An older cat requires special care. As an owner, you have had your kitty companion on your lap and purring for a long time and as a cat ages, an owner needs to be more aware of a cat’s health. A healthy cat is a happy cat and as a cat owner, the responsibilities and joy of having a cat changes. As a kitten, they need more stimulation and playtime. An owner of an older cat also has to ensure regular veterinary visits for preventative veterinary medicine and to carefully watch your purring companion for changes in behavior.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Senior Care Guidelines, defines a cat to be mature or middle-aged at 7 to 10 years old, senior cats at 11 to 14 years old, and geriatric from 15 to 25 years old. Cats often live to 16, so many become geriatric and need special monitoring and care.
Many vets will start wellness checks on all cats over age 7. Our resilient feline friends need regular medical care. An experienced owner is very aware of how subtle the signs of illness in cats are and how well cats can hide their (often multiple) illnesses.
Many health conditions occur in older felines, and the owner must be more mindful and attentive of their day-to-day habits needs to be sure we can prevent and catch problems early. We are our cats best friend and should know when our cat changes behavior
The Signs To Look For In Older Cats
- Weight loss/gain: Has your cat lost or gained weight suddenly and are they physically the same build? Sudden weight gain or loss indicates a vet visit should be scheduled quickly.
- Litter box habits- Is the cat box the same? Are they using it properly and regularly? Are the cat’s stools and urine amount normal for your cat? Is there increased frequency of urination or any unusual findings when cleaning the cat box?
- Mobility:Has your cat had more trouble climbing, jumping or moving about? Older cats do slow down but noticing when your cat may have signs of arthritis that make it harder for them to jump up and interact with you is important to notice.
- Behavior:Has your cat changed behavior? Is your cat less active, antisocial, or has their personality or behavior changed at all? If a friendly cat suddenly hides under the bed and will not come out is an easily noticeable example.
- Common Conditions of The Senior Cat
- Osteoarthritis:Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects over 90 percent of cats at 10 years of age. A cat with joint pain and osteophyte (bone spurs) will not be as active as a younger cat and there are things a vet can do to treat arthritis in your elder cat to keep them comfortable and spry.
- Kidney disease:Kidney disease is found in over 20 percent of all older cats. Signs of kidney disease can cats can be as subtle as increased fluid intake. Always pay attention to your cats drinking habits. Increased or decreased urine output. Using clumping litter is best for an older cat as an observant owner can see easily if the cats urine output has increased or decreased from normal. Any changes require a vet visit. A cat may also lose their appetite and have slight weight loss.
- Hyperthyroidism: Weight loss, increased appetite and vocalization are hallmarks of hyperthyroidism in cats. The thyroid is the gland that controls metabolism and thyroid conditions will affect your cats weight and can even make a meow become different is a goiter presses on their larynx. Listen to your cat.
- Dental disease:Dental lesions and infections cause bad breath and tooth loss in older cats. It is one of the most common diseases, affecting over 80 percent of cats at 5 years of age.
- Inflammatory bowel disease:Vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss are the most typical symptoms of this very common middle aged and senior cat problem. Changes of diet, food format, and anti-inflammatories are veterinary treatments available for this.
- Diabetes:This is a common disease of overweight older cats.
- Cancer:Intestinal, mammary and oral cancers are all more common in senior cats.
- Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome:80 percent of cats have cognitive dysfunction at 15 years of age and older. Cats get dementia and have neurological changes that can effect their personality.
Your Role as a Cat Owner of a Mature Cat
- Make sure your cat’s needs are met to be healthy and happy (fresh water, food, clean litter box, giving the cat social interaction, and cozy sunny placed resting, and comfortable sleeping and hiding spaces).
- Annual veterinary visits– Once a year visits for cats under age 7 and then every six months after are the absolute best things a pet owner can do. Try to make vet trips easier for you and stress-free for your cat.
- Regular weigh-ins at home. A good-quality baby scale can help you notice sudden weight loss early and easily. A scale that weighs accurately to an ounce or less is best suited for a feline
- Watch your senior cat closely.Any change is behavior can mean something is going on. Any change is important to take note of as cats age faster than humans and paying attention to your cat can help you get it care before a health problem becomes a crisis. Being a responsible pet owner requires being aware of your cat and knowing their personality and behaviors. Changes can be a sign of illness.
- Easy access to fresh water.Cat fountains and low bowls are best. Tilted bowls also make drinking easier. Use wide bowls to avoid “whisker fatigue,” and avoid plastic bowls to help prevent chin acne.
- Low-entry litter boxeswill make it easier for older cats to get in and out. Use adaptive steps and ramps to make it easier for an arthritic cat to get in and out of the cat box, and consider multiple boxes in the house if the house has more than one story.
- Video cameras can help you keep tabs and ease your mind when you are away. You can check in on your cat friend remotely and even give it treats with some systems for pet watching.
- Pet sitters that are knowledgeable should be used if you go on vacation rather than stress an elder cat with travel.
Your Vet’s Role As Your Cat’s Healthcare Partner
A yearly complete physical exam is recommended every six months for all cats over 7 years. Biannual vet visits would be the equivalent of a human seeing their doctor every three to four years. Cats are excellent at hiding illness and often can have multiple health conditions needing care so to keep a cat healthy, yearly exams and wellness testing are essential for keeping a senior cat healthy.
During a well exam for older cats, a chemistry panel should always be performed, which includes checking thyroid levels, a complete blood count to ensure your cat has no illnesses, heartworm/Felv/FIV screening and urinalysis to ensure your cats kidneys are working properly.
Routine blood pressure checks are advised in all cats over 10 years of age and in cats with diseases commonly associated with hypertension (kidney, diabetes and hyperthyroidism). Additionally, abdominal ultrasound or chest or abdominal radiographs are indicated to help screen for disease.
What Is the Best Nutrition for a Senior Cat?
A cat of any age needs a nutritious meat-based diet. Cats are naturally carnivores and need a certain diet and certain compounds to be their best. Protein level and phosphorous levels are two of the most critical analyses that need to be considered to ensure your cvats diet is providing them the right nutrition. Your vet can tell you what your cat needs more or less of from the information learned at the yearly wellness visit to them.
A cat with kidney disease or a history of bladder stones needs protein more and normally a canned food diet in small portions and more frequency will encourage kitty to drink more water and is a diet that is close to the natural diet of a cat. Any diet changes must be done gradually in cats, especially older cats, and is best with your veterinarian’s advice based on physical exam and wellness test findings.
These tips can help you have a good cat care plan, diet and home environment for those beloved senior cats. With this guide, you can catch problems early so your kitty will truly enjoy those golden years!