Your once-frisky feline has more gray in their whiskers and less spring in their step and they spend more time napping than “hunting” stuffed mice and dust bunnies. A change in their behavior doesn’t mean that your senior cat needs less attention or affection.
Indoor cats have an average lifespan of 12 to 18 years, and more than 52 percent of cat owners in the United States are caring for senior cats (1, 2). Ideally, you will have plenty of time to form a strong, loving bond with your favorite feline—but how you show that love often evolves between kittenhood and their senior years.
We asked the experts whether cats feel love—and rounded up some surefire ways to express our affection to older cats.
Do Cats Feel Love?
When it comes to our feline friends, the answer is a resounding yes, according to certified cat behavior consultant Mikel Maria Delgado, Ph.D. And it doesn’t matter whether they are young or old.
“All cats who are socialized with humans can give love to us and receive love from us,” she says.
Different cats have different ways of expressing their love. Delgado notes that some cats are more subtle in their affection and might express their love by sitting nearby or spending time in the same room; others may rub against you to send the message that you are part of their family. Then there are cats who are total love bugs, seeking out cuddling and petting and will even head butt you to elicit additional touch.
The ways your cat expresses love may change with age.
“As cats age, they tend to be less active [and] spend less time playing, exploring, and running around,” Delgado says. “They also lose body fat and muscle mass that may make them more likely to seek out warmth.”
The changes could mean that older cats may be more likely to seek humans out for some lap time and cuddles, because they have more free time and your lap is a good source of heat.
How to Show Your Senior Cat You Love Them: 9 Surefire Ways
Now that we know for sure that cats feel love, here are some smart ways to shower your senior kitty with affection.
Call the vet
Your cat might not interpret a trip to the vet as a loving gesture, but regular vet visits are essential as cats age.
Starting at age 10, your cat should see the vet at least twice a year, recommends Bruce Kornreich, DVM, Ph.D., DACVIM, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center.
“There are some conditions that older cats are prone to, like chronic kidney disease, that would be better to catch early,” he explains. “And there are interventions that can improve outcomes.”
Your vet may recommend bloodwork to monitor for age-related diseases or suggest specific vaccines that are essential for protecting aging cats with weaker immune systems.
If your cat has any medical setbacks, you’ll want to stay focused on their health, rather than unexpected veterinary expenses. A financing option like the CareCredit credit card can help you be financially prepared to protect your cat.*
Adapt the environment
Changes in mobility are one of the hallmark signs of aging in cats.
Roberta Westbrook, DVM, chief animal welfare and medical officer at the Houston SPCA, notes that older cats may spend more time sleeping and become less interested in high-energy activities. “If a pet parent is noticing their senior cat slowing down a bit,” she says, “it may be time to boost some of the creature comforts in the environment.”
Consider adding ramps or steps so your senior cat can still reach their favorite spots when their joints can’t handle the stress of jumping. You can also swap out old litter boxes for new boxes with lower sides that are easier for senior cats to access.
Rethink their diet
As your cat ages, their dietary needs may change, too.
While a complete and balanced adult maintenance diet is suitable for most cats, including senior cats, you might need to adjust the calories or nutrients in their diets.
“Most senior pets do not require as many daily calories as younger, more active pets,” says Westbrook.
There is a reason pet store shelves are stocked with dietary supplements. Research found that cats fed a diet that included antioxidants, prebiotics, and essential fatty acids lived significantly longer than those fed only a complete and balanced food without added nutrients (3).
Talk to your vet about whether adding supplements to a complete and balanced diet could offer benefits to your senior cat.
Create cozy spaces
Cats can spend more than half their day snoozing, and senior cats are especially prone to long naps.
Providing cozy beds and favorite blankets can make it easier to snuggle in and drift off to dreamland. Westbook suggests looking for beds with extra padding that will be more comfortable for cats with joint disease.
“A bed placed near a sunny area to encourage warmth is a great idea,” she adds. “Cats love to sunbathe and some senior pets have a more difficult time regulating their body temperature; a warm spot to relax would be welcomed.”
Provide more mental stimulation
Activities to provide mental stimulation can instill a sense of well-being. Kornreich advises spending at least 10 minutes a day playing with your cat.
“As cats get older, maybe they won’t be able to jump as much, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still try to keep them engaged,” he says.
Instead of laser pointers and feather wands, which are better suited to active kittens who love to run and jump, try puzzle feeders and soft toys.
Schedule a ‘spa day’
Grooming can be more difficult for senior cats, especially in hard-to-reach places.
“Cats that develop osteoarthritis can’t reach certain parts of their bodies to groom,” says Kornreich. “So grooming older cats is important, because sometimes they won’t do it as well as they did when they were younger.”
In addition to removing loose hair and preventing matting to keep your senior cat’s coat looking good, regular grooming sessions also provide an opportunity for affection and bonding.
Your senior cat may not see or hear as well as they used to, and the loss of senses can make your cat startle more easily, according to Kornreich. He suggests approaching your cat slowly from the front—not behind—when possible and avoiding sudden movements that could startle your senior cat and cause stress.
Provide a change of scenery
Outdoor cats have an average lifespan of just three years (1)—and the risks are especially high for senior cats.
Changes to their mobility and loss of vision and hearing can put senior cats at greater risk of traffic fatalities and make them more vulnerable to predators; a senior cat with cognitive dysfunction might not remember how to get back home.
“It’s really important that as cats get older that owners really consider keeping them inside,” Kornreich says.
If you’re worried your senior cat will become depressed or restless without access to the outdoors, look for opportunities to provide more enrichment, install a “catio,” or consider using a leash for supervised outdoor time.
Signs Your Senior Cat Loves You Back
Your cat might not write a thank you letter for all of the ways you demonstrate your love and ensure that they are happy and healthy long into their golden years, but Westbrook believes there are some surefire ways to know that your cat appreciates the effort.
“Your senior cat may still rub against your leg, make biscuits in your lap, have normal eating and drinking habits, and keep up with grooming habits,” she says. “These are all great signs.”
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- Loyd, K A T et al. “Risk behaviours exhibited by free-roaming cats in a suburban US town.” The Veterinary record vol. 173,12 (2013): 295. doi:10.1136/vr.101222
- Sprinkle, D. “Seniors are a growing part of the pet population.” GlobalPETS. Nov. 2022. Retrieved from: https://globalpetindustry.com/article/seniors-are-growing-part-pet-population
- Cupp, C.J. & Jean-Philippe, Clementine & Kerr, W.W. & Patil, Avinash & Perez-Camargo, Gerardo. (2006). Effect of nutritional interventions on longevity of senior cats. Int J Appl Res Vet Med. 4. 34-50.
- Sordo, Lorena and Danièlle A. Gunn-Moore. “Cognitive Dysfunction in Cats: Update on Neuropathological and Behavioural Changes Plus Clinical Management.” The Veterinary record 188 1 (2021): e3 .