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Old Cats: How to Care for a Senior Cat

With advancements in veterinary care and medicine, our senior cats are living much longer than they ever have. Today, our San Gabriel vets discuss how you can keep your senior or super senior cat happy and healthy.

A Cat's Age in Human Years

Each cat experiences aging differently, much like their human counterparts. Many cats begin to change physically between the age of 7 and 10 years old, and most will begin by approximately 12 years old. While many people follow a common rule of thumb that one "cat year" is equivalent to 7 "human years", this isn't quite accurate. Instead, we should remember that a cat's first year is similar to the development of a 16-year-old human.

At 2 years old, a cat is more similar to a human between 21 to 24 years old. After that, each year for a cat equals roughly four human years (for example a 10-year-old cat= a 53-year-old human; a 12-year-old cat = a 61-year-old human; a 15-year-old cat = a 73-year-old human, etc.)

Cats are termed "senior" when they reach the age of 11 years. If your cat is over the age of 15, you have a "super senior" cat. When caring for senior cats, it might be good to think about their age in human terms because it can help you appreciate potential health risks in connection to years lived.

Aging Cats

Cats can experience many changes in their physicality and behavior as they age, just like their humans. While aging is not a disease in itself, keeping your vet abreast of changes in your senior cat will play an integral role in ensuring they receive the most comprehensive geriatric vet care possible. Some changes to watch for include:

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, which can hinder eating and lead to weight loss and malnutrition. Oral health problems can also cause significant mouth pain. 
  • Physical activity & abilities. Degenerative joint disease, often known as arthritis, is a common problem in senior cats, who may have trouble accessing water and food bowls, beds, and litter boxes. The requirement to leap or climb stairs may further impede their capacity to access vital locations. While changes in sleep patterns are a typical aspect of aging, a large increase in sleep or depth of sleep may be cause for concern and warrant a visit to your veterinarian. A significant increase in energy may indicate hyperthyroidism and should be investigated. Hearing loss is a prevalent health issue in older cats for a variety of causes and should be evaluated 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 may become violent as a result of suffering from health conditions such as dental disease or arthritis, therefore monitoring your cat's attitude is critical because cats try to hide discomfort. Diabetes and kidney disease, for example, might induce an increase in litterbox usage, which can lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate places. Cats with movement issues owing to joint inflammation may have difficulty reaching or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also cause your elderly cat to eliminate in inappropriate places, which should be addressed by a veterinarian.

Senior Cat Care

When it comes to caring for a senior cat, their needs will differ from those of kittens or even middle-aged cats. Your observations are among the most crucial tools for keeping your senior cat happy and healthy. Simple modifications to your cat's grooming, feeding, and general interactions can be a low-pressure strategy to monitor any changes in your aged kitty.

  • 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: A lot of 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 knowledge of your cat and your observations are an important resource for your vet, as are regular wellness examinations. Depending on your cat's needs (e.g. if they have a medical condition), your vet may suggest increasing the frequency of physical evaluations. A wellness examination of a senior cat includes the vet checking the cat's weight, skin & fur condition, organ systems, and behavior, and running diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in older felines.

The combination of homecare and cooperative veterinary care is a great way to help ensure your senior cat has 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. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.

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

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