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Aging Cats: When Is a Cat Considered a Senior?

Aging Cats: When Is a Cat Considered a Senior?

Thanks to advancements in veterinary care and medicine, our beloved cats are living longer than ever, some even becoming super senior cats. In this post, our Pittsboro vets share what to expect as your cat ages and tips on how to care for your senior kitty.

How old is my cat in human years?

Like humans, every cat ages differently. You may notice age-related changes in your kitty's behavior or physical appearance between ages 7 and 10. It is actually inaccurate to say that one "cat year" is equivalent to seven "humans years"; it's more like a cat's first year of life is comparable to the growth of a 16-year-old human, and a cat at 2 years old is comparable to a human between 21 and 24 years old. Following that, each year for a cat roughly equals four human years (e.g., a 10-year-old cat = 53-year-old human).

Cats are considered "senior" when they reach 11 years old, and "super-senior" at 15. With more senior and super senior cats being around these days, it's good for owners to know what to expect and how to care for them.

What happens as my cat ages?

As cats age, they experience numerous physical and behavioral transformations. It is crucial to keep your veterinarian informed about any changes in your senior cat to ensure their routine wellness care. Below, find out about some of the changes you should watch out for.

Physical changes

Grooming and Appearance 

As cats grow older, they become less efficient in grooming themselves, resulting in greasy fur. This can lead to painful hair tangling, skin odor, and inflammation.

Senior cats often have overgrown, thick, and fragile claws, requiring extra care from their owners to prevent them from breaking and causing harm to the cat.

You will often find your senior cat's eyes "milkier" or hazier in the iris than they used to be, but there is little evidence that this affects their vision significantly. However, there are several diseases, particularly those associated with high blood pressure, that can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's vision.

Unexpected weight gain or loss can signal an underlying health issue, especially in senior cats, ranging from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Dental disease is also a concern as it is extremely common in older cats and can prevent them from eating, resulting in weight loss and malnutrition.

Physical Activity

Arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a prevalent condition among older cats. It can make it hard for them to reach objects like litter boxes, food and water bowls, and beds, particularly if there are stairs in the house. Since cats love to climb and jump, their inability to do so can have an impact on their mood and energy levels.

Sleep changes are a normal part of aging, but a significant increase in sleep should be reported to your veterinarian. Similarly, senior cats with a sudden increase in energy may be suffering from hyperthyroidism and examined by a professional.

Behavioral changes

Cognitive Issues

If you observe your cat struggling with tasks or objects that are typically part of their daily routine, it may indicate memory or cognitive problems. Signs of mental confusion or feline senility include litterbox accidents or avoidance, increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and appearing disoriented. In severe cases, senior cats can develop feline dementia. It's advisable to consult your veterinarian on how to care for your older cat in such situations.

Hearing loss in geriatric cats is also common and should be monitored by your veterinarian during routine wellness exams.

Issues Caused by Disease 

Monitoring your cat's mood is critical to catching any age-related health issues as senior cats may become aggressive or anti-social when they experience pain due to arthritis or dental disease. Cats tend to hide their discomfort, so owners should know what behavior to look for to identify health problems.

Diseases and disorders that affect urination (e.g., diabetes, kidney failure) can increase litterbox usage noticeably. Cats with mobility issues due to joint inflammation may have difficulty accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved.

How can I help keep my senior cat healthy?

Changes to your kitty's grooming and feeding and more frequent interactions with your cat can be a low-stress way to keep an eye out for any changes in your aging pet. Here are some changes you can introduce to your feline friend's life:

Grooming

Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are all excellent ways to keep older cats clean and healthy, while also keeping an eye out for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws. The frequency of at-home grooming changes depending on your cat's breed and coat-type, so consult your vet if you're unsure.

Nutrition

Weight gain is a common issue among older cats, and it can become severe. However, if a medical condition does not cause the weight gain, it can be managed through a consistent diet and regular physical activity.

Homelife

Changes in routine or household can make older cats more sensitive to stress. Patience and accommodations (extra affection, a favorite toy or blanket, a quiet room to stay in) can go a long way toward assisting your senior cat in adjusting to upsetting changes. Don't forget to keep playing with your cat as they get older; mental and physical stimulation is good for their health.

Vet care

Regular wellness checks with a vet are crucial for cats, as they often conceal their ailments until they become severe. Even if your feline appears healthy, it's best to schedule these appointments to stay ahead of any potential health concerns. This is especially important for senior cats, as the vet can monitor for existing conditions and identify emerging problems before they become more challenging to treat.

How can a veterinarian help?

Your knowledge of your cat and regular check-ups are valuable resources for your veterinarian. With a basic understanding of your pet, your veterinarian may advise you to increase the frequency of physical examinations.

A senior cat's wellness examination includes the veterinarian checking the cat's weight, skin, and fur condition, organ systems, behavior and running diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in older cats. The combination of homecare and collaborative veterinary care is an excellent way to ensure that your senior cat lives 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. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Wondering how to care for a kitty in their golden years? Contact Hope Crossing Animal Hospital to book a routine wellness exam today.

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