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Old Cats – Caring for Senior Cats

Advancements in veterinary care and medicine are enabling senior cats to live longer lives than ever before. Today, our veterinarians at Santa Clarita will discuss ways to ensure your senior cat's happiness and health.

A Cat's Age in Human Years

Each cat ages differently, just like humans do. Most cats start undergoing physical changes between 7 and 10 years old, with the majority experiencing these changes around 12 years old. While many people commonly use the rule of thumb equating one "cat year" to seven "human years," this oversimplifies the comparison. It's more accurate to consider a cat's first year as equivalent to the development of a 16-year-old human.

By the age of 2, a cat is more akin to a human aged between 21 and 24. Beyond this point, each cat year approximately translates to four human years. For example, a 10-year-old cat is comparable to a 53-year-old human, a 12-year-old cat is similar to a 61-year-old human, and a 15-year-old cat is akin to a 73-year-old human, and so on.

Once cats reach around 11 years old, they are considered seniors, and if your feline friend surpasses 15 years, they fall into the category of "super senior" cats. When caring for older cats, it can be useful to gauge their age in human terms, as it may aid in better understanding potential health issues related to their life stage.

Aging Cats

Cats, like humans, undergo various physical and behavioral changes as they age. Although aging isn't a disease, it's crucial to keep your vet informed about any alterations in your senior cat's condition to ensure they receive the best possible geriatric veterinary care. Be vigilant for the following changes:

Physical changes

  • Grooming & appearance. As cats age, they may become less effective at grooming for a few reasons and develop matted or oily fur. This can result in odors on the skin, inflammation, and painful hair matting. Senior cats' claws are also often overgrown, brittle, or thick and will need more attention from their caregivers. You might also notice the iris (the colorful part of the eye) develops a lacy appearance or slightly hazy lens. While there is little evidence that their sight is significantly impacted, several diseases, such as those related to high blood pressure, can severely and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see. 
  • Unintentional weight loss or gain. Older cats may lose weight. This can point to numerous problems, from kidney and heart disease to diabetes. Aging cats also commonly develop dental diseases, hindering eating and leading to weight loss and malnutrition. Oral health problems can also cause significant mouth pain. 
  • Physical activity & abilities. Degenerative joint disease or arthritis often becomes an issue for older cats, who may have difficulty accessing water and food bowls, beds, and litter boxes. The need to jump or climb stairs may further hinder their ability to reach essential places. While changes in sleep patterns are a normal part of aging, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep may be cause for concern and be a reason to contact your vet. A marked increase in energy may point to hyperthyroidism and should also be looked at. Hearing loss is also a common health issue in geriatric cats for many reasons and should also be checked by 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 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.

Caring for Senior Cats

Caring for a senior cat requires distinct care requirements compared to kittens or middle-aged cats. Your observations play a crucial role in ensuring your senior cat's happiness and health. To monitor changes in your aging pet, make straightforward adjustments to your grooming, feeding, and general interactions with them.

  • Grooming: Maintaining your older cat's cleanliness and health involves actively brushing their fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth. These actions also allow you to monitor any potential changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.
  • Nutrition: Many cats become overweight or obese as they age, but you can manage this through diet and exercise if it's not a medical issue. Additionally, elderly cats may suffer from being underweight due to various medical conditions, so it's crucial to have a veterinarian assess them.
  • Home life:  Senior cats may become more sensitive to changes in their routine or household, potentially leading to stress. To help your senior cat adjust to upsetting changes, it's essential to show patience and make accommodations, such as providing extra affection, a favorite toy or blanket, or a quiet room for them to stay in. Remember, as your cat ages, continuing to play with them is crucial, providing mental and physical stimulation that contributes to their overall well-being.
  • Vet care: Cats often conceal illness until it becomes advanced or severe. Therefore, it's crucial to routinely take them to the vet for wellness checks, even if they appear perfectly healthy. Your veterinarian can also monitor any conditions your senior cat may have and detect potential or emerging issues early when they are more manageable for treatment.

How do you take care of a super senior cat?

Your vet relies on your cat's information and your observations as valuable resources. Regular wellness examinations also play a crucial role. Depending on your cat's specific needs, such as any medical conditions they may have, your vet might recommend more frequent physical evaluations. During a wellness examination for a senior cat, the vet will assess the cat's weight, skin and fur condition, organ systems, behavior, and perform diagnostic tests for common conditions in older felines.

Combining homecare with cooperative veterinary care offers an excellent approach to ensuring your senior cat enjoys a healthier, happier life with you and your family.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.

Want some more info on how you can care for your senior cat? Contact our Santa Clarita vets to learn more.

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