Changes You'll See in Your Aging Cat

Let's take a look at what you can expect, and how you can keep your aging cat healthy.

As your cat ages, you can expect a number of behavioral and physical changes to occur. Some are normal and inevitable, but some may be the sign of a serious disease. If you're not sure that the changes are related to your cat’s aging, talk to your veterinarian. Early diagnosis and treatment of age-related changes might control problems while they're small and prolong your cat's quality of life.

Let's look at some of the common changes that occur in aging cats, and then see what we can do to keep our geriatric kitties healthy and happy.

Gastrointestinal Changes

Cats tend to lose the ability to digest and absorb fat as they grow older. Although obesity does occur in middle-aged cats, feline seniors more often lose weight and take on a distinctively “boney old cat” feel. Changes in diet can help some older cats retain normal body weight, so check with your veterinarian if you notice your cat is losing weight. Some older cats also do better with several small meals per day instead of one or two bigger ones.

Cat Nip

Senior cats sometimes fail to drink enough water, leading to dehydration and constipation. Be sure your cat has constant easy access to clean drinking water.

Constipation is a problem for many aging cats and can be related to a number of causes. For one thing, food tends to move more slowly through the older cat's digestive system, which, in turn, slows elimination. Arthritis or anal-gland problems can cause pain during defecation, so your cat might avoid eliminating for as long as possible simply because it causes discomfort. Constipation can signal serious disease, so if your cat isn't eliminating properly for more than a day or so, call your vet.

Changes in Skin, Coat, and Claws

Like their human counterparts, many cats show their advancing age in their hair. Some “go gray” (or even white), especially on their faces. Some cats may experience thinning of their fur as well as changes in its texture, although these changes can also be an indication of a nutritional deficiency or other health problem. If your cat's coat changes suddenly or significantly, you should take her to the vet to rule out disease. If the problem is nutritional, your veterinarian may prescribe a change in diet.

Age also brings changes in the skin, making it thinner, dryer, and less elastic and, therefore, more prone to injury and infection and slower to heal. Again, good nutrition will help, and regular brushing will help stimulate the oil glands and distribute natural oils that lubricate your aging cat’s skin and coat.

Your cat's claws may also become dryer and more brittle with age. An aging cat might be less interested in using its scratching post which helps keep its claws at a shorter, better length. You may need to increase the frequency of nail trimming to help maintain your cat’s nail health.

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Arthritis and Muscular Problems

As your cat ages, might get stiff and sore and become reluctant to move around. Some cats, especially those who have suffered joint injuries when younger, develop arthritis, which can be mild or debilitating. If your cat seems to avoid jumping or climbing where he used to or if he seems to move stiffly, talk to your veterinarian. Nutritional supplements help in some cases, and if your cat’s symptoms are severe, your vet might also prescribe anti-inflammatory or pain medications.

Medicines and Supplements

Never give your cat any medication unless you are specifically instructed to do so by a veterinarian. Some medications can be lethal for cats even in small doses.

Senior cats also tend to lose muscle mass and tone, making movement more difficult and leading to even more muscle loss. Lack of exercise has additional harmful effects on your older cat's heart, digestive system, and emotional health as well, and lack of muscle support will worsen the effects of arthritis.

Exercise is important throughout your cat's life, and moderate exercise remains important into advanced old age. You can encourage your senior feline to move around in a number of ways. Make life easier for him by placing ramps where he used to leap (for instance, onto a bed or favorite chair or perch). Appeal to his feline curiosity with empty paper bags or cardboard boxes he can explore or crumpled papers or toys he can chase and bat around. Gentle games will help him stay in shape and also reinforce the bond between the two of you.
If your cat is unable to exercise regularly, you might be able to make her more comfortable by gently flexing and massaging her joints and muscles every day. Massage stimulates circulation, helping joints and muscles remain flexible. Many aging cats enjoy the extra stimulation and extra contact. If your cat is too sore, it will let you know. If that happens, just pet your cat gently while talking to it. Love is always good medicine!

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