As our beloved feline family members age, it is important to be aware of the sometimes subtle and gradual changes that will occur. Always remember that cats are the masters of disguise, and often will hide health problems when they are in the early stages. As cat owners and veterinarians, it is our job to know the early warning signs that may signal the onset of problems.
What is a senior cat?
It is essential to know what life stage your cat is in. Understanding your cat’s life stage will help you to know what to expect and what ageing signs to look for. Generally speaking, older cats can be placed into one of three groups:
- Mature or middle-aged: 7-10 years (44-59 years old for humans)
- Senior: 11-14 years (60-75 years old for humans)
- Geriatric: 15+ years (76+ years old for humans)
As your cat ages, be prepared to see some physical and behavioural changes. It’s vitally important to discuss these changes with your veterinarian to know which of these changes are due to normal ageing, and which ones may be signs of illness.
Since health status for our senior and geriatric patients can change rapidly, we recommend wellness exams for our senior and geriatric patients every 6 months starting at 11 years of age.
Some Common Signs of Aging Include:
- Changes in sleep-wake cycle
- Changes in vision
- Appearance of brown spots on the iris (eye)
- Decreased sense of smell
- Brittle, fragile or overgrown nails
- Decreased lung reserve
- Heart or circulatory disease
- Impaired digestion and decreased ability to absorb nutrients
- Loose, less elastic skin
- Reduced ability to handle stress or change
- Changes in behaviour
Caring for your senior cat is a team effort between you and your veterinarian. To keep your cat as healthy as possible, you play a vital role in the daily care and monitoring of your cat’s health and wellness. Some valuable tips for caring for your senior cat include:
1. Schedule Regular Wellness Check-ups.
- Develop a relationship with your cat’s veterinarian while your cat is still healthy. This way they get to know your cat and can detect subtle changes that may indicate a health concern.
- Cats need to visit their veterinarian more often as they age. We recommend a wellness exam for our senior and geriatric patients every 6 months, even if they appear healthy. Remember that 6 months equates to about 2 years for a cat. A lot can change in only 6 months.
2. Learn Your Cat’s Habits and Pay Attention to Changes.
- Pay attention to subtle changes, cats frequently hide their illness
- If you notice a difference in behaviour, such as sleeping more or hiding, tell your veterinarian. Know your cat’s normal routines.
- It can be helpful to keep a diary to track appetite, vomiting and bowel movements
3. Beware of Changes in Weight.
- Both weight gain and unplanned weight loss require a visit to your veterinarian. Gradual changes in weight can be easily missed, this is one of the reasons why regular trips to your veterinarian are important.
- Weigh gain or obesity can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes
- Weight loss can indicate many different health issues, such as hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and intestinal disease.
4. They’re Not Just “Slowing Down.”
- Slowing down, or reduced activity is usually a sign of underlying pain.
- Arthritis is present in the majority of our senior cats and can be treated
5. Look When You Scoop.
- Excessively soft or hard stools, as well as a change in stool color, can indicate illness in cats.
- Constipation is common in older cats, which results in dry stools and less frequent stools. Constipation requires treatment by your veterinarian.
- Take note of the amount of urine you are seeing in the litter box and know what is normal for your cat. Increased urine output can signal some of the most common illnesses in senior cats, including diabetes, kidney disease and hyperthyroidism.
6. Know That Your Cat’s Needs Will Change.
- You will need to make some adjustments in your home for your senior cat
- Senior cats often need extra padding and warmth for comfort. Make their preferred sleeping, and resting spots extra soft and easily accessible by using stepping stools and ramps
7. Know How Much Your Cat is Eating
- Nutritional needs change with some chronic diseases and for some healthy older cats as well. Discuss nutrition with your cat’s veterinarian.
- Monitor your cat’s food intake, so you know immediately if your cat is eating less than normal. Loss of appetite can indicate serious health problems and should not be ignored. Alert your veterinarian if you notice your cat is not eating well.
8. Give Extra TLC
- Elderly cats often crave more attention than they had earlier in life. Provide physical and mental stimulation by petting, playing and interacting in your special ways.
- Help your senior cat with grooming by gently brushing or combing and keep nails from becoming overgrown with regular nail trims. The nails of older arthritic cats can overgrow into the paw pads, and this is painful.
To schedule a senior wellness examination with us for your special elderly cat, please contact our office. We enjoy seeing our senior patients and take pride in providing our best care in our cat-friendly environment.
Written By: Dr. Tiffany Lennox, DVM