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Senior Cat Care: 7 Tips and Tricks to Follow

Older cat at home being cozy
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Kittens are hard not to love—they’re so precious, curious, and silly. Watching your cat grow into young adulthood is a similarly great pleasure, as they gain confidence and assertiveness (and with any luck, calm down just a little bit). But the transition to having a senior cat may be a little uncertain or even scary at times. Your cat may start to slow down, or health issues may start flaring up more often. Eventually, you’ll start to deal with the hard-to-accept fact that you won’t always be together. 

However, none of that means you can’t make your cat’s elder years comfortable, special, and filled with love. Read on to find out our seven tips for caring for a senior cat.

What Your Senior Cat Needs for a Healthy, Happy Life 

Senior cat laying in the sun

According to the American Animal Hospital Association, cats enter the senior phase of their life after age 10. And because indoor cats can live over 20 years, seniority may encompass as much time as the other phases (kitten, young adult, mature adult) of their lives combined. 

“Cats show many similar age-related changes as we see in people,” says Sarah M. Schmid, DVM, DACVIM, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. “For example, they begin to slow down, develop cloudy eyes, and their senses start to dull.”

Cats may also show age-related behavior changes, she adds, “such as becoming less tolerant of stress or having changes in their sleep-wake cycle. In multi-cat households, the social hierarchy may also change.”

For all of these reasons, careful attention to your cat’s physical and mental health, comfort, eating and drinking habits, litter use, and more will be the key to their happiness as the years go on. 

Senior Cat Care: 7 Tips and Tricks

Senior cat at home laying down

If your cat is getting older, follow these tips and tricks to ensure optimal care:

Increase vet visit frequency

There is a seemingly endless number of ailments that may affect your senior cat, either for the first time once they reach this age or more frequently at this age than at any point previously. According to Dr. Schmid, common health conditions that can affect senior cats include:

Keep in mind, a number of physical and behavioral changes you may observe in your senior cat are symptoms of some or all of these conditions. Not only that, “cats are very good at hiding signs of disease and pain,” Dr. Schmid adds. 

For that reason, she advises senior cat parents to move to a schedule of visiting the vet every six months, instead of the usual yearly checkup during early and mid-adulthood.

Note changes in your cat’s vocalization tendencies 

One less commonly known symptom of several different senior cat conditions is a change in vocalization. Dr. Karen Perry, the Pat Carrigan professor of feline medicine at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says you may notice changes in the frequency and character of vocalization in cats with osteoarthritis, and increased vocalization may accompany chronic kidney disease and diabetes mellitus. 

Additionally, “Cats with systemic hypertension may vocalize more at night,” she says. Noting any changes in your cat’s vocal tendencies, including what specifically those changes are, may help you identify a health problem sooner and make diagnosis by a vet easier. 

Abnormal vocalizations, especially at night, can also be a sign of cognitive dysfunction, which is sometimes referred to as cat dementia.

Add water bowls to your house and offer high-moisture foods

“As cats get older they are often at increased risk for dehydration due to a decreased sense of thirst and mobility issues that may limit access to water,” Dr. Perry says. 

One easy thing you can do is increase the number of clean and full water dishes that are available to your cat throughout the day. Ensuring that all of these dishes are easy for your cat to access, even if their mobility has decreased, is also important.

If this isn’t entirely doing the trick, Dr. Perry says a water fountain can help entice cats to drink. Cat food with higher-moisture content will also go a long way toward keeping your senior cat hydrated and healthy.

Consider more senior-friendly litter solutions

Cat resting with face on back deck

Many cats go their entire adult lives without having issues using the litter box. However, the switch to seniority increases the chance of a change in the way your cat eliminates. 

“If a cat experiences pain in the litter box, they may associate the litter box with that pain and then choose to relieve themselves elsewhere,” Dr. Schmid says. “A cat may have pain while using the litter box due to constipation, lower urinary tract disease, or osteoarthritis that make it difficult for them to posture.”

