There’s a special joy in adopting a senior cat and providing the comfort of a loving home where they can live out their golden years. Unlike kittens and young adults, who have a lot of energy, senior cats tend to be calmer and less destructive. Their personalities are fully formed and pet parents typically know what they are signing up for when adopting an elderly feline.
Most senior cats end up in shelters through no fault of their own. They may find themselves homeless when their guardian passes away or is no longer able to care for them due to their own health issues. Aging cats are often surrendered due to the family’s lack of financial resources to properly diagnose and treat chronic diseases, or deal with behavioral changes associated with old age and related ailments.
While there are several benefits to bringing home a senior cat, there are also some considerations to keep in mind. Keep reading to find out what it takes to be a senior cat parent before making your decision.
When Does an Adult Cat Become a Senior Cat?
Cats over the age of 10 are considered seniors. Because a well-cared-for indoor cat can live to be more than 15 years old, chances are you have many years with your senior kitty, depending on when you adopt them.
Your furry friend’s lifespan may also depend on the breed, but there is no definitive study proving this. Dr. Kelly Diehl, senior director of science communication at Morris Animal Foundation, refers to a recent study looking at insurance data that suggested that purebred cats have more disease-related problems than mixed breed cats (1). Morris Animal Foundation, based in Denver, is a nonprofit animal health research organization advancing the health of animals.
According to Dr. Amber Carter, owner and veterinarian at the cat-only Cat Care Clinic in Ormond Beach, Florida, mixed breed or domestic short/medium/long haired cats tend to live longer. However, when it comes to purebreds, “some believe that Siamese and Burmese live longer.”
Benefits of Senior Cat Adoption
If you are willing to open your heart and home to a senior cat, there are many rewards to reap.
Choosing a senior cat means you will be giving a cat who is often overlooked at the shelter a chance at a happy life and a comfortable home during the last phase of their life.
“Many people who’ve adopted older cats (and my mom recently joined this category) get a lot of satisfaction from the feeling of providing a good home for the remaining years of an older cat’s life,” Diehl says. In turn, the furry feline will provide you with plenty of purrs and snuggles.
Unlike kittens, senior cats typically come trained to use the litter box and know how to use scratching posts and/or cat trees. The biggest benefit is that they tend not to scratch up your furniture. With an older cat, you’re also more likely to know whether they get along with dogs and kids before bringing the cat home.
Senior cats tend to be more relaxed than energetic kittens who need a lot of attention and stimulation. Mature cats are also “less likely to eat things they are not supposed to,” Carter says.
This, of course, doesn’t mean aging cats don’t require basic care. “Senior cats still need attention and human interaction to keep mentally and physically stimulated,” Carter says.
9 Things You Should Know Before Adopting a Senior Cat
As loving and cuddly as senior cats can be, there are some things to consider before adopting one. Keep reading to find out if you and your family are ready for the responsibility of an aging feline.
If you are seeking a lively kitty who is up to some antics, a senior cat is not the right choice. Older cats tend to be less playful and active than younger cats. “A senior may not be the best fit if you are looking for an energetic cat that you can play with all day long,” Carter says.
Additionally, since mature cats are calmer, a house full of young kids or barking dogs may not be the right environment. “This may be stressful for a senior cat, depending on their background,” Carter adds.
Appreciate a Routine
If you’ve ever tried switching your cat’s diet, you already know the difficulty of that task. Senior cats may be set in their ways. They may prefer a certain type of food and litter. Carter says this is not necessarily an indication that they will never change. It just takes more time and patience.
Evolving Health Care Needs
As pets age, they tend to face medical problems. Pet parents need to be prepared—financially, emotionally, and practically—for any potential health issues, Diehl says. “The sad fact is that many older cats are relinquished to shelters because they have a chronic illness,” she adds. In some cases, underlying health conditions may not come to light until after adoption.
According to Diehl, aging cats are more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, or arthritis. The two most common problems in cats over the age of 10 are arthritis and cognitive decline, which are manageable but not curable. Another common health issue is dental disease, which can cause them pain and trouble chewing their food.
Although many shelters and rescue groups identify any health issues (known to them) before adoption, there is still no way of knowing what your new pet may encounter in the years to come. The future doesn’t have to be bleak though, says Diehl, as many of these conditions are treatable or manageable. However, pet parents should anticipate that they may need to give their senior cat daily medications or feed them more expensive prescription diets.
More Frequent Vet Visits
It’s important to take your senior cat to have a physical exam at least twice a year; this involves blood work, checking blood pressure, and testing related to health conditions, Carter says. If your veterinarian uncovers underlying health conditions, your cat may need more frequent veterinary care.
Help with Grooming
Your senior cat may not be grooming themselves as much as they get older, which means they need regular brushing and nail trims to prevent ingrown and long (painful) nails. Regular brushing will avoid hair matting, hairballs, and skin odor and will help your cat have a shiny, healthy coat.
