As our cats get older, their personality and habits can change, too. We highlight the main changes in cat behaviour to watch out for and explain how to care for an ageing cat.
Does your cat’s behaviour seem to be changing as they get older? Some cats become more anxious, forgetful, defensive or even more vocal in later life. Don’t just ignore cat behaviour changes, as they could be a sign that your cat needs a vet check-up to investigate any underlying health issues. Here, we look at how cats might change in old age, how to deal with some common changes in cat behaviour, and when to seek veterinary help and advice.
My cat seems confused
If your older cat is acting confused, lost or anxious in places they’re usually perfectly at home, this could be a symptom of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) in cats, sometimes referred to as feline dementia.
Although there’s no cure for CDS, there are many things you can do to help maintain your cat’s quality of life, such as keeping their home environment as stable and reassuring as possible. Talk to your vet, and read our guide to CDS in cats, for more advice on recognising and managing the condition.
My cat doesn’t respond to sounds/calls
If your older cat used to appear straight away when you called them for meals, but no longer responds, it could be that CDS is making them forgetful of their usual routine. But another possibility is that your cat is going deaf. This could also be the case if your cat appears startled by someone ‘sneaking up on them’ without them hearing.
If you suspect your cat is losing their hearing, take them to the vet, who can investigate further and rule out any short-term problems, such as an ear infection. And see our guide to deafness in cats for tips on caring for an affected cat, from keeping them well away from traffic to teaching them simple hand signals.
My older cat has started yowling
If your older cat is meowing a bit more loudly than they used to, it could be that they’re compensating for deafness (see above). But a significant cat behaviour change, such as frequent yowling by day or night, could be a sign of CDS or other health conditions, so it’s always a good idea to discuss it with your vet. Be sure to keep your cat comfy and well cared for, and you could try a plug-in diffuser to help her feel more relaxed.
My cat has become aggressive
If your older cat seems more defensive and grumpy than they used to be around people or other pets, don’t just ignore the problem as it’s common for people to assume that it might be that they’ve become rather set in their ways, and less tolerant of disruption, in their old age. But if your cat is showing signs of aggression, such as biting, this could also be an indicator that they are in pain, or another symptom of CDS, so always start by talking to your vet. If the vet rules out a physical cause, it may also be helpful to consult a qualified animal behaviourist such as a member of the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (www.abtc.org.uk).
In the meantime, don’t approach or try to soothe an aggressive cat. Give them some peace and quiet, and provide safe spaces and hiding places around your home where they can retreat undisturbed.
My older cat is having toilet accidents
Changes in cat toileting behaviour can have many causes, including urinary incontinence, confusion linked to CDS, and diabetes. Marking behaviour such as spraying due to anxiety is different to toileting behaviour. An older cat having accidents may also be unable to reach their usual toileting spot in time, or access their litter tray as easily as they once did, due to pain such as arthritis.
If your older cat has started leaving messes outside of their litter tray, talk to your vet to narrow down possible causes. Providing your cat with a (low-sided) indoor litter tray, if they didn’t already have one – or adding extra litter trays if they did in different locations around the house – might make it easier for them to relieve themselves.
My cat isn’t grooming
Joint or dental problems can interfere with older cats’ grooming habits, and CDS can also be a factor. Your vet may recommend giving your older cat a gentle helping hand with grooming.
My older cat is sleeping more than usual
Sleeping more, and moving around less, is a common cat behaviour change with age, and is generally nothing to worry about if your cat seems comfortable and content. Some older cats, on the other hand, may need help with getting to sleep at night.
Bear in mind that older cats may be less agile and painful in the joints than they used to be, so make sure they have access to comfortable, warm and accessible sleeping spots.
My cat's eating habits have changed
As cats age, their nutritional needs evolve, and it’s important to feed senior cats the right diet. If your older cat is less active than they used to be, it’s also natural for them to eat a little less. But if your cat seems to be struggling to eat, or has stopped eating completely, seek immediate veterinary attention.
No one knows your cat, and what’s normal for them, better than you do. Older cats need our understanding and empathy to help meet their needs. Keeping an eye on any cat behaviour changes, taking them to the vet for more frequent check-ups than when they were younger, and adjusting their routine when necessary will help keep your cat healthy and happy in later life.