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Life Number Nine: Caring for Senior Cats

senior cats

Old friends are the best friends, so the saying goes. Senior cats are wonderful pets and there are many things you can do to keep them healthy and happy later in life. We recommend following these guidelines to keep your senior cat feeling like a kitten.

What qualifies as a senior cat?

Many cats begin to encounter age-related physical changes between seven and ten years of age, and most do so by the time they are 12. Your cat’s species, breed, and the health of their organs will dictate when they start acting “old.”

Each pet is unique and cats that are up there in years may still be healthy or just beginning to show signs of aging.

What risks do senior cats face?

Arthritis is common in senior cats and some may find it difficult to climb into litter box or reach their food and water bowls.

Thick, overgrown claws that are brittle are more common in senior cats that are sedentary, requiring more frequent nail trimming.

Decreased appetite may be common as senior cats can lose their sense of smell and experience discomfort from dental disease. It is common for their appetite to decrease and for older cats to lose weight.

Changes in hearing and vision can appear as cats age. Their eyes may develop a slight haziness and several diseases can impair their ability to see, sometimes high-blood pressure is the underlying cause. Age also brings hearing loss, particularly in elderly cats over age 10.

Geriatric or elderly cats over age 10 may develop behavior changes associated with memory loss. Symptoms may include wandering, excessive meowing, disorientation and avoiding social interaction.

Compared to younger cats, an older cat’s immune system is less able to fend off foreign invaders. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease can impair their immune function even further. Impaired kidney function and failure is common in senior cats, and its symptoms are extremely varied.

Hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer are all conditions that are more prevalent in cats as they age.

As a pet owners you may not be able to stop the age-related health changes from happening to your cat, but you can often manage them with exercise and diet changes.

What do you feed senior cats?

We recommend that pet owners start their cats on a senior diet at about seven years of age, which is when cats’ metabolism may start to slow and they may become less active. Senior cat food should include high quality protein, digestible carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants, and fatty acids. Senior cats may find it hard to digest and absorb fats so they need fats that are easier for their bodies to process.

Food for older cats is widely available to maintain their health and optimum body weight, slow or prevent the development of chronic disease, and to minimize or improve any signs of diseases that may already be present in your cat.  

  • Select a senior cat food that will help ensure they still get the same amount of energy as younger, adult cats as they age.
  • Vitamin, mineral, and electrolyte-levels may be lower in older cats if they absorb less of them through the intestinal tract or lose more of them through the kidneys and urinary tract. Some senior cats eat less cat food, including those with oral disease, so that may not receive their daily needs of vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants such as vitamins A (beta-carotene), E, and C may play a role in protecting your cat against the aging processes.
  • Monitor the weight and condition of your cat.

Consult with your veterinarian to determine which specific food and supplements will be helpful for your cat as they age from adult to senior to geriatric age.

How do you exercise senior cats?

Many senior cats retain their a built-in predatory drive and still enjoy hiding in boxes or chasing a wad of paper on the floor. Since your cat won’t be pouncing, sprinting or leaping like a kitten, keep some “teaser” toys like a laser pointer, crinkle balls and catnip mice handy instead.
Get your cat vertical stretching with scratcher or cat tree to stretch his muscles.

If your senior cat still has all its senses, move their food bowl around and make him hunt and work for it. Do this with healthy, dry treats too, leaving them in unique spots away from where you normally serve their food.

Limit senior cats to five-minute play periods three times per day if they are experiencing any discomfort. During times of exercise, be on the lookout for labored breathing, rapid tiring, difficulty moving, and tender or sore areas.

Before starting your senior cat on any exercise routine, check in with your veterinarian. Make sure that your pet is able to safely be physically active, and discuss how to work with any issues they may have, like arthritis or vision loss.

What special treatment do senior cats require?

Keep your senior cat healthy with close observation and a quick check of their health at home as often as once per week. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to do it and what to look for. Essentially, interact with your cat like you normally would and add in some observation.

  • When rubbing your cat’s head or scratching its chin, gently raise the upper lips with your thumb or forefinger so you can examine their teeth and gums.
  • Playfully lift the ear flaps and examine the ear canals.
  • While stroking your cat’s fur, take a quick check for abnormal lumps or bumps, and evaluate the health of their skin and coat.
  • Daily brushing can remove loose hairs, preventing them from being swallowed and forming hairballs. Brushing also has the benefit of stimulating blood circulation and sebaceous gland secretions, which gives them a healthier skin and coat.

Reduce your senior cat’s environmental stress whenever possible, as they may be less adaptable to change. Introducing a new pet may be a challenging experience for senior cats, and should be avoided whenever possible. Moving to a new home or even boarding your cat during a family vacation may cause them some stress. Pet sitting by a relative or friend is a good alternative for a senior cat. If you must board them, having a familiar object such as a blanket or toy may prevent the cat from becoming too distraught in a strange environment. Some stress can be alleviated by giving your senior cat more affection and attention during times of emotional upheaval.

Cats are known for hiding illness and senior cats are no exception. It is common for a cat to have a serious medical problem, yet not show any sign of it until the condition has advanced. Since most diseases can be managed more successfully when detected and treated early, it is important for owners of senior cats to carefully monitor their behavior and health.
Our pet hospital is here to keep your cat well in their ninth life. If you’re unsure as to what to feed your senior cat or how to give them exercise and care at home, we at ZippiVet are here to help. We make it easy to schedule an appointment and are open seven days a week.

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