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Old Cats – Caring for Senior Cats

Advancements in veterinary care and medicine have greatly extended the lifespans of our senior cats. In this article, our veterinarians in Douglasville will explain how to ensure the happiness and health of your senior cat.

A Cat's Age in Human Years

Each cat ages differently, much like their human counterparts. Most cats undergo physical changes between the ages of 7 and 10, with the majority beginning around 12. While some people often use the rule of thumb that one "cat year" equates to 7 "human years," this comparison falls short. Instead, it's important to note that a cat's first year is analogous to a human's development at the age of 16.

At 2 years old, a cat is more akin to a human aged between 21 to 24. From then on, each cat year roughly corresponds to four human years. For instance, a 10-year-old cat is akin to a 53-year-old human, a 12-year-old cat mirrors a 61-year-old human, and a 15-year-old cat aligns with a 73-year-old human, and so forth.

Around the age of 11, cats are classified as "senior." If your cat is over 15 years old, they fall into the category of "super senior." When caring for older cats, it can be beneficial to consider their age in human terms, as it may assist you in comprehending potential health issues relative to their years of life.

Aging Cats

Cats, like humans, undergo significant physical and behavioral changes as they age. While aging is not a disease, keeping your vet informed about any alterations in your senior cat's condition is crucial. Monitoring your cat for the following changes is essential to ensure they receive the most comprehensive geriatric vet care:

Physical changes

  • Grooming & appearance. As cats age, they may become less effective at grooming for a few reasons and develop matted or oily fur. This can result in odors on the skin, inflammation, and painful hair matting. Senior cats' claws are also often overgrown, brittle, or thick and will need more attention from their caregivers. You might also notice the iris (the colorful part of the eye) develops a lacy appearance or slightly hazy lens. While there is little evidence that their sight is significantly impacted, several diseases, such as those related to high blood pressure, can severely and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see. 
  • Unintentional weight loss or gain. Older cats may lose weight. This can point to numerous problems, from kidney and heart disease to diabetes. Aging cats also commonly develop dental diseases, hindering eating and leading to weight loss and malnutrition. Oral health problems can also cause significant mouth pain. 
  • Physical activity & abilities. Degenerative joint disease or arthritis often becomes an issue for older cats, who may have difficulty accessing water and food bowls, beds, and litter boxes. The need to jump or climb stairs may further hinder their ability to reach essential places. While changes in sleep patterns are a normal part of aging, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep may be cause for concern and be a reason to contact your vet. A marked increase in energy may point to hyperthyroidism and should also be looked at. Hearing loss is also a common health issue in geriatric cats for many reasons and should be checked by your veterinarian. 

Behavioral changes

  • Cognitive issues. If you notice that your cat has started being confused by tasks or objects that are part of their daily routine, this may be a sign of issues with memory or cognition. Behavioral changes such as litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and seeming disorientated are also potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be examined by your vet.
  • Issues caused by disease. A cat can develop aggression due to pain resulting from health issues such as dental disease or arthritis. Monitoring your cat's mood is crucial because cats often conceal their discomfort. Diseases and disorders that affect urination, such as diabetes or kidney failure, can result in increased litterbox usage, potentially leading to cats being eliminating in inappropriate areas. Cats with mobility issues due to joint inflammation may struggle to access or climb into their litterbox, particularly when stairs are involved. This can also result in senior cats being eliminating in inappropriate places, necessitating a visit to the vet for proper evaluation and treatment.

How do you care for a super senior cat?

When looking after a senior cat, they will have different care requirements than kittens or even middle-aged cats. Your observations are some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy. Incorporating simple changes to your grooming, feeding, and general interactions with your cat can be a low-pressure way to watch for any changes in your aging pet.

  • Grooming: Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are great ways to keep older cats clean and healthy while also checking for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.
  • Nutrition: Many cats get heavy or even obese as they get older, which can be controlled with diet and activity if the weight gain is non-medical. Other weight issues include elderly cats being underweight, which may be caused by a variety of medical conditions and should be assessed by a veterinarian.
  • Home life: Older cats can be more sensitive to changes in routine or household, which can lead to stress. Patience and accommodations (extra affection, a favorite toy or blanket, a quiet room for them to stay in) go a long way to helping your senior cat adjust to upsetting changes. Don't forget to keep playing with your cat as they age; mental and physical stimulation is beneficial for their well-being.
  • Vet care: Because cats are adept at hiding illness until it is advanced or severe, it's important to take them regularly to the vet for wellness checks, even if they seem perfectly healthy. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor any conditions that your senior cat may have and catch any potential or emerging issues early when they're more treatable—their behavior and health.

Vet Care for Senior Cats

Your vet relies on your cat's knowledge and observations and regular wellness examinations as essential resources. Depending on your cat's requirements, such as a medical condition, your vet might recommend increasing the frequency of physical evaluations.

A senior cat's wellness examination entails the vet checking the pet's weight, skin, and fur condition, organ systems, and behavior and conducting diagnostic tests for common conditions seen in older cats.

Combining homecare with cooperative veterinary care can significantly improve your senior cat's overall health and happiness, benefiting you and your family.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.

Want some more info on how you can care for your senior cat? Contact our Douglasville vets to learn more.

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