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Aging cats: When Is a Cat Considered a Senior?

If your feline companion is entering the golden years and showing signs of a more leisurely pace, you might be pondering the precise moment your cat qualifies as a senior. In this article, our vets in Santa Clarita shed light on identifying the subtle indicators of aging and pinpointing the juncture at which your cat officially enters the senior phase.

How Old Is A Senior Cat?

If, like most cat owners, you share your daily life with your feline friend, it can be a bit challenging to discern when they transition into their senior years. However, rest assured that your cat undergoes physiological changes with age, akin to the changes observed in the human body.

Like humans, the aging process in cats is unique to each individual. Around the ages of 7 to 10, many cats start exhibiting age-related physical transformations, with the majority experiencing these changes by the time they reach 12 years old.

Contrary to the popular belief that one "cat year" equates to 7 "human years," it's more accurate to consider a cat's first year as analogous to the developmental milestones a human achieves by age 16. Consequently, a 2-year-old cat resembles a human between 21 and 24 years old.

Beyond this point, each subsequent "cat year" is approximately equivalent to four human years. For instance, a 10-year-old cat corresponds to a 53-year-old human, a 12-year-old cat to a 61-year-old human, and a 15-year-old cat to a 73-year-old human, and so forth.

Around the age of 11, you'll find yourself the proud owner of a senior cat. If your cat lives beyond 15 years, it becomes a "super-senior." When tending to the needs of older cats, considering their age in human terms can provide valuable insights into their care.

What Happens As My Senior Cat Ages?

Cats undergo various behavioral and physical transformations as they age, mirroring the changes we humans experience. Although aging in cats isn't a condition on its own, maintaining regular communication with your veterinarian regarding alterations in your senior cat's body and demeanor is crucial for providing them with optimal wellness care. Keep a vigilant eye out for the following changes:

Physical Changes 

Grooming & Appearance

As cats age, their grooming efficiency may decline, potentially leading to tangled or greasy fur. Painful matting can cause skin inflammation and unpleasant odors. The claws of senior cats often become thick, brittle, and overgrown, demanding increased attention from caregivers.

The eyes and vision of elderly cats may undergo changes, characterized by a slightly cloudy lens and a 'lacy' appearance in the iris—the colored part of the eye. Nevertheless, limited evidence suggests that these alterations significantly impair their sight.

It's crucial to note that various diseases, particularly those associated with elevated blood pressure, can severely and irreversibly impact a cat's visual abilities.

Unintentional Weight Loss or Gain

If your senior cat is losing weight, this can point to any number of problems, from diabetes to kidney and heart disease. Dental disease is also extremely common in senior cats. As they age, dental issues can impair eating, causing malnutrition and weight loss, along with causing significant pain in their mouths.

Physical Activity & Abilities 

Arthritis or degenerative joint disease can pose challenges for aging felines. Negotiating tasks such as reaching food and water bowls, beds, and litter boxes becomes arduous under this condition. This difficulty is particularly pronounced in cats that need to ascend stairs or leap.

While alterations in sleep patterns are a typical facet of the aging process, a marked uptick in sleep duration or intensity warrants attention, necessitating notification from your veterinarian. Should you observe a sudden surge in energy in your senior cat, it may be indicative of hyperthyroidism, demanding a thorough examination by a vet.

The loss of hearing is a common occurrence in geriatric cats, stemming from various factors. If your cat experiences hearing impairment, it is another compelling reason to schedule a visit to your veterinarian.

Behavioral Changes

Cognitive Issues

If you notice that your cat has started being confused by tasks or objects that are part of their daily routine, this may be a sign of issues with memory or cognition. Behavioral changes such as litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and seeming disorientated are also potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be examined by your vet.

Issues Caused by Disease

A cat's aggression may stem from pain related to health issues such as dental disease or arthritis. It's crucial to monitor your cat's mood because felines often conceal discomfort. Disorders impacting urination, like diabetes or kidney failure, can result in heightened litterbox activity, potentially leading to inappropriate elimination by cats.

Cats facing mobility issues due to joint inflammation may encounter difficulties reaching or navigating their litterbox, particularly if stairs are part of the equation. This challenge may also prompt senior cats to eliminated in improper locations, necessitating attention from a veterinarian.

How Can I Help Keep My Senior Cat Healthy?

Your observations are some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy. 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 so your vet can provide geriatric care geared to your pet's needs.


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.


Many senior cats get heavy or even obese as they age, which can be controlled with diet and activity if the weight gain is non-medical. 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

Mature felines often exhibit increased sensitivity to alterations in their daily routine or living environment, potentially resulting in stress. Demonstrating patience and making appropriate adjustments, such as offering additional affection, providing a cherished toy or blanket, and designating a tranquil space for them, significantly aids in helping your senior cat adapt to disruptive changes. It's essential to continue engaging in playtime with your aging cat, as both mental and physical stimulation contributes to their overall 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.

How Can A Veterinarian Help?

Your understanding of your cat's behaviors, well-being, and temperament, along with any insights you can provide, is a valuable reference for your veterinarian. These observations should complement regularly scheduled routine examinations. Depending on your senior cat's age, lifestyle, health condition, and other relevant factors, such as any ongoing medical requirements, your vet can advise you on the optimal frequency of veterinary visits and may suggest increasing the frequency of physical checkups if necessary.

Do you have questions about caring for your senior cat? Contact our vets in Santa Clarita  to book a wellness check for your feline friend.

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Sweetwater Veterinary Clinic is accepting new patients! Our friendly and experienced vets are passionate about the health of Santa Clarita companion animals and horses. Get in touch today to book your four-legged friend's first appointment.

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