Just like humans, as cats grow older their bodies can begin to slowly break down, developing aches, pains and other health problems.
As cat guardians, we need to be aware of these changes, and understand how best we can support our fur-babies in the winter season of their lives.
Cats are considered “senior” from about the age of 11, and “senior plus” from about 15 onwards.
Let’s discuss some of the things that we need to look out for and what we can do to make our cats’ lives comfortable in their golden years.
1) Keep up the vet visits
Now more than ever, regular vet exams will be your best way to get on top of progressing health issues early. It might be pertinent to increase your (hopefully) annual check-ups to 6-monthly. Think of them as “Wellness Visits”.
You may consider vet home-visits if they are available in your area. This will massively help to keep any vet-visit-stress down.
2) Keep resources accessible
Senior cats may begin to get aches and pains in their joints, as well as other pain syndromes which can make it difficult for them to access places as easily as they have in the past. This may include higher spots they need to jump up to, or even distance to resources.
The main resources you need to consider are food, water, litterbox, resting/hiding/sleeping spots, and your attention.
For example, you may need to increase the number of food, water or litter stations around the house so they are within a short distance at any point. An older cat that prefers to spend most of her time upstairs will find it increasingly difficult to have to travel to the downstairs litterbox several times a day. On top of this, she may have reduced control of her bladder or bowels, so keeping a few litterboxes more accessible will be highly appreciated by her.
Also consider a lower-sided litterbox, and lower sleeping/resting spaces. Many older cats find it difficult to jump up, and many owners have found that pet-stairs enable their cat to join them on the couch.
3) Nutrition and Weight Management
Nutrition is very important as a cat ages. Older cats may prefer smaller, more regular meals. Their appetite may decrease, so it’s important to keep on top of what foods your cat enjoys the most.
Overweight cats should really be put on a weight management plan (with help from your vet) as weight will really contribute to the state (and pain) of their joints.
Underweight cats should also be seen by a vet to rule out any disease states that may be contributing. Higher calorie, extra tasty food may be in order to help maintain a healthier weight.
4) Physical and Mental Exercise
Even if they are slowing down, gentle physical and mental exercise will be of huge benefit, keeping them happy and healthy. Food puzzles are excellent for mental stimulation, and gentle physical play will keep those bones and muscles strong. You may need to be a bit less vigorous and rest more often when playing.
5) Help with grooming
Often as cats begin to enter their golden ages, grooming becomes a bit more difficult. Helping her keep a regular grooming habit with a daily, gentle brushing session can keep her coat healthy, reduce her workload, and maintain a nice close relationship between you.
6) Behavioural Issues/Cognitive Impairment
Older cats can begin to display behavioural changes that may be a bit confusing or troubling for owners. These changes may include extra vocalisation, litterbox avoidance, even aggression. There may be a number of medical causes, including hyperthyroidism, kidney issues or even degenerative brain disease. If your older cat begins to display some unusual behaviours, your first action will be to organise a vet visit.
As your cat’s brain and senses change, you’ll need to think of ways that will keep her comfortable in her environment. You may need to get some night lights so she can see better at night, avoid too much environmental change if possible (e.g. getting new furniture) etc. Cats are very routine-driven, and even moreso in their old age. Try to keep her life predictable and don’t change the routine if you can help it.
As a cat guardian to an older cat, your role is going to be even more important to your cat’s life than it has been up until now! This is the time to show her just how much you care, and how much she has meant to you. Using these tips, and making your vet your best friend, will help make her later years happy and healthy.