Thanks to advancements in veterinary care and medicine, our beloved cats are living longer than ever, some even becoming super senior cats. In this post, our Riverside vets share what to expect as your cat ages and tips on how to care for your senior kitty.
How old is my cat in human years?
Like humans, every cat ages differently. You may notice age-related changes in your kitty's behavior or physical appearance between ages 7 and 10. It is actually inaccurate to say that one "cat year" is equivalent to seven "humans years"; it's more like a cat's first year of life is comparable to the growth of a 16-year-old human, and a cat at 2 years old is comparable to a human between 21 and 24 years old. Following that, each year for a cat is roughly equal to four human years (e.g., a 10-year-old cat = 53-year-old human).
Cats are considered "senior" when they reach 11 years old, and "super-senior" at 15. With more senior and super senior cats being around these days, it's good for owners to know what to expect and how to care for them.
What happens as my cat ages?
Cats undergo a variety of physical and behavioral changes as they age. Keeping your vet up to date on changes in your senior cat is important to their routine wellness care. Read about some of the changes to look out for below.
Grooming and Appearance
As a cat ages, their self-grooming becomes naturally less effective, leading to oily fur. This can cause painful hair matting, skin odor, and inflammation.
Senior cats' claws are frequently overgrown, thick, and brittle, necessitating more attention from their owners so they don't break on their own and risk injury the cat.
You will often find your senior cat's eyes "milkier" or hazier in the iris than they used to be, but there is little evidence that this affects their vision significantly. However, there are several diseases, particularly those associated with high blood pressure, that can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's vision.
Unexpected weight gain or loss can signal an underlying health issue, especially in senior cats, ranging from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Dental disease is also a concern as it is extremely common in older cats and can prevent them from eating, resulting in weight loss and malnutrition.
Degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, is common in older cats. This makes access to litter boxes, food, water bowls, and beds difficult, especially if you have stairs in your home. Cats are natural jumpers who like to explore high spaces, so the inability to jump high can affect their mood and energy level.
Sleep changes are a normal part of aging, but a significant increase in sleep should be reported to your veterinarian. Similarly, senior cats with a sudden increase in energy may be suffering from hyperthyroidism and examined by a professional.
If you notice your cat becoming confused by tasks or objects that are part of their daily routine, this could be a sign of memory or cognition issues. Litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and appearing disoriented are all potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility. In some severe cases, senior cats can develop feline dementia. Consult your veterinarian on how to care for your older cat in this case.
Hearing loss in geriatric cats is also common and should be monitored by your veterinarian during routine wellness exams.
Issues Caused by Disease
Monitoring your cat's mood is critical to catching any age-related health issues as senior cats may become aggressive or anti-social when they experience pain due to arthritis or dental disease. Cats tend to hide their discomfort, so owners should know what behavior to look for to identify health problems.
Diseases and disorders that affect urination (e.g., diabetes, kidney failure) can result in noticeably increased litterbox usage. Cats with mobility issues due to joint inflammation may have difficulty accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved.
How can I help keep my senior cat healthy?
Changes to your kitty's grooming and feeding, and more frequent interactions with your cat can be a low-stress way to keep an eye out for any changes in your aging pet. Here are some changes you can introduce to your feline friend's life:
Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are all excellent ways to keep older cats clean and healthy, while also keeping an eye out for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws. Frequency of at-home grooming changes depending on your cat's breed and coat-type, so consult your vet if you're unsure.
Severe weight gain is fairly common in older cats. This can be controlled with a consistent diet and activity if the weight gain is non-medical.
Changes in routine or household can make older cats more sensitive to 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. Don't forget to keep playing with your cat as they get older; mental and physical stimulation is good for their health.
Because cats are adept at hiding illness until it is advanced or severe, it is critical to take them to the vet for wellness checks regularly, even if they appear perfectly healthy. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor any conditions that your senior cat may have and identify any potential or emerging issues early on when they are more treatable.
How can a veterinarian help?
Your knowledge of your cat and regular check-ups are valuable resources for your veterinarian. With a basis understanding of your pet, your veterinarian may advise you to increase the frequency of physical examinations.
A senior cat's wellness examination includes the veterinarian checking the cat's weight, skin and fur condition, organ systems, behavior, and running diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in older cats. The combination of homecare and collaborative veterinary care is an excellent way to ensure that your senior cat lives a healthier, happier 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.