When it comes to osteoarthritis, one easy and quick fix to your cat’s elimination issues is to provide a litter pan with low sides, Dr. Schmid says. “In addition, with decreasing mobility, you may find that more litter boxes need to be added or boxes need to be relocated.” For example, a cat who normally goes in the basement may need a litter box on the main floor once they hit their senior years.

Encourage play, but don’t force it

Osteoarthritis is present in about 90 percent of cats age 12 and older, says Dr. Perry. So when it comes to a senior cat’s activity levels, there are very few hard and fast guidelines. “Every cat is an individual, but it is incredibly common for decreases in activity in cats to be blamed upon aging.”

She adds that it’s most important for you to pursue veterinary care when you notice a dip in activity, rather than push through and assume you need to try harder to engage your cat. That way, you’re treating the underlying cause of the change.

As far as the types of games and toys to play with, Dr. Schmid says food-filled toys are great because they keep the cat more interested and also engage their mind. “Scattering flavored food, treats, or catnip in different locations can allow your cat to engage in games of searching and hunting,” she says. “In addition, providing a varied environment for your pet to explore, climb, and perch can also help keep their mind sharp.”

Assist them with grooming

Your cat may already like to assist you with grooming, so this is just returning the favor. (But don’t worry: You don’t need to lick your cat.)

“As cats age, they may find it more difficult to groom themselves due to osteoarthritis or obesity,” Dr. Schmid says. “In addition, many older cats develop chronic kidney disease or hyperthyroidism, which may alter their coat and grooming habits.” 

To help combat this, you’ll want to brush your cat regularly so that matting is less likely to occur. Just make sure both your touch and that of the brush are gentle because your cat may be more sensitive than they used to be.

If you do notice mats developing, consider asking a veterinarian or a groomer to help you remove those mats. Your senior cat’s skin may be thinner, which can easily result in injury if you’re using razors or scissors to remove mats.

Additionally, Dr. Schmid says aging cats tend to have thicker nails than younger cats. That’s because they shed the outer layer of the nail sheath less than they used to. On top of that, “With decreased activity and scratching, senior cats’ nails can easily overgrow and may become ingrown,” she says.

This means it’s more important than at any other point in your cat’s life to trim their nails. To make the experience easier on both parties, Dr. Schmid recommends providing treats throughout the session and trying more frequent, shorter sessions at first until your cat is more comfortable with the practice. 

Make sure their favorite spots are easily accessible

When they’re younger, many cats love to be in the highest spot possible—on a shelf, in a window, atop a tower, etc. But you’ll likely notice your cat staying a little lower to the ground as they age. They probably don’t like that spot any less, but rather it’s not as accessible because of osteoarthritis or some other underlying condition.

This doesn’t mean your cat has to give up their favorite spot. You can help make the spot more accessible with the use of ramps or other load-lessening paths, Dr. Schmid says.

When to Call Your Veterinarian 


As outlined above, vet visits every six months are helpful when it comes to identifying hard-to-spot health conditions in senior cats early. If you’re wondering whether a behavior change or apparent physical ailment with your senior cat warrants a trip to the vet, it probably does.

Dr. Perry says many of the first signs you might spot for common senior cat health conditions (including osteoarthritis and chronic kidney disease) are behavioral in nature and include house soiling, anxiety, aggression, excessive vocalization, and changes in personality. 

Any of these behavioral changes on their own is enough to warrant a call to your veterinarian, especially if your cat is older, but if you begin to start observing physical changes as well, you’ll definitely want to schedule an appointment.

With osteoarthritis, these signs can include decreased grooming, overgrowth of nails, hiding more, and interacting with you less, says Dr. Perry. With chronic kidney disease, you may notice a reduced appetite, constipation, a poor coat, and weight loss, as well as increased drinking and urination.

Never hesitate to call your vet when you notice something out of the ordinary. Staying on top of your senior cat’s health care will ensure their longevity and comfort, as well maintain the strong bond you share.