Behavior Issues in Senior Cats
Cats are considered to be seniors by 13 years of age. Up until that time, your cat has probably calmed down somewhat since first reaching adulthood, but as he ages more your cat will naturally become even less active and less playful. He will groom himself less often and less thoroughly. He will also eat less enthusiastically. While these are all normal aspects of aging, they can also be signs of disease, so it is prudent to discuss these changes with your veterinarian as soon as you notice them occurring.
Loss of litter box training is the most common reason older cats are seen by veterinary behaviorists. It can be caused or influenced by medical conditions such as neuromuscular conditions that decrease mobility, brain tumors, sensory problems, or any disease that increases the cat's need to eliminate or that decreases bladder or bowel control. It can also result from cognitive dysfunction. If a medical condition is not to blame, try increasing the availability of litter boxes in your house, making sure to have at least one on every floor. Don't move existing boxes; add to them. Use boxes that don't require the cat to jump up on counters or into tubs, and that have low sides.
Cognitive dysfunction, somewhat similar to human Alzheimer's disease, is seen in some older cats and is responsible for loss of housetraining in many. As cats age into very old age, they are more likely to be affected. It's estimated that cognitive dysfunction affects at least 55% of cats aged 11 to 15 years and at least 80% of cats aged 16 to 20 years. Signs are disorientation (wandering and appearing lost or confused at times; failing to recognize family members); reduced social interactions (losing interest in greeting or interacting with people or other cats); sleep-wake cycle disruptions (sleeping more during the day but staying awake at night, often wandering and meowing); housetraining loss (ignoring or forgetting where the litter box is).
You may also want to ask your veterinarian about treating the symptoms of cognitive dysfunction with medication.
Try to interact with your older cat, enticing him to play short games or to sit for grooming. Mental and social stimulation may help keep him mentally fit.
Older cats, like older people, may experience sensory or cognitive losses. Fortunately, cats deal well with these changes—better, in fact, than most people do. The most common sensory loss is loss of hearing. The ability to hear high pitched sounds usually goes first, so try to call out in a lower tone voice. Deaf cats can easily learn to come to thumping on the floor or to hand signals.
Never assume a change in behavior is just due to old age. Many changes have their bases in health problems. For example, a cat in pain may become more antisocial or aggressive; a cat with a medical condition (such as kidney disease, diabetes or hyperthyroidism) causing him to urinate more may not use the litter box because it's either overly soiled or too hard to reach in time. A cat with arthritis may be less apt to use a litter box that requires him to jump to reach it. Hyperthyroidism may contribute to urine marking in cats that never did so before.
Always see your veterinarian rather than deciding there is nothing you can do about it. You may not be able to bring him back to kittenhood, but you may be able to buy him another year or two of normal adult behavior.