What to Expect During Your Cat's Senior Years

Close up of senior cat
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Your senior cat may not be as willing to play and climb as he gets older.

Cats can live into their late teens and sometimes even early 20s, but you may notice some changes in yours  as he ages.

Your senior cat may play less and be less willing to climb or jump. Part of that could be because of arthritic changes. Make sure he doesn't have to jump or climb to get to his litterbox or food and water bowls. Also, consider getting a litterbox with lower sides and placing one on each floor of your house. You can also provide steps and ramps to make it easier for him to access favorite perches. Encourage him to exercise with moderate play, which can benefit his muscle tone, flexibility, circulation and weight.

Because of arthritis, obesity or other health conditions, older cats may groom less or be less effective when grooming. That can sometimes result in matted fur or increased odor. Claws may become more thick or brittle. These changes mean you may need to groom your cat, including brushing fur and cutting nails, more often as he ages. 

Some cats may wander aimlessly around the house, meowing excessively and sometimes acting as though they are disoriented. This could be age-related cognitive dysfunction or it could be caused by other physical changes that your veterinarian can diagnose and possibly treat. Any marked change in behavior, including increased sleeping (or increased activity), less family interaction or hiding and loss of litterbox training calls for a veterinary examination.

Older cats can be more stressed by boarding or traveling. If you must travel, consider asking someone to stay in your home and care for your cat or check in on him at least once a day.

Older cats may have some hearing loss. If your cat seems to be ignoring you or fails to notice when you enter the room, try talking more loudly and in a lower voice. Older cats may also have some vision loss. A slight haziness to the lens is usually normal in older cats, but a solid white appearance may indicate a cataract. Several diseases, including those associated with high blood pressure, can result in retinal detachment and blindness. If you suspect that your cat has lost some of his hearing or sight, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Sense of smell may also diminish with age, which can in turn cause a decreased appetite. This can be serious in a very old cat, especially one that tends to be underweight. These cats may need a higher calorie diet with good quality protein, and they may need to be encouraged to eat. If your older cat is not eating as much as usual, it's important to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. She can determine if there's an underlying medical problem and recommend the right treatment or diet.

Often, a loss of appetite in an older cat may be the result of painful dental disease. Ask your veterinarian to examine your cat's mouth. It's possible that a dental cleaning and treatment of painful teeth can help improve your cat's appetite. If your cat is missing a lot of teeth, consider feeding softer foods.

Older cats can be prone to kidney disease, which can lead to dehydration. If your cat is drinking and urinating more, see your veterinarian. In addition, you may need to place additional water bowls around the house and talk to your veterinarian about feeding your cat wet food.

Older cats are subject to other diseases like cancer, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and inflammatory bowel disease. Your senior cat should have a veterinary check-up at least twice a year, and blood work is a necessity. Talk to your vet about your senior cat's individual needs.

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