Grooming changes. Older cats may become less fastidious about their daily grooming. The coat may start to look messy, matted and may even develop an unpleasant odor.
Dental problems. Lack of appetite, drooling, foul odor to the mouth, inflamed or very red gums are just some of the symptoms indicating periodontal disease. There may even be a foul odor to the cat’s coat from the saliva during self-grooming. Dental disease is painful and very serious as bacteria can travel from the gums into the bloodstream to vital organs.
Changes in eyes. High blood pressure can cause serious and painful changes in eyesight. It’s important to have your cat’s blood pressure checked during each veterinary visit. Older cats may also develop a hazy film over the eyes with age.
Disease. Hyperthyroidism, diabetes, renal failure, hypertension and cancer are diseases that can happen to a cat at any age but are more commonly associated with older cats. If you notice any change in your cat’s appetite, water intake, litter box habits, behavior, vocalization or appearance, or if your cat seems uncomfortable, it’s time to call the veterinarian. The sooner a potential disease is diagnosed, the greater the chance of successful or comfortable management. Never assume a change is just “old age.” You want your cat to have the highest quality of life.
Cognitive changes. Age-related cognitive syndrome is something you may have heard of and it can affect older cats. It can be as subtle as the cat exhibiting increased vocalization periodically to something as serious as being completely disoriented. It’s something to be aware of in case your senior cat starts displaying symptoms.
Helping Your Older Cat
If your cat’s behavior is concerning you and you think he may be experiencing cognitive dysfunction, consult with your veterinarian. There are medications available to help slow the progression of this. There are also environmental things you can do – some of which are described below.
Make life easier for your senior cat by providing steps to favorite perching locations if you notice he is beginning to struggle when it comes to reaching elevated places. If your cat enjoys being on a window perch but it’s a drafty spot, install a heated window perch. These are available at your local pet product store and online.
If your cat becomes disoriented and starts vocalizing, call out to him to let him know where you are. It’s not uncommon for cats with cognitive issues to start yowling at night when the house suddenly becomes quiet and dark. Leave nightlights on, especially near litter boxes, feeding stations and favorite climbing areas. If kitty is very disoriented, take him in the bedroom with you and set up a cozy sleeping spot for him there – complete with a conveniently located litter box nearby.
During the day while you’re at work, have a neighbor, friend or pet sitter come check on your cat. You can even install video monitoring that can be checked through your smart phone. This way, if you see something that concerns you, you can call a neighbor to run over and check on your cat.