Sharing your home (and heart) with a senior cat comes with many benefits, including the deep bond you’ve built over time. But, no matter how well you think you know your furry soulmate, their needs are likely to change as they enter their golden years. And that means the care you provide will have to change, too.
However, what you need to change and when may not always be so obvious. Senior cats face a wide variety of health issues as they age. But since cats are masters at hiding their pain, the warning signs can be easy to miss. And even if your cat isn’t experiencing any symptoms yet, there are preventative measures you can take with cats of any age to help ensure their health as they mature.
If all of this sounds a bit overwhelming (and expensive!) never fear. We talked to leading veterinary experts to find out exactly what senior cats want you to know about helping them stay healthy and happy in their senior years.
How Do Cats Age?
If your cat is prone to cases of the zoomies, it can be tempting to view them as forever a kitten at heart. But the years have a way of catching up with all of us. And if you’ve noticed your cat slowing down a bit or showing other signs of age, you may find yourself wondering, “When is a cat considered a senior?”
According to The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), because all cats age differently, there’s no one, specific age when a cat officially becomes a senior. Instead, the AAFP offers these broad categories to help you recognize your aging cat’s stage of life:
- Cats between the ages of 7-10 years old are considered mature cats or middle-aged cats.
- Cats between the ages of 11-14 years old are considered senior cats.
- Cats aged 15 years and older are considered geriatric cats or super senior cats.
9 Surprising Things Your Senior Cat Wants You to Know
According to AAFP, with proper care, many cats live into their teens, with some even living into their 20s!
However, it’s a good idea to start thinking about your cat’s senior care needs long before they hit double digits. Otherwise, you could miss key warning signs and the opportunity to provide essential preventative care. And that could cost you — both in terms of your cat’s health and lifetime care costs.
Here’s a list of helpful pointers your senior cat wants to tell you, so you can be prepared to meet their changing health and care needs as they age.
If My Behavior Changes, Pay Close Attention
As I start getting older, you can expect my behavior to change. I won’t have the same energy at 10 as I did when I was a kitten, and I may have less patience as I get older, too. You might also notice me getting more anxious or stressed out about changes in the household, like a new family member, home renovations, or even a new morning routine.
However, some behavioral changes may be a sign that there’s something more serious going on with my health. When I’m not feeling well or experiencing pain, I will most likely be withdrawn. I may even hide from you because I don’t know how to communicate my discomfort.
It might be tempting to assume I’m just getting grumpy in my old age. But it’s best to check with my veterinarian to be sure there’s not an underlying health issue you should know about.
Keep an Eye Out for Signs of Serious Health Issues
Speaking of my health, just like you, I’m more likely to develop certain medical conditions and diseases as I get older. In fact, senior people and cats have some of the same age-related health issues in common.
Unfortunately, I can’t sit you down and let you know how I’m feeling. So I’m really relying on you to keep an eye out for signs associated with age-related conditions in senior cats.
According to Dr. Primrose Moss, MA, VetMB, MRCVS, here are some of the most common medical issues that plague senior cats, along with some signs to watch out for.
- Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD): If you notice that I am drinking more and urinating more, I may be showing signs of CKD, which can affect up to 40 percent of cats over 10 years of age and 80 percent of cats over 15 years of age. (1)
“Often owners perceive it as a good thing that their cat is a ‘good drinker,’” says Moss. “But if you notice your cat drinking more over time, it’s worth seeing your vet.” Other signs of CKD include wobbly back legs and urinating in locations other than the litter box.
- Diabetes mellitus: Litter box mishaps, excessive thirst, and increased urination are also telltale signs of diabetes in cats. This disease can make it more difficult for my body to regulate blood sugar, which can result in levels that are too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia).
Other symptoms of diabetes in cats are increased appetite, unexplained weight loss, and twitchiness, which is often a sign of hypoglycemia.
- Cancer: When it comes to cancer, there are many different types that can impact cats — from skin cancer to stomach cancer or bladder cancer in cats — and an equally wide range of signs to look out for. These include: enlarged or changing lumps and bumps on my body, sores that don’t heal, difficulty or abnormal breathing, lethargy, change in appetite, twitchiness, and gaining or losing weight.
- Hyperthyroidism: If you notice that I am restless and can’t seem to get comfortable, I’m losing weight even though I am eating more than normal, or I am drinking and peeing more than usual, these are all signs of hyperthyroidism. This means my body is producing too much thyroid hormone, which can disrupt important cardiac and metabolic functions.
You may notice that there are many overlapping symptoms in these common medical issues, so it is important to have me examined by my vet to determine what I may be suffering from.
Budget Wisely for Increased Veterinary Costs
While you can’t put a price on the bond we share, the cost of my care is another story. One recent report estimates the average cost of veterinary care over the lifetime of a cat to be between $15,000 to $45,000.
Unfortunately, no crystal ball can predict what health issues I’ll face in my golden years or how much my care will set you back. But planning for increased costs now is a good way to help keep me — and your finances — healthy in the future.
Luckily, there are plenty of tools to help pet parents prepare, including options like the CareCredit credit card. The card can be used for routine veterinary appointments, grooming, emergency care, surgeries, and more, at locations in the CareCredit network.*
I May Seem More Confused
Everyone has an off day from time to time, and senior cats are no exception. If I’m acting confused, I may just be tired or stressed. However, according to certified cat behavior consultant, Marilyn Krieger, increasing levels of confusion or disorientation could also be a sign of feline cognitive dysfunction or cat dementia.
