Old Cats: Caring for Senior Cats

Our cats are living longer than ever, thanks to modern veterinary medicine. As your furry companions age gracefully, it becomes essential for pet owners to learn how to care for them during their senior years. Our O’Fallon vets share some tips for caring for senior cats.

A Cat's Age in Human Years

Like humans, each cat experiences aging differently.

Many cats begin to change physically between the age of 7 and 10 years old, and most will begin by approximately 12 years old. While many people follow a common rule of thumb that one "cat year" is equivalent to 7 "human years", this isn't quite accurate. Instead, we should remember that a cat's first year is similar to the development of a 16-year-old human.

At 2 years old, a cat is more similar to a human between 21 to 24 years old. After that, each year for a cat equals roughly four human years (for example a 10-year-old cat= a 53-year-old human; a 12-year-old cat = a 61-year-old human; a 15-year-old cat = a 73-year-old human, etc.)

Cats are considered senior at 10 years old, and "super senior" at 15 and up. Their needs might change during these years as cats become more fragile.

Aging Cats

Cats, like humans, undergo various physical and behavioral changes as they age. Although aging is a natural process and not a disease, keeping your vet informed about changes in your senior cat's health is essential. This helps ensure they receive the best possible geriatric vet care. Some changes to be mindful of include the following:

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.
  • 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. 
  • 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. 

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.
  • Issues caused by disease. A cat may become aggressive due to pain from health issues like dental disease or arthritis, so keeping an eye on your cat's mood is important because cats tend to hide discomfort. Diseases and disorders affecting urination (e.g. diabetes, kidney failure) can cause an increase in litterbox usage, which may lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate areas. 

Caring for Senior Cats

Make your senior kitty's life more comfortable with these easy routine changes:

  • 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: 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 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 understanding of your cat and the observations you make are valuable assets for your vet. Regular wellness examinations are also essential. Based on your cat's specific needs, the vet might recommend more frequent check-ups, especially if they have any medical issues.

A wellness examination for a senior cat involves the vet checking their weight, skin & fur condition, organ systems, and behavior and running diagnostic tests for common conditions in older cats. 

A combination of homecare and cooperative veterinary care is highly beneficial to ensure your senior cat enjoys 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.

More questions about caring for your feline friend in their golden years? Contact our O’Fallon vets today!