Veterinary care and medicine, diet research and development, pet nutrition and pet owners' accessibility to information has led to our senior cats living much longer than they used to. Here, our Carlsbad vets explain what you can expect as your cat ages and share senior cat care tips.
How old is my cat in human years?
Each cat experiences aging differently - much like their human counterparts. Many cats begin to display age-related physical changes between 7-10 years, and most will by about 12 years old.
The common understanding that a cat's first year is similar to a 16-year-old human's growth, and a cat at 2 years old is more similar to a human between 21 and 24 years old. Following this, each year for a cat is equal to roughly four human years (for example, a 10-year-old cat = 53-year-old human; a 12-year-old cat = 61-year-old human; a 15-year-old cat = 73-year-old human, etc.)
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.
What happens as my cat ages?
Cats experience a range of physical and behavioral changes as they age, just as their humans do. While aging itself is not a condition, it's important to keep your vet updated on changes in your senior cat as part of their overall wellness care. Some changes to watch for include:
- Grooming & Appearance: If an aging cat isn't able to groom itself as effectively, this can lead to oily or matted fur which can result in inflammation and skin odor as well as painful hair matting. The colorful part of the eye (iris) commonly develops a slightly hazy lens and 'lacy' appearance. While there is little evidence that this significantly affects their sight, there are several diseases, especially many related to high blood pressure, that can severely and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see. Senior cats' claws also often become thick, brittle and overgrown.
- Unintentional Weight Loss or Weight Gain: An older cat's weight loss can point to any number of health issues or diseases, from diabetes to kidney and heart disease. Dental disease is extremely common in older cats and can hamper eating, causing malnutrition and weight loss along with causing significant pain.
- Physical Activity & Abilities: Degenerative joint disease or arthritis often develop in older cats. This makes it difficult for them to get to their food and water bowls, beds or litter boxes. This is especially true if they need to climb stairs or jump. While changes in sleep may also occur as your kitty ages, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep could be cause 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.
- Cognitive issues. Have you noticed your cat getting confused by objects or tasks that are part of their daily routine? This may indicate issues with memory or cognition. Behavioral changes such as accidents with or avoidance of the litter box or, wandering, excessive meowing, appearing to be disoriented or new or increased avoidance of their humans are also potential signs of feline senility or mental confusion that your vet should look into.
- Issues caused by disease. A cat may become aggressive due to pain from health issues like dental disease or arthritis, so keeping an eye on your cat's mood is important because cats tend to hide discomfort. Diseases and disorders affecting urination (e.g. diabetes, kidney failure) can cause an increase in litterbox usage, which may lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate areas. Cats that are experiencing mobility problems due to joint inflammation may have challenges accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also lead to your senior cat eliminating in inappropriate places and should be addressed by a vet.
How can I help keep my senior cat healthy?
When it comes to how to best care for older cats, your own observations are some of the most important tools available to help preserve your senior cat's health and happiness. 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.
- Home Life: Older cats can be more sensitive to changes in routine or household, which can lead to stress. Patience and accommodations (extra affection, a favorite toy or blanket, a quiet room for them to stay in) go a long way to helping your senior cat adjust to upsetting changes. Don't forget to keep playing with your cat as they age; mental and physical stimulation is beneficial for their well-being.
- 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?
Your knowledge of your cat and your observations are an important resource for your vet, as are regular wellness examinations and geriatric care. Depending on your cat's needs (e.g. if they have a medical condition), your vet may suggest increasing the frequency of physical evaluations.
A wellness examination of a senior cat includes the vet checking the cat's weight, skin & fur condition, organ systems, behavior, and running diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in older felines. The combination of homecare and cooperative veterinary care is a great way to help ensure your senior cat has a healthier, happier life with you and your family.