Senior cats need specific care to help them stay happy and healthy into old age. Here, our Los Angeles vets explain when a cat is considered a senior, and how you can care for them.
How old is a senior cat?
Similar to us, each cat experiences aging differently. Many cats begin to display age-related physical changes between 7 and 10 years, and most will by the time they reach 12 years old.
While many people think of one "cat year" as equivalent to seven "human years", this comparison isn't quite accurate. Instead, the accepted wisdom is that a cat's first year is similar to the development of a 16-year-old person, and a cat at 2 years old is more like a person between 21 and 24 years old.
After that, each of your cat's years 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, and so on).
Cats are considered to be "senior" once they are about 11 years old, and "super senior" when they reach over 15 years of age. It sometimes helps to think of our older cats' ages in human terms when considering what type of veterinary care they need.
Changes in an Aging Cat
Cats may experience many behavioral and physical changes as they age, just like their owners. While aging itself is not a disease, having regularly scheduled open and honest discussions with your vet on changes in your senior cat is an important part of their overall health and wellness care. Some changes to look for include:
Cognitive Issues - Has your cat started to become confused by objects or tasks that are part of their daily routine? This may point to issues with cognition or memory. Behavioral changes such as litter box avoidance or accidents, wandering, excessive meowing, new or increased avoidance of people, and seeming disoriented, are also potential signs of feline senility or mental confusion. Your vet should assess these symptoms.
Issues Caused By Disease - Health issues such as arthritis or dental disease can cause pain in aging cats, which may prompt them to become aggressive. Since cats tend to hide discomfort, it's important to keep an eye on any mood changes. Disorders and diseases affecting urination (e.g. kidney failure and diabetes) can cause your kitty to use the litter box more or eliminate in inappropriate areas.
Cats with mobility problems due to joint inflammation may find it difficult to access or climb into their litter box, especially if they need to navigate stairs to do so. This may also lead to your senior cat eliminating in inappropriate locations and should be addressed by a vet.
Grooming & Appearance - Aging cats are sometimes unable to groom as effectively as their younger counterparts due to health issues that make it painful to reach all the areas on their bodies. This lead to oily or matted fur, which can cause skin odor, inflammation and painful hair matting.
Senior cats' claws are often thick, brittle, and overgrown, which means they'll need more attention from their caretakers. A slightly hazy lens and a 'lacy' appearance to the iris (colorful part of the eye( are also common issues. However, there is little evidence that this significantly affects their sight. That said, several diseases, particularly those associated to high blood pressure, can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see.
Unintentional Weight Loss or Weight Gain - Weight loss can point to any number of problems for senior cats, from diabetes to heart or kidney disease. Older cats also often experience dental disease, which can hinder eating and cause weight loss and malnutrition. Dental issues can also cause significant pain.
Physical Activity & Abilities - Senior cats also experience arthritis or degenerative joint disease as they age, This makes it difficult to gain access to 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
Your own observations are some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy. Incorporating simple changes to your grooming, feeding, and general interactions with your cat can be a low-pressure way to watch for any changes in your aging pet.
- Grooming & Appearance - 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 - A lot of 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.
- Home Life - 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 senior 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. their behavior and health.
How Your Vet Can Help
Your knowledge of your cat and your observations are an important resource for your vet, as are regular wellness examinations. Depending on your cat's needs (e.g. if they have a medical condition), your vet may suggest increasing the frequency of physical evaluations. A wellness examination of a senior cat includes the vet checking the cat's weight, skin & fur condition, organ systems, and behavior, and running diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in older felines. The combination of homecare and cooperative veterinary care is a great way to help ensure your senior cat has a healthier, 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.