How to care for your senior cat
As cats age, they experience changes in activity, behaviour, health, and nutritional needs. Look out for signs of ageing in your cat and adjust the care you provide.
Determining whether your cat is a senior cat
Different sources use varying criteria to define a cat’s life stages. Some designate a cat as a senior at 7 years and older, while others set the mark at 11 years and beyond. Thus, it is more beneficial to focus on recognising the physical indicators of ageing rather than adhering strictly to age categories.
Signs to look out for (note: this list is non-exhaustive. Please consult a veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns):
- Changes in activity level
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Changes in behaviour
- Changes in skin or fur quality
- Changes in vision
- Changes in dental health
Changes in activity level
When cats are young, they are typically active and playful, chasing toys or stalking around. As they age, they tend to become less active, often favouring relaxing activities like basking in the sun. This shift is a natural and gradual process.
However, abrupt changes in behaviour could signal a problem. If your cat becomes unusually lethargic, avoids activities it once enjoyed (like jumping, playing, or moving around the house), or suddenly becomes hyperactive, it is wise to seek advice from a vet.
Changes in weight or appetite
Senior cats, due to reduced activity and a slower metabolism, need fewer calories. Failing to adjust their diet accordingly could lead to weight gain from excess calories.
Conversely, if your senior cat begins to lose weight and their bones become more pronounced, it might signal underlying issues like heart disease, kidney disease, or diabetes. Chronic dental issues could also cause a change in appetite leading to weight loss.
Changes in behaviour
Your ageing cat may display subtle behavioural changes that could indicate health problems. Watch for these sign and consult a vet if you are unsure:
- Repetitive behaviours such as pacing back and forth
Cognitive decline in cats may resemble dementia or Alzheimer’s in humans. Your senior cat could show signs of confusion, such as staring blankly at a wall or being unable to find the litter box in its usual spot.
Changes in skin or fur quality
Since blood circulation slows with age, the skin of senior cats may become drier, less elastic, and more prone to infection or odour. New lumps and bumps might appear on their bodies, most of which are harmless, although some could indicate an underlying disease.
If your cat’s fur starts matting or becoming oily, this may be due to decreased self-grooming. Cats are generally fastidious in keeping themselves clean, so a lack of grooming can be a sign of pain (e.g. from arthritis or dental issues).
Changes in vision
Changes in vision may be associated with excessive blinking, frequent pawing at the eyes, and cloudiness or enlarged blood vessels in the eyes. These could lead to complete blindness if not treated in time. Some eye conditions are:
- Cataracts – The eye appears white or cloudy due to degeneration of the lens. It can be a symptom of infection, cancer, or diabetes.
- Glaucoma – This disease damages the optic nerve and retina, preventing the fluid in your cat’s eyes from draining properly.
- Uveitis – The eye becomes inflamed and painful, possibly a symptom of diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, or a virus.
- Lenticular stenosis – The lens of the eye turns a transparent bluish-grey colour and cataracts develop, a common condition in cats over 9 years old.
- Conjunctivitis – Your cat’s eye may swell and leak discharge, accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fever, runny nose, and lethargy. The cause is usually traced to viruses, bacteria, allergies, or parasites.
- Retinal detachment – The retina detaches from the eye, possibly due to diabetes, high blood pressure, or glaucoma.
Changes in dental health
Stains on your cat’s teeth or bad breath could indicate dental concerns such as:
- Gingivitis – Your cat’s gums become inflamed due to plaque and tartar buildup. Bacterial infections can cause the gums to swell, recede, or feel sensitive.
- Periodontal disease – If gingivitis is untreated, it can turn into periodontitis which damages the bone of your cat’s teeth and eventually leads to tooth loss.
- Tooth resorption – The roots of the tooth gradually erode and separate from the rest of the tooth, eventually leading to tooth loss.
Additional care for your senior cat
Providing extra care for your senior cat is a crucial aspect of being a pet owner. With proper attention and adjustments, ‘old age’ doesn’t have to equate to poor health.
As cats age, they’ll benefit from:
- Increased vet visits for early detection of health issues
- A modified diet tailored to meet their nutritional requirements
- Adjustments in exercise and fitness routines
- Continued mental engagement and stimulation
- A considerate and accommodating environment
More frequent trips to the vet to identify health problems early on
Regular comprehensive health checks, ideally twice a year, are a good practice for senior cats. Cats are adept at hiding signs of illness, making early detection crucial in preventing unnecessary pain and reducing long-term medical expenses. These regular check-ups enable early identification of diseases, enhancing the chances of effective treatment.
New diet that meets their nutritional needs
Senior cats generally require a diet higher in protein to avoid loss of lean muscle mass. However, your vet may prescribe a special diet if your cat has a chronic disease.
Review exercise and enrichment plans:
Enhancing your senior cat’s exercise and fitness routine is essential for their well-being, even if they’re not as agile as they once were.
Invest in these enrichment toys to keep them engaged:
Wand toys or feathered teasers that your cat can chase
- Cat trees or condos
- Scratching posts
- Catnip toys as an occasional treat
If your cat has mobility issues, consider enrichment toys that do not require your cat to move as much.
Continued mental stimulation
Challenge your cat’s mind to prevent age-related cognitive decline. If your cat is a foodie, make him/her ‘work’ for meals by using food puzzles instead of a regular bowl. You can also use toy treat dispensers or set up a treat trail by strategically placing treats in different spots (high up and low down) for your cat to find.
Senior cats can benefit from some simple tweaks to their living environment:
- Provide cat steps or a ramp to their favourite spots – This helps them retain access to your bed or the highest tier of the cat tree, even with stiff and achy joints.
- Add more litter boxes – Senior cats may have poorer mobility and bladder control, so having more litter boxes throughout the house can minimise potty accidents. Use larger litter boxes so that your cat has ample space to potty in a comfortable position.
- Do not rearrange furniture – Cats take comfort in predictability and may get unsettled or confused by sudden changes in their physical environment.
- Provide night lights – Installing a night light helps senior cats safely and confidently navigate around the house even if their vision is not as good as before.
Our pets are family and deserve the utmost care, especially as they age. The adjustments we make can be simple yet thoughtful, allowing our cats to enjoy their golden years. Finally, stay in touch with your vet who is an important pillar in your cat’s support system.