Although we wish our cats could stay youthful and agile forever, it's a fact that our beloved feline companion will grow old. Today, our Stanwood veterinarians discuss how to know when your cat is a senior and what the differences will be in care for your older cat.
How old is a senior cat?
Like most cat owners, if you spend a lot of time with your furry friends, it can't be hard to notice when they age. But make no mistake - your cat's body goes through changes as it ages, much like a person's body does.
Cats age uniquely, so it's not a one-size-fits-all situation. Many cats begin to show age-related physical changes by the time they are between 7 and 10 years old, and most will have by about 12 years old.
People often think that one "cat year" is equivalent to 7 "human years," but this isn't quite accurate. Instead, it's generally accepted that a cat's first year is similar to the development that would occur in a human by the time they reach 16 years old. So, a cat at 2 years old is more similar to a human between 21 and 24 years old.
After that point, one "cat year" is equal to roughly four human years (for example, 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, etc.)
You'll be the proud owner of a senior cat by the time they hit about 11 years old. If a cat lives beyond 15 years of age, it'd be a "super-senior". Caring for older cats sometimes helps to think of their age in human terms.
What happens as my senior cat ages?
As cats get older, they go through both behavioral and physical changes, similar to us. While aging in cats is not a disease in itself, keeping your vet up to date on changes in your senior cat's body and personality will go a long way to ensuring they receive the most comprehensive wellness care possible. Look out for these changes:
Grooming & Appearance
Aging cats may be less effective at grooming, which can lead to matted or oily fur. Painful hair matting can result in inflammation and skin odor. Senior cats' claws also often become thick, brittle, and overgrown and will need more attention from caretakers.
An old cat's eyes and vision may also change - they commonly have a slightly hazy lens and a 'lacy' appearance to the iris (the colorful part of the eye). Still, there is little evidence that this alone significantly impacts their sight.
However, numerous diseases, especially those related to high blood pressure, can seriously and irreversibly affect a cat's ability to see.
Unintentional Weight Loss or Gain
If your senior cat is losing weight, this can point to any number of problems, from diabetes to kidney and heart disease. Dental disease is also extremely common in senior cats. As they age, dental issues can impair eating, causing malnutrition and weight loss, along with causing significant pain in their mouths.
Physical Activity & Abilities
Arthritis or joint problems are common in older cats. These issues can make it hard for them to reach their food, water, bed, or litter box. Especially if they need to climb or jump.
While changes in sleep are a normal aspect of aging, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep is a concern, and your vet should be notified. If you notice your senior cat's energy has suddenly increased, this may indicate hyperthyroidism and should be checked by a vet.
Older cats often lose their hearing, and if this happens to your cat, it's a good idea to see your vet about it.
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
Keep an eye on your cat's mood, as they might get grumpy if they're in pain from dental issues or arthritis. Cats are good at hiding their discomfort. Health problems like diabetes or kidney issues can make your cat use the litterbox more, possibly in the wrong spots.
If your older cat has trouble moving because of joint pain, they could struggle with using the litterbox, especially if there are stairs. This might make them go outside the box, so seeing a vet is important.
How can I help keep my senior cat healthy?
Your 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 so your vet can provide geriatric care geared to your pet's needs.
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.
Many senior cats get heavy or even obese as they age, 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.
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.
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 your senior cat may have and catch any potential or emerging issues early when they're more treatable.
How can a veterinarian help?
Your understanding of your cat's behavior, health, and personality, along with any observations you can share, is crucial for your vet. Combine this with regular checkups. Depending on your senior cat's age, lifestyle, health, and any ongoing medical needs, your vet will advise how often you should visit and might suggest more frequent checkups.
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.