Senior Cat Care Tips: Health Practices for Older Kitties
When your beloved feline friend starts to slow down as they get older, it can be distressing. Aging is a natural process, and cat owners must be prepared and knowledgeable about caring for their senior cats. From dental care to environmental accommodations to regular veterinary visits, here are our best senior cat care tips.
Things to Know About Older Cats
An old cat differs in many ways from a kitten or an adult cat. By understanding when your cat becomes a senior, certain senior cat behavior patterns, and common health issues among old cats, you can provide better care for your aging kitty.
When Is a Cat a Senior?
If you’re curious about senior cat care tips, you likely feel like your cat is a senior – but is he really? The average indoor cat lives between 13 and 17 years, and cats are seniors when they reach the age of 10. If you have a cat who is much younger than that and demonstrates some signs of seniorhood, you need to consult your veterinarian. What you think are signs of aging in your cat might actually be signs of illness, so it’s important to be sure about your cat’s age.
Cats graduate from senior cat to geriatric cat around age 17. You’ll likely start to notice signs of aging long before your kitty reaches the geriatric cat stage.
Cat Behavior in Later Years
As your cat’s body gets older, there might be many changes in its behavior. These include, but are not limited to:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Reduced vision or blindness
- Reduced sense of smell
- Hearing challenges
- Nail problems (such as brittleness or ingrown nails)
- Less physical comfort
- Appetite changes
- Less ability to manage stress signals
- Less effective grooming, which can result in skin issues
Your cat might demonstrate some of these signs as they get older, and they might not. The only way to know if your cat’s behavior has changed is to be familiar with her established habits. You won’t notice a change in Fluffy’s sleep patterns unless you know her normal sleep and wake cycles. This is why it’s important to have a close relationship with your pet and understand their normal state. If you’re familiar with how your cat usually behaves, you’ll be more sensitive to the changes in behavior that indicate your cat is reaching seniorhood.
Health Concerns for Older Cats
One of the reasons it’s important to understand when your cat is becoming a senior is because aging cats face different health and wellness struggles than kittens or adult cats. Knowing your cat’s age will help you watch out for the common health concerns for old cats.
Old cats often have issues with their teeth, kidneys, blood sugar, blood pressure, digestion, joints, and cognition. Deterioration of these bodily processes is normal as your cat ages, but it can become treated and even delayed with proper senior cat care. Additionally, an old cat’s immune system is not as robust as an adult cat, so they are more at risk for disease.
Tips for a Healthy Senior Cat Diet
One of the best ways to care for your senior feline is with a healthy, age- and lifestyle-appropriate diet. Your cat’s needs are unique, and you’ll need to take some time to understand what he needs in his diet. A cat’s diet includes its food and the treats they eat, and its access to table scraps or human food.
A healthy diet that’s suited to your cat can help it live a longer, happier life and even improve the condition of its skin and fur. A proper diet can also help your cat manage its weight, which is especially important because obesity is common in senior cats (often due to reduced activity in their later years). To craft a good diet for your older kitty, you’ll need to consider:
- Changing nutritional needs
- Portion control
- What makes a healthy cat food
Nutritional Needs Change with Age
A senior cat's nutritional needs will vary, but they will likely be very different from that same cat’s needs in their younger years. Older cats don’t absorb nutrients as easily, so a diet that worked for them for years might stop giving them the health benefits they need later.
It’s also important to be aware of how other signs of aging can impact your cat’s diet. For example, if a cat has cognitive struggles in their old age, they might forget where the food bowl is. Alternatively, they might forget they’ve just eaten and will eat again, which results in overeating and weight gain.
There is some debate in the medical community about exactly how a cat’s nutritional needs change in old age. They might need more protein, or more fiber, or more certain vitamins. The best way to figure out exactly what your cat needs in its diet is by collaborating with your veterinarian, who can offer invaluable insight about the best way to create a healthy senior feline diet.
Portion Control for Older Cats
Portion control is always important, but especially so for senior cats. Not only are old cats more susceptible to overeating, but they also tend to be less active than adult cats. If they continue eating the same amount of food at reduced activity levels, they’re probably going to gain weight.
Also, a senior cat’s digestion doesn’t tolerate large meals very well. It’s recommended that you break your cat’s daily calorie consumption into four small meals rather than two large ones.
