Our senior cats are living far longer than they used to thanks to advances in veterinary care and medicine, pet nutrition and diet research and development, and information accessibility for pet owners. Our Fairfield, NJ veterinarians discuss what to expect as your cat ages and offer advice on how to care for a senior cat today.
How old is a senior cat in human years?
Each cat, like humans, ages in its own unique way. Many cats begin to show age-related physical changes between the ages of 7 and 10, with the majority having done so by the age of 12. The common belief that one "cat year" equals seven "human years" is incorrect; instead, the accepted wisdom is that a cat's first year is comparable to the growth of a 16-year-old human, and a cat at two years old is comparable to a human between the ages of 21 and 24. After that, a cat's year is roughly equal to four human years (e.g., a 10-year-old cat is 53 years old, a 12-year-old cat is 61 years old, a 15-year-old cat is 73 years old, and so on).
You might be wondering when cats are considered senior. Cats are considered to be "senior" once they are about 11 years old, and "super-senior" when they reach over 15 years of age. When caring for older cats it sometimes helps to think of their age in human terms.
Signs of Old Age in Cats
Cats, like their owners, go through many physical and behavioral changes as they get older. While aging is not a disease in and of itself, keeping your veterinarian informed about changes in your senior cat is an important part of their overall health care. Keep an eye out for the following changes:
- Grooming & appearance. Matted or oily fur is the result of an aging cat's ineffective grooming, which can lead to painful hair matting, skin odor, and inflammation. Claws on senior cats are frequently overgrown, thick, and brittle, necessitating more attention from their owners. A slightly hazy lens and a 'lacy' appearance to the colorful part of the eye (iris) are common in older cats, but there is little evidence that this affects their vision. Several diseases, particularly those associated with high blood pressure, can, however, seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's vision. Weight gain or loss that is unintentional: Weight loss in an older cat can indicate a variety of issues, ranging from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Dental disease is very common in older cats, and it can make it difficult for them to eat, resulting in weight loss and malnutrition, as well as causing them significant pain.
- Physical activity & abilities. Older cats often experience degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, which makes it difficult to gain access to litter boxes, food and water bowls, and beds. This is especially true if they have to jump or climb stairs. Changes in sleep are a normal part of aging, but a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep could cause you to contact your vet. Aging cats that suddenly have an increase in energy may have signs of hyperthyroidism and should be seen by a vet. Inappropriate weight loss/gain can be a sign of issues ranging from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Hearing loss is common in geriatric cats for a number of reasons and should be monitored by your veterinarian.
- 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. Because cats tend to hide their discomfort, a cat suffering from dental disease or arthritis may become aggressive. Keeping an eye on your cat's mood is important because cats tend to hide their discomfort. Increased litterbox usage can result from diseases and disorders that affect urination (e.g., diabetes, kidney failure), which can lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate places. Cats with joint inflammation may have difficulty accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may cause your senior cat to eliminate in inconvenient places, which should be addressed by a veterinarian.
How to care for older cats
Your own 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: 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 in nature. 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.
- Homelife: Changes in routine or household can cause stress in older cats. 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. Remember to keep playing with your cat as they get older; mental and physical stimulation is good for their health.
- 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.
How can a veterinarian help with geriatric cat care?
Regular wellness examinations, as well as your knowledge of your cat and observations, are valuable resources for your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend increasing the frequency of physical examinations based on your cat's needs (for example, if they have a medical condition). The vet will check the cat's weight, skin and fur condition, organ systems, and behavior, and run diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in senior cats during a wellness examination. Combining homecare and cooperative veterinary care is an excellent way to ensure that your senior cat lives a longer, healthier life with you and your family.