Modern veterinary care has allowed our pets to live much longer than they ever have before, but this means that owners need to learn to care for their animals in their golden years. Here, our Stroudsburg vets share some tips on how to care for a senior cat.
How old is my cat in human years?
Each cat's experience of aging varies, just like humans. Cats typically begin to show physical changes associated with aging around 7-10 years of age, with the majority experiencing these changes by the time they reach 12 years old.
The common understanding that one "cat year" is equivalent to 7 "human years" isn't quite accurate; instead, the accepted wisdom is that the first year of a cat is similar to the growth of a 16-year-old human, and a cat at 2 years old is more similar to a human between 21-24 years old. After that, each year for a cat is equal to roughly four human years (e.g. 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).
Cats are considered to be "senior" once they are about 11 years old, and "super-senior" cats when they surpass 15 years of age. When caring for older cats it sometimes helps to think of their age in human terms.
What happens as my cat ages?
Cats, like their owners, go through various physical and behavioral changes as they get older. Keeping your vet informed about any changes in your senior cat is crucial for their overall wellness care, as aging itself is not a disease. Be on the lookout for some changes:
- Grooming & appearance. Matted or oily fur is caused by less effective grooming by aging cat, which can result in painful hair matting, skin odor, and inflammation. Senior cats' claws are often overgrown, thick, and brittle, requiring more attention from their caretakers. Aging cats commonly have a slightly hazy lens and 'lacy' appearance to the colorful part of the eye (iris), but there is little evidence that this significantly affects their sight.
- Physical activity & abilities. Older cats often experience degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, which makes it difficult to gain access to litter boxes, food and water bowls, and beds.
- Cognitive issues. If you notice that your cat has started being confused by tasks or objects that are part of their daily routine, this may be a sign of issues with memory or cognition.
- Issues caused by disease. A cat may become aggressive due to pain from health issues like dental disease or arthritis, so keeping an eye on your cat's mood is important because cats tend to hide discomfort.
How can I help keep my senior cat healthy?
Below are some simple changes you can incorporate into your cat's routine to help them maintain their health in their older age:
- Grooming: 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.
- Nutrition: A lot of cats get heavy or even obese as they get older, which can be controlled with diet and activity if the weight gain is non-medical in nature.
- Homelife: Older cats can be more sensitive to changes in routine or household, which can lead to stress. Patience and accommodations (extra affection, a favorite toy or blanket, a quiet room for them to stay in) go a long way to helping your senior cat adjust to upsetting changes.
- Vet care: Because cats are adept at hiding illness until it is advanced or severe, it's important to take them regularly to the vet for wellness checks even if they seem perfectly healthy.
How can a veterinarian for geriatric pets help?
Your vet greatly values your knowledge of your cat and the observations you make. Regular wellness examinations are also highly beneficial. Your vet may recommend more frequent physical evaluations for your cat, especially if they have a medical condition or specific needs.
During a wellness examination for a senior cat, the veterinarian will carefully assess the cat's weight, condition of the skin and fur, organ systems, behavior, and conduct diagnostic tests for common conditions that affect older felines.