Seniors cats are living longer today than they have before, thanks to the accessibility pet owners have to information and the advancements made in veterinary care, medicine, nutrition, and diet. Today, our Kinston vets talk about the health of senior cats and share tips on how you can take care of your elderly kitty to help them stay as healthy and comfortable as possible in their golden years.
Calculating The Age of Your Cat in Human Years
Similar to humans, each individual cat experiences aging differently. By the time are 12 years old, most cats start exhibiting age-related physical changes, however, many cats begin having them when they are between 7 and 10 years old. The common understanding that one "cat year" is equivalent to 7 "human years" isn't that accurate; instead, the accepted wisdom is that the first year of a cat's life is similar to the growth of a 16-year-old human, and a cat at 2 years old can be compared to a human that is between 21 and 24 years old. After that, each year for a cat 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, etc).
When cats are about 11 years old they are considered to be "senior", and "super-senior" when they are over 15 years of age. When taking care of an older cat it is sometimes easier to think of their age in human terms.
As Your Cat Gets Older
Just like their owners, cats go through lots of physical and behavioral changes as they get older. While aging itself isn't a disease, keeping your vet updated on changes in your senior cat is an essential part of their overall wellness care. Some changes to monitor for are:
- Grooming & appearance. As cats age they become less effective at grooming, this can cause matted or oily fur. As a result, they can experience painful hair matting, skin odor, and inflammation. Senior cats' claws are often overgrown, thick, and brittle, and need more attention from their owners. Aging cats often have a slightly hazy lens and 'lacy' appearance to the colorful part of the eye (iris), but there is little evidence that this significantly affects their sight. There are, however, several diseases, especially those associated with high blood pressure, that can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see. In older cats, unintentional weight loss or weight gain could indicate a range of problems, from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Dental disease is extremely common in older cats and can hinder eating, causing weight loss and malnutrition in addition to causing them significant pain.
- Physical activity & abilities. Older cats often experience degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, which makes it hard for them to access litter boxes, food and water bowls, and beds. This is especially true if they need to climb stairs or jump. It's also normal for aging cats to experience changes in their sleep patterns, however, you may need to call your vet if there is a significant increase in the duration or depth of your kitty's sleep. 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 a number of reasons and should be monitored by your veterinarian.
- Cognitive issues. If you notice your cat is starting to become confused by tasks or objects that are part of their usual daily routine, this could be a sign of memory or cognition issues. 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 evaluated by your vet.
- Issues caused by disease. A cat could turn aggressive as a result of the pain they are experiencing from health issues such as dental disease or arthritis. Monitoring your cat's mood is important because cats often hide their 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. Cats that are experiencing mobility problems due to joint inflammation may have challenges accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also lead your senior cat to relieve themselves in inappropriate places and should be addressed by a vet.
Keeping Your Senior Cat Healthy
Your own observations are some of the most important tools you have when it comes to keeping your senior cat happy and healthy. Incorporating simple changes to your grooming, feeding and general interactions with your kitty could be a low-pressure way to monitor your cat for any changes.
- Homelife: Older cats can be more sensitive to changes in their routine or household, which could cause 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.
- 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 in nature. 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.
- 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.
- Vet care: Because cats are skilled at hiding illness until it becomes more advanced or severe, it's imperative to bring them to the vet regularly for 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.
How Vets Can Help Senior Cats
Your knowledge of your cat, your observations, and routine wellness examinations are important resources for your vet. Depending on the needs of your kitty (e.g. if they have a medical condition), your vet might recommend 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, 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.