Like people, all animals will encounter changes physically and emotionally, along with the limitations and changing needs that are part of aging. Most felines will begin to experience the effects of aging at approximately 7- 8 year of age. A cat is considered a senior cat when it is 10 years old.
What changes can I expect?
Most felines will experience the changes that accompany aging without encountering any major problems or difficulties. Maintaining a high quality of life not only helps to prevent age-related complications, but also helps keep your cat healthy. Senior cats will experience more illness and difficulty with daily activities as they age. Understanding the changes that will occur and knowing how to recognize them will help to reduce the health risks and limitations your cat may encounter, and help you maintain your cat’s quality of life. Below are some of the changes you can expect:
- Increased risk of dental problems, such as toothaches and gum disease, which can make chewing difficult and may result in a loss of appetite
- Dry skin and allergies may increase as the efficiency of the immune system diminishes
- Claws are brittle and thick, and may become overgrown more easily
- Hearing loss is common
- Decrease in visual acuity as the lens becomes hazy and fine lines begin to appear in the iris, although this reduction will not limit your cat’s vision enough to impair his daily routines
- Decreased sense of smell may contribute to a decrease in appetite
- Excessive meowing and wandering will begin to occur more frequently as confusion from senility begins to manifest itself
- Less tolerance and interaction with humans and other pets in the home may become more evident
- Kidney failure is common, but can be treated with medication if diagnosed in its early stages
- Dehydration occurs more easily. It is important to see that your cat’s daily intake of water is sufficient
- Reduction in mobility as a result of arthritis and degenerative joint disease will begin to limit your cat’s daily routines and level of activity
- Risk of obesity increases due to the lack of exercise and reduced activity and mobility. Obesity can lead to kidney failure and diabetes, so encouraging activeness and exercise is very important
- More frequent urination as a result of age-related illnesses and disease may manifest itself through changes in litter box behavior
UNDERSTANDING A SENIOR CAT’S NEEDS
- 1. Nutrition and DigestionMaintaining a healthy weight for your senior cat is very important. The older a cat gets, the fussier they are about what they eat. As a cat ages, its digestive system functions less efficiently and the appetite decreases. An elderly cat that is too thin has a greater risk of dying than a cat with a normal body weight. If your senior cat’s appetite has diminished, have your veterinarian examine her to make sure there is not a serious underlying health issue. Your veterinarian may also recommend some nutritional supplements or a special diet to make sure your cat is getting enough vitamins.Make sure you keep food and water dishes easily accessible. Be careful not to feed your cat more food; but rather a good senior cat food: higher quality food that contains the added nutrients and vitamins necessary for your aging cat to digest food more easily as well as maintain a healthy weight.2. Grooming
As a cat ages, its fur begins to get dull and is not as soft and smooth as it once was, probably because your senior cat will begin to groom itself less often and with less efficiency. To keep your cat healthy, it is important to groom her regularly to help keep the fur clear of debris and ensure the fur does not become matted and dirty. You can buy a good cat brush at your local pet store. Try to purchase a brush with bristles that will clean the outer coat thoroughly, and reach all the way down to the skin to remove dead cells and old, lose fur. A healthy coat is essential to your cat’s overall health.
At first, your cat may resist the grooming sessions, so be patient and keep the sessions brief. Gradually increase the length of the grooming sessions and the frequency until you are grooming your cat at least once a week. Eventually, your cat will come to enjoy the grooming sessions and look forward to them. Grooming time is also an excellent opportunity to bond with your pet. Check with your veterinarian to see what supplements he recommends to help maintain your cat’s fur and skin.
Elderly cats are less active and will spend a greater portion of their day sleeping or lounging. Despite your cat’s age, exercise is still a very important key to maintaining overall health and quality of life, particularly during the later years of a cat’s life. An inactive cat will become obese, which could lead to kidney failure, cat diabetes and other diseases. Your aging cat still enjoys activities like chasing a toy, and exploring and playing games with you, but simply doesn’t have the same energy or capabilities it did when it was younger. Encourage your cat to be active by adjusting the activities to suit your elderly cat’s limitations. Instead of tossing a toy so your cat can jump up and catch it, try rolling it across the floor. If your cat enjoyed chasing you up and down stairs when it was younger, let her chase you on the same floor instead. Once your cat engages in these activities, you will find she still enjoys them and will participate in them happily; just keep the playtimes shorter and less strenuous so you can enjoy them more often.
Older cats cannot tolerate the smell of soiled litter, and may refuse to use the litter box. Refusal to use the litter box may also occur because sore or arthritic joints make it too painful and too difficult to climb in and out of a box with high sides. If possible, switch to a low-sided litter box. You may have to sweep up litter around the box more often, but it’s easier to sweep up litter than to clean urine and feces from floors, furniture and carpets.
Older cats are more sensitive to changes in the household and may find it more difficult to deal with new family members, changes in their environment, and new and unfamiliar sights and sounds. A cat that was not bothered by such things when it was younger may now be startled more easily and begin to be more fearful, even running to hide when strangers are present or loud noises occur.
KEEPING YOUR SENIOR CAT HEALTHY AND HAPPY
- 1. Try to maintain the same quality of life your cat has always enjoyed.
2. Do not skip or neglect annual visits to your veterinarian. He will be able to give valuable advice as your cat ages.
3. Nutritional needs will change, so check with your veterinarian to make sure your senior cat’s diet is adequate, both for maintaining a healthy weight and to help with digestion. If your veterinarian prescribes a special diet or supplements, make sure you follow it as instructed and do not deviate from it.
4. Continue to get annual dental cleanings to help ensure that appetite does not decrease because of dental problems and related diseases that are more common in elderly cats.
5. Watch your cat’s behavior and report any unusual changes to your veterinarian immediately, especially if they occur suddenly, as changes in personality and activity level should be gradual. Your senior cat may be suffering from some internal problem or illness.
6. If your aging cat has begun to show signs of limited mobility or has been diagnosed with arthritis, make sure your cat has easy access to the areas of the home where his food, water, litter box and favorite sleeping areas are located.
7. Try to limit changes in your cat’s daily routine and living environment to help reduce unnecessary stress and anxiety.
DO NOT assume that changes in your aging cat are age-related, even if they are subtle. Always contact your veterinarian with any concerns you may have, to make sure your cat is not suffering from an illness or other underlying condition. Treating health problems is easier to treat, with greater success, the earlier they are detected, and may help to prevent the onset of a more serious condition which could cause your cat’s health to deteriorate rapidly, especially in an older cat.
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