As cats age, they require special attention to remain healthy and happy. Today, the veterinarians at our Orlando location will discuss how to care for senior cats and when they are considered elderly.
Your Cat's Age in Human Years
Like humans, cats experience aging differently. Physical changes associated with aging appear in many cats between 7-10 years, and most have by about 12 years old. Although many people believe that one "cat year" is equivalent to 7 "human years," this isn't quite accurate. Instead, the accepted wisdom is that the first year of a cat is similar to the growth of a 16-year-old human, and a cat at 2 years old is more similar to a human between 21-24 years old.
After that, each year for a cat is equal to roughly four human years (e.g., a 10-year-old cat = 53-year-old human; a 12-year-old cat = 61-year-old human; a 15-year-old cat = 73-year-old human, etc.).
When a cat reaches 11 years old, it is considered a "senior" cat; when it reaches over 15 years old, it is considered a "super-senior" cat. To care for an elderly cat, it can be helpful to think of their age in human terms.
Changes in an Aging Cat
As their owners do, cats experience many physical and behavioral changes as they age. While aging itself is not a disease, keeping your vet updated on changes in your senior cat is an imperative part of their overall wellness care. Some changes to keep an eye out for include:
- 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 urinating in inappropriate areas. Cats that are experiencing mobility problems due to joint inflammation may have challenges accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also lead to your senior cat urinating in inappropriate places and should be addressed by a vet.
- Grooming & appearance. Matted or oily fur is caused by less effective grooming by an aging cat, which can result in painful hair matting, skin odor, and inflammation. Senior cats' claws are often overgrown, thick, and brittle, requiring more attention from their caretakers. Aging cats commonly have a slightly hazy lens and a 'lacy' appearance to the colorful part of the eye (iris), but there is little evidence that this significantly affects their sight. However, several diseases, especially those associated with high blood pressure, can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see. Unintentional weight loss or weight gain: In an older cat, weight loss can be a sign of any number of problems, from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Dental disease is extremely common in older cats and can hinder eating, causing weight loss and malnutrition in addition to causing them significant pain.
- Physical activity & abilities. Older cats often experience degenerative joint disease or arthritis, making it difficult to access litter boxes, food and water bowls, and beds. This is especially true if they have to jump or climb stairs. Changes in sleep are a normal part of aging, but a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep could cause you to contact your vet. Aging cats that suddenly have an increase in energy may have signs of hyperthyroidism and should be seen by a vet. Inappropriate weight loss/gain can be a sign of issues ranging from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Hearing loss is common in geriatric cats for several reasons and should be monitored by your veterinarian.
Keeping Your Senior Cat Healthy
It's essential to keep a close eye on your senior cat's well-being. By making small adjustments to your grooming routine, feeding habits, and communication with your cat, you can detect any changes in your elderly pet without causing stress. Your observations play a crucial role in ensuring your cat's happiness and health.
- Grooming: Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their 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 get heavy or even obese as they get older, which can be controlled with diet and activity if the weight gain is non-medical. Other weight issues include elderly cats being underweight, which may be caused by a variety of medical conditions and should be assessed by a veterinarian.
- Homelife: 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 is beneficial for their well-being.
- Vet care: Because cats are adept at hiding illness until it is advanced or severe, it's important to take them regularly to the vet for wellness exams, even if they seem perfectly healthy. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor any conditions that your senior cat may have and catch any potential or emerging issues early when they're more treatable.
How Your Vet Can Help
Your veterinarian relies on your knowledge of your cat and your observations to provide the best care. Regular wellness exams are also important, especially if your cat has a medical condition. As your cat ages, your vet may suggest more frequent check-ups. For senior cats, a wellness exam included checking weight, skin and fur condition, organ, system, and behavior. Diagnostic tests may also be run for common conditions in older cats. By working together with your vet and providing proper home care, you can help ensure your senior cat lives a healthier and 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. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.