I’ve had many cats in my life, and it can be difficult to see them age, slow down, develop aches and pains, and realize that your faithful companion will not be around forever. Cats are considered “senior” between the ages of around 11 and 14, and “geriatric” by age 15. If you have a senior cat, you’ve noticed that he might be sleeping more and moving around a little less and that’s pretty normal. However, it’s really important that you pay special attention to your older cat and make sure his needs are met. A cat’s physical, mental, and emotional needs change over time, but if you keep a few simple things in mind, your kitty can enjoy a long and healthy life!
- Take your cat to the vet for regular checkups. This is perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do. Older cats should visit the vet 1-2 times a year so that they can be screened and treated for age-related health issues such as hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, and joint issues. Your vet will be able to help resolve or treat health problems and/or manage pain if necessary. Pain management is key to sustaining a good quality of life for your cat – even arthritis can make daily trips to the litterbox miserable, so make sure you talk with your veterinarian about how you can keep your cat pain-free and happy.
- Alternatively, have the vet come to your cat! As cats age, stress gets more difficult for them to handle. Going to the vet (being packed up, driven in a car, sitting in a waiting room with barking dogs, then being handled by unfamiliar people who smell like all kinds of other animals) can be a very stressful experience leading to fear and anxiety, which can manifest in physical illness or behavior issues. There are increasing numbers of veterinarians who will come to your home to do a complete physical exam and collect test samples. There is likely a vet near you who will do this! Your cat can be treated in the comfort of his own home, making health checks easier for both you and your cat.
- Senior cats need mental and physical exercise. Just because they’ve slowed down doesn’t mean they can’t become bored! Keeping mind and body active can help kitties stay happy and healthy. Give your senior cat a food puzzle loaded with a favorite treat (it can be as simple as putting treats in a crumpled paper towel), or tempt him with a wand toy that you move at a speed that engages him. If your kitty likes catnip, a toy catnip mouse is fun to wrestle with (you can also try dried valerian root or honeysuckle spray if your cat doesn’t respond to catnip). Or, give her a new box, bag, or scratching pad to explore. You may have to experiment with different toys and activities to find out what your cat will respond to, but anything new and interesting can help. If your senior cat doesn’t see very well, try playing with toys that make an interesting sound; if your cat doesn’t hear well, engage your cat with toys that have a blinking light, or make random movements. Engaging the various senses of your older kitty will give him something new to explore, and variety is the spice of life!
- Your senior/geriatric cat has special dietary needs. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” diet for older cats, but they do need high-quality, easily digestible proteins and fats. One of the most important things to remember is hydration – make sure they have plenty of water! Feed them wet food, and even add a bit of warm water to enhance the aroma. Cats with health conditions may need special diets; e.g., cats with kidney disease (which is fairly common in older cats), require a diet with lower phosphorus levels. Ask your vet or a feline nutritionist about a diet and supplements that can help your cat add years to her life. Make sure there are plenty of opportunities for your cat to drink water throughout your home – some cats enjoy lapping water from a running water fountain, or out of human drinking glasses. Find out what your cat likes and make it readily available to him.
- Make your senior kitty comfortable. If your cat has joint issues or arthritis (common with older cats), perhaps a heated cat bed would be something she enjoys (I know my Jesse loves his, especially during the colder months!). Providing a warm, comfortable, safe place for your cat to snooze and nap in will make him one happy kitty. Additionally, make sure it’s easy for your cat to get around – mobility can become an issue in older cats. Your cat may need a little step to reach his favorite bed, or you may need to buy a litterbox with lower sides to make sure he can step into it easily. Think about how you can make your cat’s life easier – even something as simple as moving food and water to a more convenient location can help.
As much as we want our furry family members to stay young and healthy forever, time does march on and our cats are not immune to the effects of aging. The best thing you can do is pay attention to your senior cat’s health, and be observant of any indications of pain or discomfort. Keeping your cat active and stimulated and on the proper diet with plenty of hydration will help maintain his health, but you’ll also need to give him lots of love. Your respect and affection will help make your cat’s senior years ones of comfort, contentment, and happiness…for both of you!