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Caring for Senior Cats

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Caring for Senior Cats

Knowing about senior cat care can help you take steps to ensure your feline family member will be purring happily for years to come.

How Old Is a Senior Cat?

As a general rule of thumb, cats are classified as mature (7 to 10 years), senior (11 to 14 years), and geriatric (15 years or more). Cat's aging should be viewed as being on a continuum because the aging process differs for individual cats based on factors, such as their size and environment.

Often times, lifestyle and health modifications begin during the mature classification and evolve based on the individual cat's needs. Your veterinarian can provide guidance on any changes in care that might benefit your cat as they get older.

Black Cat Getting Ear Exam with Otoscope

Common Issues for Older Cats

While all cats are individuals with their own personalities and health concerns, some health conditions are seen more commonly in older cats. Keep in mind cats often hide when they're sick or mask their symptoms, which can make it hard to tell when something is wrong with them. It's helpful to know the signs of common ailments so you can watch for them and get your cat treated when needed.


Arthritis in cats is a very common disease. In fact, estimates say 40-92% of cats have pain associated with arthritis. Signs of arthritis include painful joints and mobility issues. For instance, you may notice your cat has trouble going up and down the stairs or jumping up to their favorite high perches or napping spots. They may also have swollen joints and show discomfort when you handle them in certain ways.

If you suspect that your cat has arthritis, you should visit the veterinarian. They can properly diagnose the issue and provide treatment recommendations, such as medication to reduce pain and inflammation. They can also offer tips to help improve your cat's quality of life, such as moving their litterbox and food bowls to the ground floor so they may avoid stairs.

Cognitive Decline

As cats get older, they may start to show signs of cognitive deterioration. They may seem lost in familiar areas of the house, become more irritable, meow often for no apparent reason, or seem restless. Cognitive issues can also cause anxiety, which can result in a loss of appetite and behavioral changes like going outside the litterbox or being extra clingy.

You can support your cat's cognitive health by maintaining a regular routine, making sure they get enough exercise, and providing them with opportunities for mental stimulation. For instance, play games with them, offer them interactive toys, or hide small bowls of food around the house for them to find. This last idea can also encourage older cats to eat since it plays on their natural instinct to hunt for their food.

Talk to your veterinarian for advice on how to prevent cognitive issues or support your cat if they have started to experience mental declines. You can also ask them if giving your cat omega-3 fatty acids would be beneficial. This nutritional supplement supports cognition and reduces inflammation, which can help cats with arthritis.

Be sure to check with your veterinarian before you give your cat any kind of supplement or vitamin. You'll want to make sure it's safe for your individual cat and that you're giving them an appropriate amount. The dosage guidelines on packaging can be too high for many cats.

Weight Loss

Is your senior cat losing weight? That's not uncommon for older cats, and there can be a number of reasons. Weight loss can be a sign of health conditions, including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and gastrointestinal cancers.

Another issue that can cause cat weight loss is dental disease. Broken teeth or gum disease can make eating painful for cats. Many of these conditions can be managed by providing your cat with a good quality of life. If your cat has a noticeable drop in appetite or other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy, you should take them to the veterinarian.

Behavioral Changes

Your cat's behavior may change as they get older. For instance, their temperament may shift, and a once totally independent cat may suddenly want to be by your side every minute of the day. Or sometimes it's the reverse, and your usually cuddly cat now makes themselves scarce most of the day. It's good to talk with your veterinarian if you notice a swing in their personality, such as increased irritability or aggression. It may just be part of the aging process, but it could also be a sign of an underlying health issue.

In addition to personality changes, your cat may also start exhibiting new behaviors. For instance, they may start going outside the litterbox. This can be a sign of a health condition, such as a urinary tract infection or kidney disease. It may also be due to arthritis, which can make it difficult for your cat to get in and out of the litterbox. If this seems to be the case, you can purchase a litterbox with lower sides and try taking the hood off if there is one. You may need to move the litterbox to the ground floor so they can access easily without having to go up or down the stairs.

Hearing and Vision Loss

Older cats may begin to lose their vision and hearing as they get up in years. Vision loss can be due to glaucoma or cataracts, which will cause your cat's eye to look milky or bluish in color. Glaucoma can be treated with medication, while cataracts typically require surgical removal.

A cat with diminished hearing may start to meow louder than usual since they can't hear themselves and adjust their volume appropriately. They may just be asking for mealtime with the meow, but it may sound much more forceful. There may not be much you can do for hearing loss due to old age, but you should still have your cat checked out by your veterinarian. This way, they can rule out any other issues, such as mites, debris, or excessive earwax blocking the ear canal.

Senior Cat Skin Problems

Some older cats may groom themselves too much, resulting in bald patches and irritated skin. Overgrooming may be due to skin issues, such as fleas, fungal infection, allergies, or a reaction to medication. Check your cat's fur and skin regularly for any issues.

Older cats can also have trouble grooming themselves properly, which can cause a matted or greasy looking coat. This can be due to mental decline, dental disease, or not being physically able to get to every spot because of pain from arthritis or other conditions. If your cat isn't keeping clean, you may need to brush them more often and give them a bath. Additionally, your cat should have a thorough physical exam to rule out any medical conditions.

snowshoe cat with a black collar lying on a cream leather chair

Senior Cat Care Tips

The most important thing you can do for your senior cat is to give them lots of love. Be patient with them if they're having issues related to age and take them to the veterinarian whenever you have any concerns about their health. Other senior cat care tips include:

  • Check-ups – Regular wellness exams can enable your veterinarian to track your cat's weight and overall health. It also helps them catch issues in the early stages when they can be treated more easily.
  • Dental care – Brush your cat's teeth at home to avoid gum disease and other mouth issues. Use a toothbrush or cap you can wear on your finger along with toothpaste made for cats. People paste is harmful to cats. Also, get your cat's teeth examined and cleaned at your veterinarian office on a regular basis.
  • Diet – Make sure your cat's diet is appropriate for their age and lifestyle. Your veterinarian can help you determine the right types and amounts of food for your cat.
  • Exercise – Get your cat up and moving on a daily basis. This can be tough as cat's get older. You can try some new toys or games to liven up playtime. If all else fails, a sprinkle of catnip can turn your old cat into an energetic kitty for a spell.
  • Resting spots – Make sure your cat has a quiet and cozy place to rest. A warm blanket in the back of a closet (with the door open of course) or a soft towel near a window where they can enjoy basking in the sunlight may work. A specially designed pet bed can also give an arthritic cat relief from painful joints.
  • Accessibility – Your cat might need stairs or a ramp to safely and comfortably access higher spots. This is important for cats because they naturally like to climb so they can observe their environment and keep themselves safe.
  • Grooming support – If your cat isn't grooming themselves well, you may need to help out by brushing them more often and giving them an occasional bath. They may also need to have their nails trimmed if they're no longer able to take care of them on the scratching post.

And even if you have a senior cat, you may still want to consider pet insurance. It can help you manage the costs of accidents and illnesses that can arise as they get older.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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