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Caring for Older Cats


caring for older cats

Our companion cats are living longer thanks to constant advancements in veterinary care, more awareness concerning high quality nutrition, and better attention paid to their emotional, physical and mental needs. Every cat is unique though and age-related issues may start to show up in one cat at the age of seven while his feline housemate may not start to show his age until 10. It’s important to have your cat seen by the veterinarian at least once a year so age-related problems can be detected early. If you can, twice a year is even better when your cat becomes a senior. Many veterinarians offer senior wellness packages that help reduce the cost. Once your cat reaches the geriatric years, it’s strongly recommended that twice-yearly visits be made.


Life can go along without any problems for your cat and then as he approaches his senior years, you may notice changes. Don’t assume it’s just normal age-related behavior without having him checked by the veterinarian. Any change in behavior is a potential red flag that something medical may be brewing. Age-related issues left unaddressed can have serious consequences. Additionally, if you’re alerted to these changes early, there are things you can do to make life more comfortable for your senior feline.

The feline life stage guidelines were updated recently by the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners. A difference from the previous guidelines is that there are now four age-related stages and then an end-of-life stage (which can happen at any age). These guidelines simplify things and are in line with how cat parents tend to view their own cats’ life stages.

feline life stage guidelines

Your Older Cat is Going Through Changes

Changes in mobility. Physically, your senior cat may have no difficulty getting around or you may notice he is starting to struggle when it comes to reaching the places in your home he normally loves. Jumping up to a favorite window perch may take more of an effort or may be too difficult. This may be due to arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Never give aspirin to your cat for arthritis as that is highly toxic. Talk to your veterinarian if your cat is having trouble moving around or appears to have stiff or painful joints.

The Litter Box. When it comes to the litter box, a senior cat may develop arthritis, making it difficult for to get in and out. An older cat may also lack bladder control so he may not make it to the box in time. Arthritis or stiff joints can also make it difficult for the cat to get to a standing position and walk to the box in time to empty his bladder. Older cats who are diabetic or in renal failure may not make it to the box in time because of their increased water intake. Constipation is another common issue with older cats. This can lead to litter box avoidance if the cat associates the box with his discomfort. He may also make so many attempts to poop that he winds up straining every chance he gets – no matter where he is at the time.

Bebe in her cat tree

Photo: Pam Johnson-Bennett

Appetite changes. Your older cat may gain weight due to decreased activity but increased food or he may lose weight from lack of appetite. The appetite decline might be due to a decreased sense of smell, cognitive issues, disease, dental pain, etc.

Hearing decline. If your older cat has a decreased sense of hearing, he may sleep more soundly and as a result, he might not get the message from the brain in time to tell him the bladder is full. A cat with declining senses may also be more easily startled.

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