Boo McCourt has experience caring for aging cats and their changing needs.
How to Care for Your Senior Cat
As your cat begins to age, you will probably notice several physical and behavioral changes going on with your favorite pet. You may be alarmed to see your older cat is not the same chipper ball of fur it was, say, five years before. Your cat's behavior is transitioning as it gets older. Your cat's activity levels begin to slow down considerably; you may begin to notice that its eating habits are changing.
Drinking and sleeping habits may change quite noticeably because of aging. Although, do not always presume all changes your cat is going through are due to your cat's age. It is quite possible there is something else going on. So this would be a perfect time to see a veterinarian and have your senior cat checked out thoroughly. Please continue reading to find out the changes your cat goes through as it matures into a senior.
Is My Cat Getting Old? Physical and Behavioral Changes in Your Aging Cat
- Skin: The skin of your older cat is beginning to thin out, so your cat will start to have reduced blood circulation; this is when your cat is more susceptible to infections. Their immune systems become weaker and disposed to ailments often associated with aging.
- Grooming: Your older cat may start to groom themselves less frequently, giving them an odor or perhaps matting their hair, or causing them to itch. It is also not uncommon for your cat to pick and pull bits of their hair out.
- Appetite: Your older cat may be prone to loss of appetite. There may be several reasons for this. They may have some sort of dental problems going on and therefore have little desire to eat. Your cat's sense of smell may decrease, causing a loss of interest in eating. Something warm like tap water mixed with wet or dry food will help.
- Strange symptoms: If your cat is vomiting, urinating excessively, exhibits a poor appetite, and shows a loss in weight and poor grooming habits, your cat may be showing signs of kidney impairment. Kidney failure is a common disease in older cats.
- Mobility: If you notice your cat is having trouble walking, climbing, or getting to the litter box, especially if they need to use the stairs, your cat may be developing arthritis or some form of degenerative joint disease.
- Litter box habits: If your cat goes to the litter box more often than usual, the increased soil and odor may cause your cat to find other areas in the house to use as a litter box. If this is the case, assure the litter box is always free of clumps and clean for your cat to use. If your cat has painful arthritis, approaching the litter box may be demanding, especially if there are stairs your cat has to climb to get to the box.
- Arthritis: Just climbing into the litter box may be painful for your cat. Urinating or defecating in inappropriate locations is your cat's natural solution. It may be necessary to relocate your litter boxes to more accessible locations to prevent your elderly cats from eliminating in those inappropriate locations. You could try a litter box with low sides, or structuring a ramp into the box to help your older cat approach the litter box entry more efficiently.
- Excessive meowing: Your cat may meow more frequently and pace, or wander around. The use of night lights and some extra noise can help keep your older cat aware of its surroundings, especially if their sight and hearing are failing.
- Hiding: You may notice your cat avoiding their favorite resting place, and hiding instead, preferring under the bed, in the closets, in the corners, or someplace quiet and out of the way of household traffic.
- Hearing loss: Your cat doesn't come when called. This may be a possible sign of hearing loss.
- Change in routines: You may notice changes in sleeping or eating routines.
Caring for Your Senior Cat
Proper Nutrition for Your Older Cat
Many older cats are inclined to gain weight as they grow older. Of course, this is not always the case. Many older cats actually become too thin as they get older, apparently as part of the normal aging process. However, progressive weight loss can also be caused by serious medical problems such as:
- Kidney failure
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Liver disease
- Hyperthyroidism, or some other serious health condition
Changes in weight can be a sign of disease. As they grow older, their nutritional needs normally change. Proper nutrition can add years to your cat's life and slow down the progression of many of the diseases older cats are prone to.
As your cat reaches the age of seven, your cat's health problems begin to increase, especially with regards to their metabolism, kidneys, and vision. As a result, it's very important to feed your cat food that meets its changing needs. A diet low in fat and calories helps maintain an appropriate weight.
Your cat's food should also have balanced levels of fiber to maintain gastrointestinal health, and reduced amounts of magnesium and phosphorus to help augment a healthy urinary tract and kidneys. Lastly, you want to make sure your older cat gets food that is easy to digest.
