Caring For a Cat That Is a Senior

The life expectancy of the average indoor cat is 12 to 18 years.  Search the internet however, and you’ll find tales of much older felines. They include Lucy from South Wales, purported to be 40 years old as of January 2012, and Crème Puff of Texas, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 38. While these cats serve as unique specimens of feline longevity, we may bestow the title of “senior cat” upon any housecat over the age of ten. 

How old is my cat, really?

While figuring one “cat year” equal to seven “human years” may be a simple way to get a rough estimate of your pets advancing age, it is not entirely accurate. In actuality, a one-year-old cat is more similar to a 16-year-old human than a seven-year-old one.  A two-year-old cat is physiologically closer in development to a person who is 21 years old. After the age of two, each cat year is worth approximately four human years. This means a ten-year-old cat may experience the age-related issues of a 53-year-old human, and a 15-year-old cat will have the health and mobility concerns of a human of 73 years of age.

What should I expect as my cat enters his senior years?

The activity level of senior cats is often less than that of their younger counterparts. You may notice your pet begins to sleep more than she used to each day. While many seniors still love to play, they may tire easier, or be satisfied with less rambunctious pursuits.
You may also find that your senior cat is less flexible. He may have difficulty grooming those hard to reach areas. This can lead to matted fur and skin odor.
He may seem reluctant to jump up or down off of formerly favorite perches, such as the windowsill or cat condo. This could be due to arthritis, which is common in older cats.
An older cat may experience loss of hearing. The severity of hearing loss may range from barely noticeable to total deafness. He may also develop cataracts with age, which can affect vision. Changes in the brain as your pet ages may also lead to senility. Symptoms include wandering, excessive meowing and disorientation.
Unfortunately, many serious conditions, though sometimes observed in younger felines, are more prevalent in senior cats. These include hyperthyroidism, hypertension, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.

What can I do to make his life easier?

While many conditions that affect senior cats are not curable, most are still controllable. The most important thing you can do for your older cat is observe his condition regularly. The sooner you detect an age-related complication or disease, the sooner your vet can treat it. Examine your pet’s skin and fur, take a look at his teeth and gums, observe how much he eats and drinks, and look for changes in flexibility, mobility and litter box usage.
If he’ll tolerate it, brush him daily to remove loose hairs. This will prevent hairballs, as well as matted fur and related skin issues. If he’s not scratching his post as much as he used to, trim his nails weekly. This will prevent him from snagging them on carpet and furnishings.
Some older cats become obese, while others become quite thin. If your pet is overweight, ask your vet for diet modifications. If your pet is painfully thin, have him checked for serious conditions such as kidney failure, diabetes, liver disease and cancer.
Encourage your senior cat to play. Exercise is important to his overall health. Moderate play can improve muscle tone, increase circulation and help reduce weight in older cats that are too heavy.
Reduce his stress. Older cats are generally less adaptable to change and may become distraught if you move to a new home, introduce a new pet, or board him while on vacation. If these activities are not avoidable, be sure to give him plenty of extra attention and affection if he seems emotional.
Make him comfortable. If your senior pet is experiencing arthritis or mobility issues, he’ll appreciate a soft bed placed in an accessible location. Older cats may also benefit from added warmth. Set your thermostat higher or purchase a low wattage heating liner for his bed. Easy entry litter boxes are also a must.

Aging is inevitable, but it is not the end of the world. Whether your feline companion is ten years old or twenty, regular veterinary care and your own close observation will keep him healthy and happy for the rest of his life.

Do you have a senior cat? What are some things you do to help him be comfortable? Share tips with us in the comments!

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2 Responses

  1. Nancy says:

    You mention easy enter litter boxes. I would like one for my diabetic kitty. Where can I find them? Can you recommend any?

    • LeahL says:

      The key to an easy enter litter box is a lower front or side panel (or notch in the front or side panel) so older kitties don't have to hop up and over to get in. You can actually make your own with by modifying a Rubbermaid container or a regular rectangular litter pan (see instructions at Alternatively, consider a litter box designed for ferrets. Many have lower front panels.

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