Cats remain wonderful human companions, even as they enter their senior years. Most cats reach their senior years between ages 11 and 14, which is roughly equivalent to a 60- to 72-year-old human. As cats age, they often become more finicky in what they eat due to a reduced sense of smell and taste. Their vision and hearing may also become impaired, their immune system function may decline, and their cognitive abilities may start to dwindle, resulting in behavioral changes.
While the aging process cannot be stopped, there are things you can do to give your pet the best quality of life.
Reevaluate Your Cat’s Diet
Diet plays a key role in the health and overall energy levels of your pet. Senior cats have unique dietary needs due to changes in how they eat and digest food. Speak with your vet about how to best transition your cat to senior cat food. The type of food, and how much to feed your cat, will depend on your pet’s weight and dental health. Many pet owners find that their cat’s digestion is improved by feeding them small and frequent meals throughout the day.
Bring Your Cat Indoors
It’s normal for pet owners to allow their cats to wander outdoors. However, as cats begin to age, the dangers of outdoors can be escalated. Senior cats are not always as alert and agile as their younger counterparts and are at risk of getting injured or even killed as they are not able to move as swiftly as they did before. Once your cat reaches his senior years, consider keeping him indoors. If you want to give your cat outdoor time, consider setting up a large cat catio where your pet can lounge safely outside.
Schedule Regular Wellness Checkups
Even the most devoted pet owners can sometimes overlook symptoms of disease or illness. One of the best ways to detect health problems early on is to schedule regular wellness checkups with your vet. During a wellness checkup, your vet will perform a thorough physical exam to look for subtle changes that could indicate a health condition. Your vet may also recommend certain medications or supplements to help maintain your cat’s health in his senior years.
Maintain a Grooming Routine
You may notice that as your cat ages, he grooms himself less and less. This is often because senior cats are not able to physically groom as adequately as they did when they were younger. If your cat is struggling to groom, consider giving him a helping hand. Elderly cats can benefit from lukewarm baths, regular gentle brushing, and trimming of fur that becomes too long or easily tangled. Also, have your cat’s nails trimmed at the vet at least every six months to prevent overgrown nails which can cause discomfort. Regular dental exams and cleanings can also be beneficial for senior cats.
Look for Signs of Illness
Senior cats can develop a wide range of illnesses as they reach their elderly years. It is important to recognize these signs of illness or pain early on so that you can get your cat the help and support he needs. Some signs and symptoms that your cat may be ill or in pain include:
- Excessive fatigue
- Increases or decreases in appetite
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Unwillingness to play
- Hiding away
- Changes in grooming habits
- Changes in bathroom habits
- Increased thirst
- Weight loss
- Changes in mobility
- Changes to breathing
Increase Your Cat’s Water Intake
Aging cats are prone to a variety of health problems, such as chronic constipation and kidney disease. These conditions can be exacerbated when your cat is not staying hydrated. Ensure that your pet has access to fresh, clean water at all times. Put your cat’s water dish in a spot where it can be easily accessed without having to jump or climb. You can also help keep your cat hydrated by offering canned food which has more liquids than dry kibble.
Create a Senior Cat-Friendly Environment
While it’s never a good idea to change your senior cat’s environment suddenly, gradual changes can help make your pet more comfortable in his old age. Place all of your cat’s resources, such as food, water, and litter boxes, in multiple locations where your cat can easily access them. Provide your cat with extra bedding materials to improve padding and warmth. Raised food and water bowls can make it easy for cats with degenerative joint disease to eat and drink without having to bend too much.
Take Time to Play and Bond with Your Cat
As your cat ages, you may find that he doesn’t run or play as much as he used to. However, this doesn’t mean that your cat doesn’t need regular stimuli and engagement. Even as your cat slows down, be sure to take time each day to play and engage with your pet, even if that means snuggling on the couch and giving him a massage or scratches. Many senior cats will continue to enjoy watching the world outside. Make it easy for your cat to watch by setting up a perch next to the window.
With proper care, senior cats can live well into their late teens or even their twenties. Pet owners can take the necessary steps to ensure that their cat is healthy, comfortable, and pain-free in their senior years by providing extra care and support and by seeing their vet on a routine basis.