat may react to being disturbed with unexpected crankiness. This could be because your cat is sore or stiff from arthritis, or is experiencing muscular weakness, pain, and reduced hearing.
Your cat may be confused or sad about its limited activity and inability to be a part of your everyday family life. Try including your cat more, even if it means keeping it on your lap or letting your cat be when it is ready to relax.
8) Increased Fussiness Towards Food
Your cat may also be increasingly fussy with its food due to its diminished sense of smell. Increasing the aroma of your cat’s food can increase its appetite and willingness to eat.
Try heating its food slightly to make it more aromatic. You can also try giving your cat wet food or a combination and wet and dry food.
9) Unexplained Aggression
Your cat’s diminished sense of smell, hearing, and vision can limit its ability to sense people and other animals in its surroundings, increasing its risk of getting started more easily compared to its younger years.
To prevent your cat from showing aggression from being startled, always speak softly and increase the tone of your voice gradually, especially while approaching your cat while it rests. You can also try pheromones to help your cat relax.
Behavior modification is always better than resorting to drugs when it comes to reducing aggression in cats. Therefore, take some time to understand your cat’s physical and mental condition.
You may have to put in some serious effort, but doing so can help increase your cat’s sense of security and wellbeing for the remaining of its golden years.
10) A Reversed Schedule
A cat that used to snooze all night next to its owner and remain active all day, may sleep at weird times and stay up all night.
Your cat’s increased vocalizations and nighttime movements may keep you up at night, taking a toll on your mood and energy levels. To fix this, cats in their older days need to be treated like babies.
If your cat is keeping you up at night, increase its exhaustion before bedtime with some active play. After you’re done playing, help your cat to settle down with a rub or some grooming.
FCD can also cause cats to continuously pace back and forth during their waking hours, which can be distressing for their owners.
To make your cat feel better, consider walking along with it while carrying on a conversation. You can also offer your cat a surprise treat or indulge it in a fun game, such as letting it chase a ribbon.
Physical Changes in Aging Cats
Older cats suffer from many of the same health issues as aging humans do. This includes kidney disease, thyroid issues, diabetes, and arthritis. There’s a period of grace for many health conditions.
Catching the symptoms in their early stages by paying close attention to any changes in your cat’s behavior and taking your cat to twice-yearly wellness visits with your vet can make it easier to resolve and manage the root problem.
Veterinary visits often include routine tests, such as blood tests and urinalysis, where they pick up early signs of diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney issues, and changes in white blood cell count in cats.
If you notice any changes in your cat’s behavior, keep a log of them, no matter how minor. Letting your vet know of these changes can help provide vital clues about any health issues developing inside your cat.
1) Vision Problems in Cats
Vision problems in aging cats can manifest as a primary condition, or as a symptom of a larger underlying health issue. The most common eye conditions in cats include trauma, glaucoma (increase in intraocular pressure) and cancer.
Your cat’s eye health can also signal issues related to its cardiovascular system. Elevated blood pressure or hypertension can also be a cause for ocular disease in cats, which may be triggered by hyperthyroidism or kidney disease.
If you suspect that your cat is suffering from any vision problems, take it to a vet immediately. Hypertension may present itself as inflamed retinal blood vessels during your cat’s physical exam.
In severe cases, your cat’s physical exam may show a detached retina, which may be seen by owners as a sudden decline in vision or blindness.
Take your cat to a vet if you notice any of the following signs:
- Excessive blinking
- Pawing at the eye
- Inflamed blood vessels in the whites of the eyes (the sclera)
- Visible debris in front of the eye
- Cloudiness of the eye
- Dilated pupils even under bright light
- Signs of diminished vision, such as bumping into objects
2) Dental Disease in Cats
30 to 70 percent of adult cats have feline tooth resorption, where the body dissolves teeth at their roots. Feline tooth resorption is a highly painful and debilitating condition that can affect your cat’s eating habits and overall wellbeing.
The condition can go unnoticed as the visible area of the crown above the gum line may seem normal to owners – even though the roots are slowly deteriorating away.
In addition to regular teeth brushing and dental checkups, taking dental radiographs is critical to detect signs of tooth resorption.
If your cat seems less interested to eat, drools, or is having difficulty chewing, take it to a vet immediately to rule out a dental disease.
