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Old Cats – Caring for Senior Cats

Old Cats – Caring for Senior Cats

Thanks to advancements in veterinary care and medicine, senior cats are now living longer than ever before. Our veterinarians at Portland are sharing some valuable tips on how to ensure your senior cat stays healthy and content.

A Cat's Age in Human Years

Just like humans, cats age differently from one another. Physical changes usually occur between the ages of 7 and 10, with most cats experiencing these changes by the time they are 12.

Although it's commonly believed that one cat year is equivalent to seven human years, this isn't entirely accurate.

The first year of a cat's life is similar to the development of a 16-year-old human, while a 2-year-old cat is more comparable to a human in their early 20s. After that, each cat year is roughly equivalent to four human years.

For instance, a 10-year-old cat is equivalent to a 53-year-old human, a 12-year-old cat is equivalent to a 61-year-old human, and a 15-year-old cat is equivalent to a 73-year-old human.

Cats are considered "senior" when they reach the age of 11, and a "super senior" cat is one that's over 15 years old. Understanding your cat's age in human terms can be helpful in identifying potential health concerns as they age.

Aging Cats

Cats can experience many changes in their physicality and behavior as they age, just like their humans. While aging is not a disease in itself, keeping your vet abreast of changes in your senior cat will play an integral role in ensuring they receive the most comprehensive geriatric vet care possible. Some changes to watch for include:

Physical changes

  • Grooming & appearance. As cats age, they may become less effective at grooming for a few reasons and develop matted or oily fur. This can result in odors on the skin, inflammation, and painful hair matting. Senior cats' claws are also often overgrown, brittle, or thick and will need more attention from their caregivers. You might also notice the iris (the colorful part of the eye) develops a lacy appearance or slightly hazy lens. While there is little evidence that their sight is significantly impacted, several diseases, such as those related to high blood pressure, can severely and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see. 
  • Unintentional weight loss or gain. Older cats may lose weight. This can point to numerous problems, from kidney and heart disease to diabetes. Aging cats also commonly develop dental diseases, hindering eating and leading to weight loss and malnutrition. Oral health problems can also cause significant mouth pain. 
  • Physical activity & abilities. Degenerative joint disease or arthritis often becomes an issue for older cats, who may have difficulty accessing water and food bowls, beds, and litter boxes. The need to jump or climb stairs may further hinder their ability to reach essential places. While changes in sleep patterns are a normal part of aging, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep may be cause for concern and be a reason to contact your vet. A marked increase in energy may point to hyperthyroidism and should also be looked at. Hearing loss is also a common health issue in geriatric cats for many reasons and should also be checked by your veterinarian. 

Behavioral changes

  • 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. It's crucial to monitor your cat's behavior as they may display aggression if they are in pain caused by health issues such as dental disease or arthritis. Cats tend to conceal their discomfort, so keeping a close eye on their mood is important. Diseases or disorders that affect urination, such as diabetes or kidney failure, can cause cats to use the litterbox more frequently, increasing the likelihood of inappropriate elimination. Senior cats with joint inflammation or mobility problems may find it difficult to access their litterbox, especially if it requires climbing stairs. This could lead to your cat eliminating inappropriate areas and should be addressed by a veterinarian.

Caring for Senior Cats

Caring for a senior cat requires different care than kittens or middle-aged cats. As an owner, your observations play a crucial role in keeping your senior cat healthy and happy. You can make small adjustments to your grooming, feeding, and daily interactions to monitor any changes in your aging pet. These changes can be easy to implement and will help you stay aware of your cat's 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.
  • 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 wellness checks, 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. 

Vet Care for Senior Cats

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. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.

Want some more info on how you can care for your senior cat? Contact our Portland vets to learn more.

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