Aging cats: When Is a Cat Considered a Senior?

If your cat is getting older and starting to slow done, you may be wondering when your cat is considered a senior. Today our Madison Park Veterinary Hospital vets explain how to spot the signs of aging and when your cat is considered a senior.

How Old Is A Senior Cat?

If, like most cat owners, you spend every day with your kitty, it can be challenging to tell when they become a senior. But make no mistake - your cat's body goes through changes as it ages, much like a person's body does. 

In another similarity to humans, aging cats experience these changes uniquely. 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. 

Many people believe that one "cat year" is equivalent to seven "human years," but this is not entirely accurate. Instead, it is generally accepted that a cat's first year is similar to a human's development up to age 16. Therefore, a two-year-old cat is more like a human aged between 21 and 24 years old. 

After that, one "cat year" is approximately equal to four human years. For instance, a 10-year-old cat is equivalent to a 53-year-old human, a 12-year-old cat to a 61-year-old human, and a 15-year-old cat to a 73-year-old human. 

When a cat reaches 11 years old, it is considered a senior cat. If a cat lives beyond 15 years, it is a "super-senior." When taking care of older cats, it can be helpful to think of their age in human terms.

What Happens As My Senior Cat Ages?

As cats age, they go through various behavioral and physical transformations, much like humans. Although aging is not an ailment, it's crucial to inform your vet about any changes in your senior cat's body and demeanor. This will help ensure that they receive the most thorough wellness care possible. Some changes to watch for include the following:

Physical 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 '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 cat is getting older and appears to be losing weight, there may be a range of underlying issues to consider. For example, diabetes and kidney or heart disease can be factors. Additionally, dental problems are quite common in older cats, which can lead to difficulties eating, malnourishment, and weight loss, as well as causing discomfort and pain in their mouths.

Physical Activity & Abilities 

Arthritis or degenerative joint disease often becomes a problem for older cats. This condition makes it difficult to access food and water bowls, beds, and litter boxes. This fact is especially true for a cat that needs to climb stairs or jump. 

As we age, changes in our sleeping patterns are natural. However, if you observe a notable increase in the duration or quality of your senior cat's sleep, it could be a cause for concern. In such cases, it is advisable to notify your vet immediately. Additionally, if you notice a sudden surge in your pet's energy levels, it could indicate hyperthyroidism, and it is best to seek medical advice from a veterinarian.

Geriatric cats also commonly lose hearing for several reasons. If this happens to your cat, it's another reason to visit 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 is important to monitor your cat's behavior as they may become aggressive due to pain caused by health issues such as dental disease or arthritis. Cats tend to hide discomfort, so it is important to keep an eye on their mood. Diseases and disorders impacting urination, such as diabetes or kidney failure, may cause an increase in litterbox usage and may lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate areas.

In the case of joint inflammation, cats may face mobility issues, making it difficult for them to access or climb into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may lead to senior cats eliminating in inappropriate places, and it should be addressed by a veterinarian.

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.


A lot of 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.

Home Life

As cats age, they may become more susceptible to stress due to changes in their routine or household. It is important to be patient and make accommodations for them to help them adjust. This can include giving them extra affection, providing a favorite toy or blanket, or giving them a quiet room to stay in. It is also important to continue playing with your senior cat for their mental and physical 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.

How Can A Veterinarian Help?

Your knowledge of your cat's activities, health, and personality, and any observations you may be able to offer, will serve as an important guide for your vet. These should be paired with regularly scheduled routine exams. Depending on your senior cat's age, lifestyle, health status, and a few other factors including any ongoing needs they may have in terms of medical conditions, your vet can tell you how often to come in for a visit and may recommend increasing the frequency of physical checkups. 

Do you have questions about caring for your senior cat? Contact our vets in Seattle to book a wellness check for your feline friend.