Most domesticated cats can live to be around 15 years old, and sometimes even longer, depending on their health. But a lot can change in your cat from the time it is a kitten, enters adulthood and becomes a senior cat.
Caring for senior cats requires special attention that new cat owners may not be prepared for. As cats enter their later years, quite a few things can change in how they behave, how they clean themselves and how their bodies function.
If your cat is nearing “senior status,” here are a few things you should know about to make your cat’s life as happy and healthy as possible.
As cats age, the cartilage in their joints may begin to deteriorate, leading to conditions like arthritis. These ailments can make it difficult for your senior cat to move around, jump, leap and play like it used to because of stiffness and pain.
If your cat is having trouble getting around, you may need to make changes in your home’s layout to facilitate easier movement for it. For example, move the litter box so it’s not on a different floor from where your cat typically eats and relaxes, or place one on every floor so it has easier access no matter where it is. You can also install ramps and other tools to help your cat get through the home more easily.
Playing with your cat gently and keeping it active can help improve mobility slightly and prevent severe stiffening. You may also want to give it extra supplements or medication to alleviate stiff joints and inflammation, like omega-3 fatty acids.
Reduced Cognitive Function & Memory
Older cats may experience cognitive dysfunction as they age, which affects their memories and their ability to do things as they once could. Some of the most common symptoms of cognitive decline are cats getting confused, not remembering the layout of the home and wandering aimlessly. The cat may even get distressed and cry because it isn’t sure of where it is.
Cognitive dysfunction can also manifest in other ways, such as failure to use the litter box correctly, not being interested in playing, being more irritable and less interested in being touched and restlessness at night.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much to be done about cognitive dysfunction in cats aside from alleviating some sources of stress for your cat throughout the home.
Cleanliness, Or Lack Thereof
Older cats tend to be less rigorous about their cleanliness than younger cats are. For this reason, you may notice that your cat gets more mats in its fur or may appear generally disheveled or dirty.
This can happen because of cognitive decline, where the cat forgets to clean itself regularly. It can also happen because of mobility problems that make it painful for your cat to clean in some areas.
You’ll want to make sure you’re paying special attention to your cat’s coat, brushing it daily to keep its fur shiny, soft and mat-free. You may also need to give your cat a bath more frequently if it’s neglecting its own cleanliness to prevent skin infections and odors.
Senior cats may also have trouble shedding their own nails because they tend to use scratching posts less frequently. This means their nails can more easily become ingrown or stuck on things, causing painful tears or infections. Make sure you check and trim your cat’s nails more frequently during its later years.
Litter Training Mistakes
Older cats are more likely to develop incontinence issues, in which they are unable to use the bathroom properly. This may be due to cognitive decline, but it could also be caused by kidney problems—particularly renal failure.
Try to keep multiple litter boxes available in many locations of the home so your cat has fewer chances to have accidents. Also watch out for other signs of problems with the kidneys and urinary tract, including excessive thirst, and contact a vet as needed.
Energy Levels Dip
Senior cats may spend more time sleeping and less time playing, roaming through the house and interacting with humans. This usually occurs because they have less energy and their bodies are working harder to stay active and healthy.
This behavior is pretty normal in older cats, so you’ll want to make sure your cat has one or two safe, quiet spaces of their own to curl up and rest in.
However, lethargy can also be a sign of a health problem, so it might be worth making a phone call to your vet.
Risk for Serious Medical Issues
Unfortunately, many senior cats have weakened immune systems and their bodies are more likely to begin to fail. This may lead to any number of serious health conditions, including organ failure, cancer and more.
If your cat begins to act strangely in its senior years, don’t assume that it’s a natural side effect of aging. Bring it into the vet to have it examined to ensure that there isn’t a more serious health issue at hand, then discuss strategies for treatment with your vet.