Thanks to advancements in veterinary medicine, our beloved cats and dogs are enjoying extended lifespans. However, this means that pet owners should be aware of how to care for their furry companions during their senior years properly. Our vets in Seattle have shared some helpful tips for caring for senior cats.
A Cat's Age in Human Years
Just like humans, every cat goes through aging in a unique way.
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 also become more fragile with time.
As cats grow older, they may undergo various physical and behavioral transformations, much like humans. Although aging is not an ailment, it is crucial to keep your vet informed about any alterations in your senior cat's condition to ensure they receive the best possible geriatric vet care. Some indicators to keep an eye out for are:
- 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.
- 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
Here are some simple changes you can incorporate into your kitty's routine to make them more comfortable in their senior years:
- 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: Many 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 vet relies on your knowledge of your cat, your observations, and regular wellness exams to provide the best care for your furry friend. If your cat has a medical condition, your vet may recommend more frequent physical evaluations. For senior cats, a wellness exam includes checking their weight, skin and fur condition, organ systems, and behavior, as well as running diagnostic tests for common age-related conditions.
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. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.