How to keep your cat healthy and happy in later life

Help an older cat enjoy their golden years with our top tips for looking after their physical and mental wellbeing.

Older cats may need some extra care and support, but the good news is they’re also living longer, healthier lives than ever before. Keep them physically and mentally active for as long as possible with our tips for helping your senior cat live their best life!

How can I keep my elderly cat active?

Your senior cat may be sleeping more and exercising less than they used to, but it’s always helpful to include age-appropriate activities into their day to ensure they’re keeping as fit and healthy as possible. ‘Frequent, moderate exercise keeps muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments strong and supple, as long as it’s not too strenuous,’ says Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner. ‘And it's good to get their heart rate up a little every day.’

Try some indoor cat activities, encourage gentle exercise (such as going up and down the stairs), and consider getting a scratching post if your cat doesn’t have one. A horizontal scratching pad may be easier for less agile cats to use, and you can make your own from an old piece of carpet or sisal doormat. You could also provide a cat tree, if your pet is still up to climbing. Use cushions or folded blankets as crash mats underneath if your cat is not as strong or sure-footed as they used to be.

How to play with older cats

Play sessions are a great way to boost your cat’s activity levels. Cats are naturally most active in the early morning and evening, so these may be the best times to approach a senior cat. Prey-orientated games can kick-start their old hunting instincts, so look for cat toys that mimic the quick, fluttery actions of a bird or mouse. ‘Getting your cat thinking, with a moderate degree of chase game, will keep them both mentally and physically fitter,’ says Brian.

You could create an enclosed play area for your older cat using rolled-up towels, so they can bat a toy or ball around the space without it rolling too far away. Or why not hide a treat under a toy or inside an empty egg box for your cat to seek out, or place some food on a cat tree or low shelf to encourage gentle climbing?

How to keep an old cat comfortable

Making your home cat-friendly can require extra adjustments for an older animal. If a stiff or arthritic senior cat still enjoys sitting on high sills, shelves or the sofa, they may need non-slip ramps or strategically placed footstools to help them get there. A cosy heat pad could also help them sleep better. And even if your cat has always gone to the toilet outside, providing at least one (low-sided) indoor litter tray is a good idea as they become less mobile or experience age-related incontinence.

Always allow your old cat to remove themselves from stressful situations such as unexpected noises or unknown visitors, and retreat somewhere quieter. Be gentle, too, when communicating with them. If your senior cat is getting hard of hearing or sleeping more than they used to, avoid sudden movements or shouting, but let them know you’re in the room by calling their name softly.

Keep things as familiar as possible at home – try to avoid rearranging the furniture or relocating their food and water bowls (unless they’ve been having trouble reaching these). Providing consistency is also helpful for older cats starting to show signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) – better known as feline dementia.

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Getting the best diet for old cats

Eating a healthy, protein-based diet is as important as ever as your cat ages. That might mean switching to senior cat foods that are formulated for their needs, and reducing their daily food intake if they’re less active than before – but always talk to your vet before making any big changes to your cat’s diet. 

‘Having the right balance of good-quality calories to fuel your cat’s lifestyle is key to avoiding obesity, as well as diseases such as diabetes and pancreatitis,’ says Brian. ‘Portion control is important – the key is getting just the right amount to be healthy without overworking key organs as they age.’

If your older cat is getting picky about food, encourage them to eat by feeding them little and often, and warming up their food to release aromas. Thoroughly mashing their food or adding a little water can also make meals easier for elderly cats to digest. For more tips, read our in-depth advice on feeding older cats – and remember that if your cat goes off their food completely, it’s a sign you should take them to the vet.

Schedule regular veterinary check-ups

Don’t be shy about taking your older cat for a check-up more regularly – your vet can advise how often. Boosters become even more important for old cats because their immune system weakens with age, and regular weigh-ins will help keep their weight in check. If you’re worried about loss of mobility or other symptoms in an older cat, it may be helpful to film them at home and show the clip to your vet.

Check-ups can also help monitor ongoing conditions like CDS. ‘While there’s no cure for CDS, your vet can treat individual symptoms, such as anxiety and sleeplessness,’ notes Brian.

Show your older cat you love them

Brian believes that it’s no accident that the world’s oldest recorded cat, Creme Puff (who lived to an impressive 38 years), reportedly enjoyed plenty of mental stimulation and quality time with her owner. ‘Boredom and loneliness affect animals as well as people,’ he notes. ‘Like most pets, cats respond well to safe and meaningful relationships with humans, which is a key ingredient in keeping them happy and healthy.’

Make time to bond with your cat, taking your cues from them. With your attention and affection, and a few lifestyle adjustments, your senior cat should enjoy a stimulating and active old age!

How are you helping your ageing cat live their best life? Share your stories on X, Facebook or Instagram using #PethoodStories and you and your pet might end up in a future article.

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