As our cats age, they may need a little extra love and support. With the help of Petplan vet Brian Faulkner, we look at how to ensure senior cats enjoy a healthy, happy old age.
Our cats are part of the family – and just like our human family members, they may experience some age-related changes and health issues over time. Here, we look at what to watch out for as they age, and how to take the best possible care of an older cat.
At what age is your cat considered to be ‘old’?
Cats are reckoned to be ‘senior’ when they reach the age of eight to 10 years. But age really is just a number: factors such as their lifestyle, genetic inheritance and any previous health problems they have experienced will impact on how quickly your cat ages.
A modern cat’s life expectancy is around 10 to 17 years. But, of course, we’ve all heard of cats living to an even riper old age – and we all hope ours will do so, too!
Senior cat care tips
Problems as your cat ages can affect many aspects of their overall health and wellbeing, from their physical mobility to their ability to groom themselves. But your love and attention – and some relatively small health interventions – can make a huge difference to the overall comfort and happiness of your cat as they get older. Here are some key tips to maintain your senior cat’s health.
As they age, cats become less agile and may be more reluctant to leap around like they used to. Problems with jumping up or down, even from relatively low heights such as the sofa, may be a sign of feline arthritis.
While exercise is still important for your cat, chances are they won’t be as playful as when they were younger, so make sure they don’t go beyond their limits. Provide toys and games at ground level, and offer ramps to help them access their favourite lounging spots.
Food and nutrition
Some cats may go off their food as they get older. This may be a natural result of them moving around less and needing fewer calories. But it could also be a sign of underlying health issues, such as dental disease, kidney damage or digestive problems, so do ask your vet for advice – especially if your cat is reluctant to eat at all.
To ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need in easily digested meals, it may be helpful to switch them to a good-quality cat food specially formulated for senior cats. Some cheaper brands contain too much salt or too much protein, which makes their ageing organs work harder than necessary, so ask your vet for a recommendation.
As cats get older, their joints stiffen, and they may find that cleaning themselves in those difficult-to-reach places is more of a challenge. The likelihood of arthritic joints, dental issues or tooth loss also increases with age. These can make cats more reluctant to groom themselves. But cats love to feel clean, so if they need a helping hand, do groom your cat regularly.
Keep an eye on their claws, too: cats use these less as they age, so any long, ragged claws may need a gentle trim when necessary, and ingrown claws are also more common in older cats. Meanwhile, regular tooth-brushing can help keep their teeth and gums healthy.
Senior cats will spend even more of their time sleeping than they did when they were younger. They enjoy warmth and comfort, and will often seek somewhere cosy to curl up for the day. Place beds in corners or near your radiators for extra warmth. Some mature moggies, on the other hand, may experience disturbed sleep or start yowling in the evenings – find out how to help them get a restful night.
Common symptoms of senior cat health problems
You know your cat best, so look out for any behavioural or health changes, such as toileting in the wrong places, which may require further investigation. Here’s a checklist of early-warning signs that may alert you to potential feline illnesses:
- Difficulty jumping, moving or stretching: this could mean arthritis, nerve damage or other joint problems
- Unusually smelly breath: this may indicate kidney problems or dental disease
- Reluctance to eat harder cat foods: could be a sign of dental disease
- Changes in weight: obesity in cats is often associated with feline diabetes, while a cat that is losing weight may have dental problems or an overactive thyroid gland
- Confusion, constant meowing, grumpiness and looking lost: these can all be signs of dementia in cats
- Changes to drinking habits: whether your cat is drinking more, or less, than usual, this could be a sign of an underlying condition, such as kidney disease, diabetes or an overactive thyroid gland
- Howling at night: this may be linked to hearing or sight loss, or again, feline dementia
- Hiding away: if they’re always disappearing into small spaces, this may be a sign that your cat is in pain
If you notice any of these symptoms in cats, or you’re worried about any other health or behaviour issues, it’s always best to talk to your vet for advice. Regular health check-ups are more important than ever in elderly cats, to keep an eye on any problems.