Dementia is a progressive disease that affects brain function slowly, over time. You may notice me howling and growling more than normal, hissing at nothing, staring blankly into space, sleeping a lot, or acting either cranky and standoffish or clingy.
Many of these behaviors can also be signs of pain, so it’s important to rule out other health concerns, says Krieger. But if a veterinarian does confirm my cognitive decline, there are several things you can do to help.
“Start by having night lights in the house,” Krieger recommends. “Also, limit the areas your elder cat can access, especially at night.” This can help reduce confusion.
“Consistency is important, so stick to your feeding schedule,” Krieger adds. And keep in mind that even slight changes can make me anxious, so avoid major changes to my environment, like a remodeling project.
I’ll Probably Slow Down and Sleep More
As I get older, you will notice that I am a little less active and spend some more time sleeping than usual. This could be a natural byproduct of aging, but it could also be a sign of arthritis pain.
“Arthritis is an often underestimated but extremely common condition in older cats,” says Moss. To hide the pain of their stiff, aching joints, cats will “quietly reduce their activity levels, hesitate before jumping, and spend more time asleep,” she says.
If I am suffering from arthritis, you can make changes to my environment to accommodate my limited mobility. For example, consider adding a cat ramp for easier access to my favorite spots or moving my toys to the floor.
You can also ask my veterinarian about pain relief options. “Managing chronic pain in our older cats is vital for their quality of life as currently far too many cats are left suffering in silence,” Moss adds.
I May Need Help with Grooming
Arthritis pain could also be the reason I might look a bit more raggedy than usual. According to Krieger, age-related pain makes it harder for senior cats like me to reach and groom all areas of my body.
However, grooming isn’t just about looking good. If I can’t groom myself properly, my fur could become matted, and that can cause skin infections.
You can help me stay healthy by ensuring my coat is clean and properly groomed. However, Krieger recommends using an extra gentle hand.
“As animals age, skin loses elasticity and has a reduction in blood circulation,” she notes. “This can make grooming an uncomfortable experience.” So be sure to avoid tugging at my fur, and consider taking me to a professional groomer who can clip my fur to prevent matting.
Also, keep an eye out for issues that could be symptoms of an underlying health condition. If my fur is coming out in clumps or I start to smell bad, a visit to the veterinarian is in order.
Don’t Forget My Teeth
Dental care is essential for all cats, but it becomes even more important with every passing year. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Feline Health Center, approximately 50 to 90 percent of cats older than the age of 4 have some degree of dental disease.
Consistent brushing is critical to senior cat dental health. So if I’m not the biggest fan of the routine, consider trying a flavored pet toothpaste or supplements you can add to my food or water. And if you notice that I’m drooling, avoiding dry food, or losing teeth, these can all be signs of worsening dental disease that may require veterinary intervention.
Consider Switching to Senior Cat Food
As I get older, I will likely lose weight. Senior cat weight loss is common for a number of reasons. Often, age-related illnesses may take a toll on a cat’s appetite. But even if I’m eating well, my body may have a harder time absorbing fat and protein as I age. Many senior cats can lose up to a third of their lean body mass in old age.
That means it may be time to switch to a diet specifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of senior cats. But before you choose any old cat food with “senior” on the label, be sure to talk to my veterinarian. They may suggest a formula that’s also designed to address any other health issues I have, or a nutritional supplement to help me thrive.
Also, keep in mind that weight loss, while common in older cats, can still be a sign of underlying health issues, such as dental disease, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus, cancer, and arthritis.
It’s a good idea to keep track of my weight as I get older and, if I am losing a lot of weight without explanation, be sure to take me to the veterinarian to find out why.
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When It’s Time to Say Goodbye
Though it’s hard to think about it, I am not going to be with you forever. And while many geriatric cats pass away peacefully at home, you may have to make some difficult decisions about my end-of-life care.
If you notice that I’m lethargic, having trouble breathing, not eating, and appear withdrawn, these could be signs that I am preparing to say goodbye. Now’s the time to consider tough questions like: Am I having more good days than bad? Do I enjoy spending time with my family? Am I in a lot of pain? If my health and quality of life are poor, it may be time to have an honest conversation with my veterinarian about euthanasia.
Euthanasia can be performed in a veterinary clinic, urgent care facility, or even in your home. According to Dr. Bethany Hsia, DVM, co-founder of CodaPet, “Creating a comfortable and peaceful environment during your pet’s final days is essential. This may include providing a quiet space, offering soft bedding, and spending quality time with your feline friend.”
Prevention: The Best Medicine for Senior Cats
Staying on top of your senior cat’s care and medical needs plays a huge part in helping make their senior years as happy and healthy as possible. And that requires thinking ahead to address potential age-related concerns before they become bigger problems.
As your cat approaches senior status, you may want to consider visiting your vet twice a year for well checkups instead of just once, adding vet-approved nutritional supplements to their diet, and investing in accommodations like ramps or low-entry litter boxes to make your home more accessible.
Being financially prepared is another proactive way to ensure the best for your senior cat. With a CareCredit credit card, you can pay for both routine veterinary visits and emergency expenses, at veterinarian locations that accept the card. So, no matter what kind of care your senior cat needs, you know you can pay for it.*
- Marino, C. L., Lascelles, B. D. X., Vaden, S. L., et al. (2014) Prevalence and classification of chronic kidney disease in cats randomly selected from four age groups and in cats recruited for degenerative joint disease studies. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 16, 465-472
*Subject to credit approval
This information is shared solely for your convenience. Neither Synchrony nor any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, make any representations or warranties regarding the products described, and no endorsement is implied. You are urged to consult with your individual veterinarian with respect to any professional advice presented.