Health issues older cats face
30th May, 2023
Though your beloved cat may still feel like a kitten at times, eventually they’ll start to slow down. Older cats often need a little extra care and attention as they enter their twilight years, and there are lots of ways you can help your cat continue to be healthy and happy.
In this guide, we’ve covered some of the most common questions around how to care for elderly cats, including elderly cats’ behaviour, great food options for elderly cats and what to expect, such as whether older cats sleep more and changes you can make to your home to make sure they’re comfortable.
The ageing processes
As your cat gets older, you might start to notice a few changes, such as:
a decrease in activity levels and muscle tone
changes to their appetite and how much water they drink
a change in vision or hearing, as they may start to deteriorate
needing the toilet more or less as their bowel and urinary systems change
their immune system may weaken
they might sleep more, but overall sleep less deeply
a change in coat condition as your cat may be less able to groom thoroughly
age-associated illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism
You may also notice some psychological signs of aging and associated behavioural changes such as aggression, confusion, forgetfulness, an increased dependence on you or being louder than usual. You might notice that your cat seems confused or forgets where the litter tray is.
How old is an ‘elderly’ cat?
With the constant improvements in veterinary care, the life span of cats is much longer than it used to be. A cat used to be considered elderly at the age of 12 years or more, but it’s not now uncommon for your cat to reach the ripe old age of 18!
Some people prefer to choose an elderly cat for adoption. Older cats can be less energetic than younger cats, and they tend to spend more time at home purring in your lap, making them wonderful companions.
Health issues affecting older cats
Elderly cats are more vulnerable to a variety of age-related health conditions. Cats are known to hide pain, so you will need to be alert to subtle clues that your cat is not right. You may notice things such as changes to their movement, a loss or increase in appetite, excessive thirst, or problems sleeping or toileting.
Some of the most common age-related illnesses are:
Catching problems early can help you minimise suffering and could extend their life for years to come. If you’re concerned at all, you should contact your vet.
As your cat reaches old age, they’re also more likely to require regular dental care. As part of your grooming routine, check regularly for any signs of dental disease. Things to watch out for include any growths in the mouth, redness in the gums, bad breath, drooling, a loss of appetite or your cat pawing at their mouth.
Preventative healthcare for older cats
In their golden years, you can help your cat by carefully monitoring any changes in your elderly cat's behaviour and their overall wellbeing. Simple things like checking their eating, drinking and toileting habits haven’t changed will help you identify any issues quickly. Any changes should be reported to your vet as they may indicate an underlying health condition.
As part of elderly cats’ care, you should factor in a need for more frequent vet visits, especially if your cat has any age-associated diseases. Regular weight checks are important, as are booster vaccinations to support your cat's immune system.
Discuss with your vet how regularly your cat needs a check-up, some vet surgeries may run special geriatric clinics for older cats.
What to feed your older cat
As your cat gets older, it’s a good idea to feed them a diet made specifically for senior cats. Many popular brands provide special food for elderly cats, tailored to meet their precise nutritional needs, including higher levels of good quality protein. Your vet can advise on the correct diet for your cat.
You might notice your cat has less of an appetite as over time, their sense of taste and smell can diminish. Because of this, they might appreciate a little encouragement from you.
Here are a few things you can do to encourage your cat to eat:
feed little and often – Four to six small meals a day is a good starting point, if they seem reluctant to eat their usual food it’s worth trying different flavours to tempt them
warm it up – Try gently warming food as this can make it more appealing to your cat
try different consistencies - If your cat has dental issues, they might prefer softer food in jelly or gravy to hard biscuits, you could also try adding a small amount of water and mashing it up with a fork
spend some time together – Your cat might like to make an occasion of it with you, sitting with them and talking or stroking can encourage them to eat
make mealtimes fun – Puzzle feeding is a great way to help your cat feel younger by keeping their brain active!
A big part of how to care for elderly cats involves making sure they’re eating and drinking enough. Older cats may have achy joints and stiffness and having their food and water bowl in easy access can help encourage them to visit them more often. Try placing water and food bowls in a few different easy-to-reach spots around your home, both upstairs and downstairs. This will make it easier for your cat to access them whenever they need them.
Another way you can make things more comfortable for your cat is to place food and water bowls on a higher level. Some elderly cats may struggle to bend their necks, so place a bowl on a box or a raised surface to make it more accessible.
Overall, try to keep an eye on how much your elderly cat eats and drinks in a day, as any significant change in appetite or thirst could indicate an underlying health condition that should be checked out by your vet.
How to adapt your house for an older cat
The good news is you don’t need to make huge changes for your cat to be comfortable in your home. Little things make a huge difference to your cat’s quality of life and can help manage any aches or pains they might experience.
Though your cat may still seem – and act – like a kitten, things that used to be easy for them such as jumping or climbing can be much harder for them.
If your cat struggles with things like climbing stairs, it may be better to keep all their essential items on one level for ease. You can also do small things like place rugs on laminate or wooden floors, to make them less slippery for your cat and give them somewhere comfortable to rest.
Playing with your older cat
Most of the time, elderly cats still love to play as much as they did when they were little, and regular exercise can do wonders for their mental and physical health.
Elderly cats’ behaviour when playing may be slightly less high octane, so try using toys that are unlikely to intimidate them, such as a feather attached to a string that you slowly move past them. You should experiment with different toys to see what captures their attention. Any interaction – even just watching – provides useful stimulation.
Kick toys are particularly effective for older cats, encouraging them to exercise their potentially stiff hind legs and allowing them to lie down while playing! They may also still love playing with cardboard boxes, you can make them fun without the strain of hopping in and out by placing a box on its side for easy access.
Keeping your older cat safe outdoors
Is your cat microchipped? Older cats may get lost or go missing due to being confused and unsteady on their feet.
Microchipping your cat will improve your chances of being reunited with your pet if they wander off.
If you’re worried about a cat with an illness that requires medication or a more senile cat disappearing, you can make your garden safer for them – and minimise disputes with neighbourhood cats – by fencing in your garden.
Some cats may stop going outdoors as much as they have difficulty using a cat flap. Placing steps inside and outside can be helpful, but you may prefer to escort your friend outside.
Source: Cats Protection