This topic was selected by Our Companions’ Sanctuary Feline Behavior Manager, Karen Aseltine. When I met to talk with her, some of these issues hit very close to home. I currently have senior animals (two dogs and a cat) and watching their needs change and expenses rise, it’s definitely not the fun part of owning a pet. However, we owe it to them to do what they need to age peacefully and happily. So exactly how old is old in the feline world? According to PetMD, seven to ten years of age. If that’s the case, my little Mirabelle was already a senior when I got her at the age of seven! It’s important to remember that every cat is different and not every cat’s age is exactly known, so learn to recognize the signs of aging to help you make decisions regarding your cat’s needs.
Signs of Aging & Management Suggestions:
• Mobility Issues: Is your cat displaying signs of stiffness or pain, or changes in activity levels? Cats sleep 12-16 hours a day, so general laziness isn’t a sign, but added laziness may be! If your cat is no longer seeking out high spots in your home, this could be a sign of stiffness and pain. Consider adding ramps for access to beds and perches and adding some heated or cushioned beds for comfort.
• Dental Issues: Problems with teeth can make eating painful, breath stinky, and cause infection. Talking with your vet about the best plan of action regarding diet, cleanings and extractions is important.
• Food Issues: You may need to change up the diet as your cat ages. No teeth? Consider switching to all wet food. Packing on the pounds? Try a weight management formula. If your cat seems disinterested in eating, and dental issues aren’t the reason, consider heating up wet food just enough to release some aroma.
• Water Consumption: Increased water consumption is common in several illnesses including diabetes and kidney disease, so definitely give your vet a call. Provide fresh, clean water near the feeding area and in a few other areas of the home.
• Litter Box Issues: As cats age, their mobility changes and their water needs may increase. Having several easily accessible litter boxes will be your best defense against any inappropriate elimination. Make sure that the box walls are not too high and that the boxes are not too small. Does your cat have to go up or down stairs to get to her litter box? You may want to offer one on each level.
• Grooming Issues: Does brushing cause discomfort? You may need to experiment a bit to find a brush or comb that your cat enjoys. Check their nail length often and help groom hard-to-reach areas, and be watchful for any new lumps or bumps.
• Hearing/Vision/Vocalization Issues: I currently have a blind dog and a deaf cat . . . it’s like See No Evil, Hear No Evil here in my house with my very own Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. If your cat loses her hearing or sight, it can be easily accommodated. It may be as simple as placing some night lights around the house and controlling clutter.
• Changes in Interaction: Your cat may not play like she used to, but it’s important to still engage in shorter, gentler play sessions. If you are petting a cat with physical or sensory issues, try not to startle them; approach slowly and touch gently. If your cat is showing signs of anxiousness or fear, Feliway pheromone diffusers (available at pet stores or online) can help. Other Issues: Avoid stressors whenever possible. For example, introducing a new animal into the home is stressful to an aging feline. Also, rather than boarding your cat when you go away, have a pet sitter come into your home to keep stress and change to a minimum.
Bottom line: Your senior cat should be taken to the vet twice a year and senior blood profiles should be done annually to keep an eye on what’s going on inside the body. The vet will be your best resource for changing diets due to mobility, dental or health needs. They will also be a good source for determining necessary (or unnecessary) vaccinations.