3) Kidney Disease In Cats
According to the journal, Veterinary Pathology, kidney disease is a significant cause of illness in older cats. Owners typically notice signs of kidney disease via increased drinking and urination.
Its vital organ functions begin to decline. Your cat’s kidneys are most vulnerable to aging, and they lose their ability to concentrate urine over time.
As kidney disease progresses, cats may experience loss of appetite and weight loss as toxins build up in their blood. Note that kidney disease is irreversible, but early detection and changing your cat’s diet can slow down the progression of the disease.
If your cat isn’t urinating as much as it normally does, it could be a sign of severe kidney disease or urethral obstruction. The inability to urinate is an emergency that requires veterinary attention.
4) Tumors In Cats
Certain breeds and types are more genetically predisposed than others, such as white cats as they are prone to squamous cell carcinomas in regions lacking pigment, such as the nose and ears. A few types of vaccines are also linked to soft tissue sarcoma.
Note that cancer can occur at any stage of a cat’s life. If you notice or feel any unusual lump, bump or mass on your cat’s body, take it to a vet immediately for a professional checkup.
5) Weight Changes In Aging Cats
A sudden drop in weight can signal a host of issues, from kidney disease and diabetes to hyperthyroidism and cancer. Therefore, it is critical that you keep a tab on your cat’s weight. A 1 pound difference in your cat’s weight may not seem like much, but that’s equal to 10% of a 10 pound cat’s weight – which is quite significant.
Sometimes weight changes are the only sign of an underlying health condition in cats. Therefore, take your cat to a vet immediately if you notice a sudden drop or rise in your cat’s weight.
6) Joint Disease in Aging Cats
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease in cats which may be more common in cats than previously believed – according to the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.
Cats with osteoarthritis often retain a normal range of motion and may limp less compared to dogs with the condition. This can cause owners to brush off any signs, thinking their cat is just getting old. However, osteoarthritis is a highly painful condition that can be managed with medication.
The most common sign of joint disease in cats that owners notice is a reluctance to climb or jump. Other signs include decreased appetite, lack of grooming, lethargy, and eliminating outside the litter box due to pain from jumping into and out of it.
Treatment options for joint disease in cats are limited, but your vet may prescribe medication to reduce your cat’s pain. Never give your cat a pain medication intended for human or canine use. Tylenol, even in small doses, is lethal for cats.
Since you cannot tell if your cat is in pain, it is important to keep your eyes opened for any behavioral changes that may arise from physical pain and discomfort. Make sure you take your cat for twice-yearly veterinary visits to rule out diseases associated with aging.
How To Care For Your Senior Cat
Your cat may not show any obvious signs of aging, but with proper care and plenty of love, your cat can enjoy its senior years comfortably.
Nutrition and Exercise
Your vet may recommend switching to a cat food formula for senior cats, which you can introduce to your cat’s diet gradually. If your cat has an underlying health condition, your vet may recommend a therapeutic cat food diet to manage symptoms.
Always provide your cat with fresh, clean water to prevent dehydration and improve kidney function. Make sure the water is easily accessible for your cat. If your cat forgets to drink water, try switching to a wet food diet or adding some wet food to your cat’s normal food.
Although older cats are generally less active, they still require regular physical activity to maintain their physical and mental health.
Include at least 15 minutes of playtime into your cat’s routine and allow your cat to move as much as it wants to. Avoid pushing your cat to play or move if it is showing signs of joint pain or discomfort.
Dental disease is a common issue in aging cats that can impair your cat’s health and lifestyle if not detected and treated early.
To prevent dental problems, make sure you brush your cat’s teeth regularly, and take your cat for regular dental checkups and professional cleanings.
To reduce your cat’s risk of developing arthritis and joint issues, include more omega-3 fatty acids and other supplements that improve joint health, such as chondroitin and glucosamine. Regular exercise is another excellent way to promote joint health.
Excess weight adds pressure to the joints, thus contributing to joint disease. If your cat is overweight, you should switch to a weight control cat food formulation.
If your cat suffers from joint pain, make sure its bed, food and water bowls are easily accessible and are kept on the ground.
If your cat has difficulty using its litter box, consider using a shallower pan with lower sides so that it is easier for your cat to step inside the box.