Your Cat's Senior Years - What to Expect
Kittens are playful, adults are companionable, but for many people, senior cats are the best friends of all. Cats age more quickly than we do, so that by 10 years of age, a cat has become "senior". Cats can easily live well into their late teens, and even early twenties.
You may notice slight changes in your cat as he ages. He may play less than usual, and be less willing to climb or jump. Part of that could be because of arthritic changes. Make sure he doesn't have to jump or climb to get to his litter box or food and water bowls. Make it easier for him to access favorite perches next to windows. Encourage him to exercise with moderate play, which can benefit his muscle tone, flexibility, circulation and weight.
Older cats may groom less, or be less effective when they do groom, sometimes resulting in matted fur or increased odor. The skin is thinner and less elastic, with reduced blood circulation, so is more susceptible to infection. The claws tend to become more thick and brittle. These changes mean you have to groom, including cutting nails, more often as your cat ages. Brushing does away with shed fur that can cause hair balls, and also stimulates circulation and sebaceous gland secretion, increasing skin health and condition.
Some cats may wander aimlessly around the house, meowing excessively, often acting as though they are disoriented. Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe drugs that can help with this condition, which may be age-related cognitive dysfunction. On the other hand, these changes may be caused by other physical changes that your veterinarian can diagnose and treat. Any marked change in behavior, including increased aggression, urine marking, and loss of litter box training, calls for a veterinary examination.
Older cats are more susceptible to both chilling and overheating, so be sure to keep an eye on whether he’s curled up and shivering or sprawled out and seeking cool surfaces. They are also more likely to be stressed by boarding or traveling. If you must do either make sure you make him a home away from home as best as you can.
Older cats may have some hearing loss, starting with higher pitched sounds. If your cat seems to be ignoring you, try talking louder and in a lower voice. He may also have some vision loss. A slight haziness to the outer surface of the eye and even the lens is normal, but a solid gray or white appearance needs veterinary attention. Several diseases, including those associated with high blood pressure, can affect a cat's vision.
The sense of smell may also diminish with age, which can in turn cause lessened appetite. This can be serious in a very old cat, because whereas cats entering old age have a tendency to be overweight, extremely old cats tend to be underweight. These cats may need a high fat diet with good quality protein, and they may need to be encouraged to eat by warming the food to body temperature and gently stroking them as they eat. They may also need to have their teeth checked. Dental disease is very common in older cats, and may cause so much pain that they are hesitant to eat. Serving soft food may help, but ideally the cat needs a dental cleaning, with any loose teeth extracted.
Older cats also tend to become dehydrated. Feed wet food and place additional water bowls around the house. Dehydration can result from some diseases or medications common to older cats, and can further damage the cat's health.
Older cats are subject to several diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowel disease, and especially, kidney disease. Your older cat should have a veterinary check up at least twice a year. Whereas bloodwork may have been optional when he was younger, it’s a necessity now. Although cats don't live as long as we wish they did, you can help your cat's senior years be longer and happier with just a little extra care.