In this post, our vets in Glendale discuss at what age a cat is considered a senior, how to detect signs of aging, and the special care requirements that an aging cat might need.
How old is a senior cat?
When you spend every day with your cat, it can be difficult to tell when they become a senior. But make no mistake - your cat's body undergoes changes as it ages, much like our own bodies do.
Aging cats, like people, go through these changes in their own way. Many cats begin to exhibit age-related physical changes between the ages of 7 and 10, with the majority having done so by the age of 12 years.
People frequently believe that one "cat year" is equivalent to seven "human years." However, this is not entirely correct. Instead, it is widely assumed that a cat's first year is comparable to the development that a human would go through by the age of 16. As a result, a 2-year-old cat is more similar to a person aged 21 to 24.
After this point, one "cat year" is equal to roughly four human years (for example, a 10-year-old cat = 53-year-old human; a 12-year-old cat = 61-year-old human; a 15-year-old cat = 73-year-old human, etc.).
By the time your cat hits about 11 years old, it will be a senior. If a cat lives beyond 15 years of age, they would be a "super-senior". It can sometimes help to think of your cat's age in human terms when caring for older cats.
What happens as my senior cat ages?
Cats, like humans, go through many behavioral and physical changes as they age. While aging in cats is not considered a disease in and of itself, keeping your vet informed of changes in your senior cat's personality and body will help ensure they receive the most comprehensive wellness care possible. Some changes to keep an eye out for are:
Grooming & Appearance
Aging cats may gradually become less effective at grooming, which can lead to oily or matted fur. Painful hair matting can result in inflammation and skin odor.
The eyes and vision of your senior feline companion may also change, with a slightly hazy lens and a 'lacy' appearance in the iris (the colored part of the eye). While there is little evidence that this alone has a significant impact on their vision, a variety of diseases (particularly those associated with high blood pressure) can have serious and irreversible negative effects on a cat's vision.
Senior cats' claws can also become overgrown, brittle and thick, so will need more attention from caretakers.
Unintentional Weight Loss or Gain
If your senior cat is shedding pounds, there could be a number of issues, including diabetes, kidney, and heart disease. Senior cats frequently develop dental disease. As they get older, dental problems can make it difficult for them to eat, which can lead to malnutrition and weight loss in addition to excruciating oral pain.
Physical Activity & Abilities
Older cats frequently develop arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Access to beds, litter boxes, and water and food bowls are made challenging by this condition. This is particularly true for a cat that needs to jump or climb stairs.
While alterations in sleep are a natural part of aging, a notable increase in sleep or depth is cause for concern, and your vet should be informed. Your senior cat should be examined by a veterinarian if you notice their energy level has suddenly increased. This could be a sign of hyperthyroidism.
Geriatric cats also commonly lose hearing for several reasons. If this happens for your cat, it's another reason to visit your veterinarian.
It could be a sign of memory or cognitive problems if you notice that your cat is now getting confused by routine tasks or objects. Your veterinarian should be consulted if your cat exhibits any unusual behaviors, including litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, loud meowing, or a generalized sense of being lost.
Issues Caused by Disease
A cat may become aggressive as a result of pain from health issues such as dental disease or arthritis, so monitoring your cat's mood is critical because cats tend to hide discomfort. Diabetes and kidney failure, for example, can cause an increase in litterbox usage, which can lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate places.
Cats with mobility issues due to joint inflammation may have difficulty accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also cause your senior cat to eliminate in inappropriate places, which should be addressed by a veterinarian.
How can I help keep my senior cat healthy?
Your observations are some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy. Incorporating simple changes to your grooming, feeding and general interactions with your cat can be a low-pressure way to watch for any changes in your aging pet so your vet can provide geriatric care geared to your pet's needs.
Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are great ways to keep older cats clean and healthy, while also checking for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.
Many senior cats become overweight or obese as they age, which can be controlled with diet and exercise if the weight gain is not medically necessary. Other weight problems include underweight elderly cats, which can be caused by a variety of medical conditions and should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
Older cats might be more sensitive to routine or household changes, which could cause stress. Your senior cat will benefit greatly from your patience and considerations, such as extra love, a special toy or blanket, and a quiet place to stay. As your cat ages, don't forget to play with them; mental and physical exercise is good for their wellbeing.
Even if cats appear to be in perfect health, it's important to regularly take them to the vet for wellness checks because cats are skilled at hiding illness until it is advanced or severe. Additionally, your vet will be able to keep an eye on any illnesses that your senior cat may have and identify any potential or new problems early on when they're easier to treat.
How can a veterinarian help?
Your cat's activities, health, and personality, as well as any observations you may have, will be very helpful to your veterinarian. Alongside these, regular, scheduled exams should be conducted.Your veterinarian can advise you on how frequently to bring your senior cat in for visits and may even suggest increasing the frequency of physical examinations, depending on their age, lifestyle, health, and a few other factors, such as any ongoing needs they may have in terms of medical conditions.