Thanks to advancements in veterinary care and medicine, pet nutrition and diet research and development, and accessibility to information for pet owners, our senior cats are living far longer than they used to. Today, our Pleasant Hill vets talk about what to expect as your cat ages and share tips on how to care for your senior cat.
How old is my cat in human years?
Each cat, like humans, ages in its unique way. Many cats begin to show age-related physical changes between the ages of 7 and 10, with the majority having done so by the age of 12. The common belief that one "cat year" equals seven "human years" is incorrect; instead, the accepted wisdom is that a cat's first year is comparable to the growth of a 16-year-old human, and a cat at two years old is comparable to a human between the ages of 21 and 24. After that, a cat's year is roughly equal to four human years (e.g., a 10-year-old cat is 53 years old, a 12-year-old cat is 61 years old, a 15-year-old cat is 73 years old, and so on).
So when is your cat considered senior? Cats are considered to be "senior" once they are about 11 years old, and "super-senior" cat is 15 years of age. When caring for older cats it sometimes helps to think of their age in human terms.
What happens as my cat ages?
Cats, like their owners, go through many physical and behavioral changes as they get older. While aging is not a disease in and of itself, keeping your veterinarian informed about changes in your senior cat is an important part of their overall health care. Keep an eye out for the following changes:
- Grooming & appearance. Matted or oily fur is caused by less effective grooming by an aging cat, which can result in painful hair matting, skin odor, and inflammation. Senior cats' claws are often overgrown, thick, and brittle, requiring more attention from their caretakers. Aging cats commonly have a slightly hazy lens and 'lacy' appearance to the colorful part of the eye (iris), but there is little evidence that this significantly affects their sight. There are, however, several diseases, especially those associated with high blood pressure, that can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see. Unintentional weight loss or weight gain: In an older cat, weight loss can be a sign of any number of problems, from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Dental disease is extremely common in older cats and can hinder eating, causing weight loss and malnutrition in addition to causing them significant pain.
- Physical activity & abilities. Degenerative joint disease, also known as arthritis, affects older cats, making it difficult for them to access litter boxes, food and water bowls, and beds. This is particularly true if they must jump or climb a flight of stairs. Sleep changes are a normal part of growing older, but a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep should be reported to your veterinarian. Aging cats with a sudden increase in energy may have hyperthyroidism and should be examined by a veterinarian. Weight loss or gain that isn't healthy can be a sign of everything from heart disease to diabetes. Hearing loss is common in geriatric cats for a variety of reasons, and your veterinarian should keep an eye on it.
- Cognitive issues. If your cat is becoming confused by tasks or objects that are part of their daily routine, it could be a sign of memory or cognition problems. Litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and appearing disoriented are all signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be investigated by your veterinarian.
- Issues caused by disease. Because cats tend to hide their discomfort, a cat suffering from dental disease or arthritis may become aggressive. Keeping an eye on your cat's mood is important because cats tend to hide their discomfort. Increased litterbox usage can result from diseases and disorders that affect urination (e.g., diabetes, kidney failure), which can lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate places. Cats with joint inflammation may have difficulty accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may cause your senior cat to eliminate in inconvenient places, which should be addressed by a veterinarian.
How can I help keep my senior cat healthy?
Some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy are your observations. Simple adjustments to your cat's grooming, feeding, and general interactions can be a low-pressure way to keep an eye on any changes in your aging pet.
- Grooming: Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are all excellent ways to keep your older cat clean and healthy, as well as checking for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.
- Nutrition: Many cats become overweight or obese as they age, which can be managed through diet and exercise if the weight gain is not medical. Other weight-related issues include underweight elderly cats, which can be caused by a variety of medical conditions and should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
- Homelife: Older cats are more sensitive to changes in their routine or environment, which can cause stress. Patience and accommodations (extra affection, a favorite toy or blanket, a quiet room to stay in) can go a long way toward assisting your senior cat in adjusting to upsetting changes. Remember to keep playing with your cat as they get older; mental and physical stimulation is good for their health.
- Vet care: Because cats can hide illness until it is advanced or severe, it's important to take them to the vet for wellness checks regularly, even if they appear to be in good health. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor any conditions that your senior cat may have, as well as catch any potential or emerging issues early on when they are more treatable.
How can a veterinarian help?
Regular wellness examinations, as well as your knowledge of your cat and observations, are valuable resources for your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend increasing the frequency of physical examinations based on your cat's needs (for example, if they have a medical condition). The vet will check the cat's weight, skin and fur condition, organ systems, behavior, and run diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in senior cats during a wellness examination. Combining homecare and cooperative veterinary care is an excellent way to ensure that your senior cat lives a longer, healthier life with you and your family.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.