Choosing a Cat Food for Your Senior Pet
Because your senior cat’s digestion is more sensitive than when they were younger, you must choose cat food that works best for their needs. This will be unique to your kitty, but many senior pet owners consider soft or wet canned food for several reasons. It’s more tender, which is easier on sensitive teeth. Wet food also offers hydration, which is good because older cats need to drink more water each day than they did in their adult years.
Talk to your veterinarian about the best food for your cat. Also, remember that the premium healthy diet for your cat might require a couple of different types of food. You might incorporate some wet food and some dry food, or some senior-specific cat meals and others with high-protein content.
Dental Care for Senior Cats
Dental health is a challenge and struggle for many cats throughout their lives. Mouth discomfort, gum inflammation, and tooth sensitivity are all sadly common among older cats. These painful conditions have a dramatic effect on your cat’s quality of life and often make it difficult for them to eat and maintain a healthy weight.
No matter your cat’s age, they will benefit from regular dental care and teeth cleaning. If you’ve been caring for your cat’s teeth for most of their life, they will be ahead of the game in their old age! Either way, your cat will need some special attention to oral care in their senior years. This includes:
- At home mouth checks
- Regular brushing
- Fresh water
- Professional care
At-Home Dental Health Checks
You should be checking your cat’s mouth regularly to assess her oral health. Use all of your senses to understand better how your cat is doing. Smell your cat’s breath – offensive odor can be a sign of infection. Look at your cat’s teeth and gums – gums should be firm and pink, not loose or white or red, and teeth shouldn’t have any brown or black areas. Also look over your cat’s mouth, including the tongue, roof of the mouth, and back of the throat, for any form of skin abnormality. This could be a sore, a lesion, swelling, bleeding, or bumps.
Your cat also might show you if they are having oral trouble by pawing at their face, drooling excessively, or struggling to chew or swallow. These signs are cause for an immediate veterinary visit.
Brushing your senior cat’s teeth isn’t usually a pleasant experience for either of you, but it’s a vital part of your role as a good cat parent. Choose a toothpaste or powder specific to cats (never use human toothpaste on your cat) and learn proper brushing techniques from your veterinarian.
If your cat is new to the teeth brushing experience, start slow. Get your cat accustomed to having its gums touched lightly with your fingers or a cotton swab. Dab the toothpaste on her lips to let her taste it before the brushing experience.
When you brush your cat’s teeth, don’t forget to stimulate the gums. Gum inflammation and sensitivity are common among old cats, and they can be prevented by regular stimulation with your fingers, a cat toothbrush, or a cotton swab.
Keep the Water Bowl Fresh
As your cat eats and drinks, there is often cross-contamination. Drinking fresh water is a great way for your cat to clean their mouth, but it means that old food debris stuck in your cat’s mouth will contaminate the water. It’s essential to change your cat’s water bowl regularly so they have clean water to drink and rinse their mouth. You might even consider a pet water fountain to keep water fresh and circulating, especially if your cat likes to drink from the faucet.
Even if your cat’s oral health appears to be in tip-top shape and you are giving her regular cleanings at home, she still needs professional dental care at least once a year from your veterinarian. Some groomers also offer dental care.
A professional dental exam and cleaning for a senior cat can dramatically reduce their risk for diseases and gingivitis. Professionals have the tools and expertise to achieve a more thorough level of cleaning than you can at home, so be sure to schedule your cat’s oral wellness appointment every year. You can also ask the professionals about cat treats and toys that can promote tooth and gum health!
An Aging Cat’s Environment
As important as diet and dental care is your senior cat’s environment. The space you’ve created for your kitty might start to be less functional for him as he gets older and his mobility is impaired. It’s important to reassess your aging cat’s environment and ensure he has access to everything he needs to keep him happy, healthy, and purring!
Keep Their Area Clean
Old cats are less effective at grooming, and so – in addition to providing them with additional hygiene practices like brushing – their space must be kept clean. This means regular laundering of fabric items like toys and beds, and consistent cleaning of the litter box.
You’ll also want to continue with regular flea and tick treatments and be on the close lookout for these bugs and mites.
Ensure Complete Accessibility
As your cat gets older, they might struggle with physical mobility impairments as well as reduced vision or blindness. This means you’ll need to adapt the location of things like the litter box, food and water bowls, and even their bed or cat condo. Your cat might even need to move to single-level living, so they don’t have to deal with stairs.
Monitor your cat closely to make sure they make regular visits to their important spots – food, water, and litter box. You’ll be able to tell if they can’t find these items. It also might be time to retire the cat tower, though it should definitely get replaced by other toys to keep your cat active and mobile! Just because they can’t partake in the same levels of activity as they used to doesn’t mean they should be sedentary.