Change in Bathroom Habits
While one of the benefits of adopting a senior cat is the fact that they come housetrained, they may have trouble controlling their bathroom habits as they get older, especially if they are diabetic or have arthritis. They may also have difficulty finding the litter box because of cognitive dysfunction.
One of the most common issues older cats face is degenerative joint disease or arthritis. Signs of arthritis include hesitating before jumping or being unable to jump up to high perches they once reached with ease, Carter says. They may even have trouble getting in and out of the litter box.
Luckily, arthritis is manageable. “We have many options, everything from oral pain medication to monthly monoclonal antibody injections (such as Solensia by Zoetis) to joint supplements in the form of treats,” Carter says. While there’s no cure for arthritis, treatment can help these cats maintain a good quality of life.
Value Their Own Space
If you have other cats or dogs, don’t let that deter you from adopting a senior cat. The key to successfully integrating your new pet into the household is slowly introducing them to the current residents. But first, Carter recommends you’ll need to ensure that the senior cat has their own room or space, with access to food, water, and a litter box, away from the other pets.
In an ideal world, they will all come to get along and love one another, but be prepared to give your senior pet a space of their own if the other pets aren’t so welcoming of your new addition. Keep your senior cat away from kittens who may want to play all the time.
Less Time to Spend Together
When bringing home an elderly cat, it’s important to recognize that you may not have as much time with them as you would like. While some seniors can live for many more years, there is a chance your cat may have a shortened life span, depending on any underlying conditions. Additionally, you may not know your cat’s exact age, unless the previous owner disclosed this information. Pet parents of older cats also need to be mentally and financially prepared to make end-of-life decisions for the pet.
Where to Find Senior Cats for Adoption
If you have decided to welcome a senior cat into your home, there are several ways to find one. First, check with your local shelter or a rescue. There are sure to be cats waiting for loving homes. Most likely, these pets will also be listed on adoption sites like Petfinder.com. Be sure to pay a visit to your local shelter to meet any potential adoptees in person to get to know them, but know that they may be shy or skittish at first.
Secondly, seek out senior-focused cat rescue groups or any groups that specialize in rehoming senior pets in your area. For example, North Shore Animal League on Long Island, New York, offers a Seniors for Seniors option, helping place older pets with senior citizens.
Lastly, if you would like to adopt a senior cat, but potential future vet bills are stopping you from doing so, consider joining a shelter’s Fospice Program, a foster hospice program that lets elderly cats live out their last days in the comfort of the home. When bringing in a cat under the fospice program, the rescue will pay for any medical needs.
“The purpose of the fospice program is to place senior animals or animals that might not have long to live in homes where they can live the rest of their days being loved and cared for instead of in a cage,” says Rena Sherman, cat adoption counselor at Posh Pets Rescue in Long Beach, New York. “Qualified homes for senior or medical pets sometimes is a senior home, but it can be anyone willing to open their home to an animal with special needs (medical, age, etc.) for the remainder of their lives.”
How to Prepare Your Home for a Senior Cat
Once you’ve found the perfect senior cat for your family, it’s time to prepare your home for a warm welcome. Here are some tips for having a smooth transition and providing a comfortable spot for your new fluffy friend.
- Quiet and safe space to call their own: Carter recommends designating a quiet space for your cat “with all of their needs set up prior to arrival.” This includes food and water (away from the litter box). “Don’t force them to interact, but let them get to know you and their new environment on their own time,” Carter says.
- Keep mobility issues in mind: If your kitty is higher up in age, they may suffer from joint pain. To help alleviate any mobility-related issues, consider a litter box that is low-sided. “Litter pans with high sides are not good choices for older cats and can lead to bathroom accidents,” Diehl warns. If the cat has access to the entire house, and you have more than one level, consider having litter boxes on each floor to make it easy for your furry friend to go to the bathroom.
- Provide creature comforts: Cats prefer to sleep on a comfortable bed. Orthopedic or heated cat beds can help provide the needed comfort for arthritic joints. If you have slick wood floors or stairs, add area rugs and anti-slip rug pads to prevent your cat from slipping and falling. Add carpeted ramps near your bed and couch so your pet can climb up and cuddle next to you.
- Prioritize play time: Playing provides stimulation for cats of all ages. “It has been shown to help slow cognitive decline, so keep playing with your cat and providing new toys,” Diehl says. “Older cats may be less mobile, but they still need activities to keep them happy!”
- Hadar, Barr N et al. “Morbidity of insured Swedish cats between 2011 and 2016: Comparing disease risk in domestic crosses and purebreds.” The Veterinary record vol. 192,12 (2023): e2778. doi:10.1002/vetr.2778