Caring for Older Cats

Like humans, cats grow old too. A cat’s life span is, on average about 14-18 years, and is considered a “senior” after about 11 years. Cats at all stages of life require love and care from their owners, but older cats especially may require special attention as their behaviors and needs change with age.

Normal Aging Changes

As expected, older cats typically become less active for a variety of reasons, from joint stiffness to changes taking place in the brain. Normal aging characteristics may include: eating less, grooming less frequently, sleeping longer, playing less, and generally responding less actively to surrounding events.

Cognitive Dysfunction

Some cats undergo more drastic mental changes that cause a more drastic mental impairment. The chance of this cognitive dysfunction increases significantly with age. Signs of such impairment are described by the acronym DISH:

D: Disorientation; cats may appear confused or lost, and may fail to recognize familiar people.
I: Reduced Interactions: cats will be less likely to seek attention or greet people.
S: Changes in Sleep: cat’s sleep cycle may change, for example sleeping more in the day and wandering around at night.
H: Loss of Housetraining: cats may forget their housetraining, such as where the litter box is, and may generally be less concerned with hygiene.

The Basics: Eating, Sleeping, and Healthcare

Aging cats gain weight more easily as their metabolism slows, so it’s best to check with your vet or local pet store to decide on the healthiest diet. Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, or heart problems especially call for specific nutritional plans. You should always make sure to provide your aging cat with fresh, cool water. Your senior cat may also need a softer bed, especially if he/she is experiencing arthritis. There are a variety of orthopedic beds available.  Finally, visit your vet at least every 6 months when your cat reaches his senior years. You should have hearing and eyesight checked, as the loss of both is common in older cats. Make sure to keep track of any changes in your cat’s behavior and appearance so you can discuss them with your vet.

Grooming and Cleanliness

Brush your cat’s teeth daily. This not only prevents tooth decay, but it also allows you to notice symptoms of various illnesses, such as mouth ulcers or “kitty breath”, which can be a warning sign if it is particularly strong. You should also groom your cat at least once a week, especially since cats groom themselves less as they age. This also allows you to check for different ailments such as fleas or parasites. You should also look for bumps, skin lesions, or hair loss. Just remember, cats’ skin becomes less elastic with age, so be careful not to scrape or pull! Also, you may need to change your cat’s litter box more frequently. Older cats tend to experience irregular digestion and need to use the bathroom more often.

Keep Your Senior Cat Active…But Not Too Active

You should certainly provide your older cat with exercise, just don’t overdo it. Exercise helps cats maintain both physical fitness and mental alertness, thus keeping them happier. Your can play gentle games with toys or catnip. You should, however, minimize a cat’s stress as much as possible. Older cats do not interact as readily with new people or animals, and may prefer to avoid such situations. You should also avoid leaving your cat outside for longer periods of time, as older cats can’t handle more extreme temperatures, and are more prone to accidents. However you choose to help your cat stay in shape, try sticking to a routine of sleep, eating, and playing. It will help your cat feel less confused.

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