Indoor Cats Live Longer
It’s a well-known fact that indoor cats live much longer than outdoor cats. If your cat has always been an indoor cat, you need to monitor the doorways and windows more closely as they get older to ensure they don’t escape. A senior cat with no experience outdoors is at great risk if they get out.
If you’ve been letting your cat outside occasionally, it’s not recommended to cut off their outdoor time abruptly. Instead, this outdoor time should be carefully monitored. Because of their frailty, older cats are at greater risk of predators and heatstroke. Keep a close eye on your senior cat whenever they are outside.
Older Cats Struggle with Stress
Situations that your cat used to take in stride – such as a trip to the boarding house while you go on vacation or a visit from the neighbor’s dog – might start to stress them out as they get older. Your cat’s moods are another behavior that their age might impact. They might have a little more “cattitude” and be less agreeable about changes in their environment.
It’s important to be respectful of your cat’s boundaries. If being boarded starts to cause stress for your old cat, consider a cat sitter that comes to your house. If your cat hisses and hides under the bed when the neighbor’s dog visits, keep the dog in the yard instead of the house. Your senior cat deserves to have a safe environment where they feel comfortable and at ease – even if that means a few changes to your routine.
Other Senior Cat Care Tips
Now that you know all about the best diet, dental care, and environment for your senior cat, here are some additional senior cat care tips:
- Nail health tips
- Eye health tips
- Routine vet visits for old cats
- Monitoring your senior cat
- End-of-life planning
Tips for Nail Health
Your cat’s claws will also need special care as they get older. A senior cat will be less inclined to use scratching posts, and they’ll also be moving around less, which can cause their nails to become overgrown quickly. The material of the nail changes as well, getting more brittle and thicker as a cat gets older. An old cat also has less ability to retract its claws quickly, which puts them at risk for broken and stuck nails.
Like with teeth brushing, trimming your cat’s nails will be easier if you have established this habit from kittenhood. It’s recommended that you trim your cat’s nails every two weeks. Use a special cat nail trimmer, and don’t try to trim all the claws at once. Be careful not to trim the quick of the nail, which is the tender nail bed that will cause pain and bleeding if cut. If your cat resists, you might need to consider using a professional groomer.
Tips for Eye Health
Senior cats are at risk for a number of eye issues, from a minor case of conjunctivitis to glaucoma and retinal disease. You should examine your cat’s eyes with some regularity. Cataracts – an opaque cloudiness in the eyes – is not uncommon in senior felines. It doesn’t necessarily mean your cat’s vision is compromised, but it should still be noted by your veterinarian.
You should look for a difference in pupil size and damage or irritation of the eyelid. Your cat’s eyelids should not be red or white, and you should also be on the lookout for swelling and bulging in the eye area. If you notice dramatic changes to the appearance of your cat’s eyes, contact your veterinarian immediately.
The Importance of Observation
You are the first line of defense for your senior cat’s health, and the most important way you can provide care for your feline friend is by watching them. You know your pet better than anyone, and only you can identify changes in their behavior or health that might indicate something serious that needs to get addressed. Early detection can handle many health conditions that older cats struggle with more effectively or even prevented. One of the best ways to keep your senior feline healthy and safe is simply by watching them with love!
Regular Veterinarian Check-Ups
Your senior cat needs to be seeing the veterinarian regularly. While you can achieve excellent senior cat care at home, nothing is a substitute for regular checkups from a professional. The trained eye of a veterinarian can catch illnesses and health conditions far before you can. By combining your veterinarian’s expertise with your intimate knowledge of your cat’s behavior and personality, you can provide the best care possible for your cat.
End of Life Planning and Preparation
As your senior cat continues to age, it’s a good idea to consider end-of-life care and plan for your cat’s eventual passing. It’s so sad to think about, but having a plan will make the end of life process easier for your cat and you.
Do the regular quality of life checks for your cat. Consider their comfort level, their ability to socialize and play, and their routines like sleeping, grooming, and eating. It can be tough to identify when your cat is ready to pass on, and your veterinarian can help you with this decision.
Keep Your Senior Cat Healthy with These Tips
These senior cat care tips are a starting point for helping your feline friend ease into the later stage of their life. Older cats still have so much joy and energy, especially when appropriately cared for and loved. With these simple tips, you can ensure you and your beloved cat have plenty of happy days ahead!