Exercise Is Good for Your Elderly Cat
Exercise is very important for your aging cat, not only for weight control but your cat's overall health and activity. Your older cat typically becomes less energetic as arthritis may be developing, and muscles begin to mature.
Routinely playing with your cat will build muscle tone and resiliency, increase blood circulation, and help reduce weight in cats that are susceptible to obesity. During times of exercise, be alert to labored breathing or exertion that may suggest your cat is ill. Here are some ideas for helping your cat stay healthy:
- Set up cardboard boxes, paper bags, and tunnels to create an obstacle course to coordinate an exercise session for your cat. If you cannot find the soft-sided tunnels, make tunnels of your own by turning the boxes upside down and cutting entrance and exit holes.
- Crumple up some paper; cats love the sound of paper being crumpled.
- A wand with feathers on the end. Bat it around so your cat can have a whack at it.
- A plastic bottle cap to bat around. It will roll around and keep your cat busy for a while.
- Frequent vet visits. As your cat gets older, you need to increase the frequency of your routine health care visits to the veterinarian to at least twice a year.
Stick to a Routine; Your Cat Loves Routine
Your cat will love the routine you set up, and as they get older, they will feel safer and happier if there is a familiar routine they can depend on every day. Decreased hearing, vision, and cognitive dysfunction commonly occur, so it is essential they know what to expect.
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These changes may make them feel insecure. A solid routine can help provide a sense of security and decrease distress. One important example is feeding, if possible, feed your cat at the same time every day. They, in turn, will remind you when they are ready to feed.
Accessing Favorite Locations
As your cat becomes older, they may not be able to jump up to high places, and if those high places are their favorite spots, you might want to consider structuring small ramps or stairs so your cat can reach its favorite resting spot. If your cat has trouble getting up onto a couch or chair, design a “step up” of pillows or a box on the floor next to the furniture so your cat can climb onto the surface easily.
Cats ordinarily sleep a lot, and to help with those achy bones and maintain the thinner average body condition of your senior cat, provide a well-cushioned sleeping location that is comfortable for your cat. Older cats sleep more so a lot of time will be spent at that location. They will love you even more if that spot is serene and undisturbed.
If arthritis is preventing your cat from getting a beneficial scratch from a vertical post, you might want to consider a horizontal or angled scratching surface, such as corrugated cardboard scratching posts. These provide unrestrained access for nail conditioning.
Another concept that works really well is to gather a few small boxes and break them down so that they are flat. Scatter them near your cat's favorite spots. They will often use them for scratching. When they are scratched up, replace them. This is a very effective way for older cats to use their claws without having to reach up vertically.
Grooming for Your Older Cat
It is best to groom your older cat gently as possible. Your cat will benefit from more repeated hands-on help if their self-grooming begins to lessen over time. Pay special attention to a sudden lack of grooming, which may signal a health problem for your elderly cat.
This is particularly noteworthy for longer haired cats who become severely matted. Gently brushing or combing removes loose hairs and stimulates circulation. Not to mention making your cat feel cherished and loved.
It is important to leave a night light on for your older cat, who may have poor vision or eyesight problems, causing your cat to have a problem navigating at night. If your cat is blind, try to keep your cat's environment as fixed and consistent as possible, including litter box placement and furniture.
Lastly, your beloved older cat enjoys spending time with you and your family. It is important to give them that extra tender loving care that they will cherish for the rest of their lives. And to maintain their health by having regular check-ups with your veterinarian. So you both can live a happy and long life together.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2010 Boo McCourt
Boo McCourt (author) from Washington MI on February 24, 2015:
Sorry for the late reply. I hope your kitty is doing okay. I made several trips to the vet this month for my 18 month old kitty. Best wishes to you and the cats.
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on February 14, 2015:
You're welcome Crazy. Sorry to hear about the loss of your cat. My 15-year-olds are doing okay, while I'm keeping an eye on their bladder problem. I might be taking one of them to the vet soon for their UTI condition.
Boo McCourt (author) from Washington MI on February 14, 2015:
Thank you Kristen for reading and commenting. Yes they do require a bit more attention. I had to lay my 20 year old to rest last month. It has been so hard to let go. I know people who have cats well into their 20's. They are precious. Good luck with your seniors, love to the.
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on February 07, 2015:
Great useful hub on senior cat care. I have two adult ones who's about 16 years old. Now I know what to look out for in the future.
Boo McCourt (author) from Washington MI on April 19, 2013:
I am wondering about my 18 year old. He eats and always comes back for more. Don't know if he forgot or just wants more. Take good care Rick of those kitty's.
RICK on April 14, 2013:
i have 2 19 yr old cats patches and mindy .mindy sleeps eat ,forgets she eats comes out for more. patches drink water out of the sink instead of drinking from her bowl .mindy the loner, patches huddle over me.laids down nest to me.is it their time.
Boo McCourt (author) from Washington MI on March 28, 2013:
Thank you so much. Two of my loved ones have passed, I still have my 18 year old CIA. He too suffers a hearing loss. He does the howling as well, I added night lights and will try the clothing idea. He will jump up on the bed and just howl as if he is lost. I just cuddle him more. I am so happy to hear Emily is doing well. Thank you for your support.
FlourishAnyway from USA on March 19, 2013:
Great hub with beautiful photos of some very loved felines. My oldest cat, Emily, will be 17 later this year and suffers hearing loss and age-related cognitive decline. The loud meowing in the middle of the night has been improved by nightlights and leaving clothing with my scent on it (an unlaudered shirt) in the chair where she sleeps. It helps orient her a little more. Voted up and more!
Boo McCourt (author) from Washington MI on April 02, 2011:
Hi Annie, 17 years old is awesome. I am in the process of changing my elder cat's diet as well. She won't eat dry food anymore. So I give her wet food, tuna and cooked chicken. I think as long as your cat is healthy and getting around you should keep her as long as you can. Mine is almost 17. We have been through EVERYTHING, so I understand where you are coming from.
Annie on March 31, 2011:
I have a seventeen year old cat who at one time was sick a lot and had diahhorea. We started feeding her nothing but lean poultry and a little tinned salmon and she's fine, she can manage cat biscuits as well. She smells a bit and needs a litter tray and the rest of the family would like to see the end of her, but she's been there for me through some hard times so as long as she's fairly happy and healthy she's welcome to share my life.
Boo McCourt (author) from Washington MI on November 30, 2010:
Wow you have a 19 year old cat? That is awesome. I hope that for mine. They are pretty spry. Nice seeing you here Tarin.
Tarin from San Diego on November 29, 2010:
Wow a lot of the symptoms describe my 19 year old cat except for the loss of appetite.
Boo McCourt (author) from Washington MI on August 03, 2010:
Thank you stars. I love writing about cats. There is so much to write about. I just need to start publishing it.
stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on August 02, 2010:
Wonderful hub. It has so much interesting information in it. Thank You. God Bless You.
Boo McCourt (author) from Washington MI on July 26, 2010:
Thank you for reading, and the generous comment. Your right the kittens get all the attention. It is so easy to write about both, but I think I tend toward the older ones since my two are up there in age. Thanks for stopping by :)
FirstStepsFitness on July 25, 2010:
Very nice article ! So many consider the kittens but it's great to address the older feline too :)
Boo McCourt (author) from Washington MI on July 05, 2010:
Thank you BK for your kind and touching words, this hub was written with a few(well a lot)tears thrown in. I am happy you found it as I had written it. With lots of love.
Hey Billy I have a 15 year old who thinks he is still a kitten sometimes. He too loves to eat. I thank you for commenting and wish a long and healthy life for your parents Persian.
billyaustindillon on July 05, 2010:
THis covers everything here about your aging cat - my parents have an old Persian cat - he is 13 now and still pretty sprightly - amazing how they just keep going. the only real sign is he seems perpetually hungry but the vet cleared him of any illness - just getting old he said :)
BkCreative from Brooklyn, New York City on July 05, 2010:
Thanks for such a thoughtful, lovely and loving hub. We must remember that we all age differently.
This is an excellent reminder which I will share.
Rated up and more. Thanks again!