Your Senior Cat
Old age is not a disease
As a result of advances in veterinary medicine, more knowledgeable care and improved nutrition, cats are now living much longer, healthier lives. But, just as for humans, the passage of time has its effects, and you may begin to notice that your once-frisky feline seems to have slowed down a bit. Being aware of the natural changes that can occur as your cat becomes older, as well as what you can do to help keep your pet as healthy, active and comfortable as possible, can ensure that you both enjoy this final stage in your cat's life to the fullest.
How and when will I know that my cat is getting "old"?
As cats move into the senior phase of their lives, they experience gradual changes that are like those of ageing humans: their hair may lose its colour and lustre, their bodies are not as supple and reflexes not as sharp as they once were. Hearing, eyesight and the sense of smell may deteriorate and energy levels seem to diminish. In fact, because cats are naturally adaptive in their behaviour the first signs of ageing is often a subtle general decrease in activity, combined with a tendency to sleep longer and more soundly. Such signs may begin to manifest themselves anywhere between the ages of 7 and 11. Furthermore, a healthy cat who lives the majority of its life indoors, especially one that has been neutered, will most likely age later than one which has been affected by disease or environmental problems early in life. Thus, while wild or feral tomcats have an average life span of only 3 years, a castrated male house cat that is well cared for can live happily and healthily into late teens or, in exceptional cases, early twenties. Again, as with humans, the ageing process will vary with the individual. Your veterinary surgeon will be able to judge when it's time to consider your pet a "senior".
Checkup Time now comes twice a year
As your cat ages, regular checkups at the veterinary practice become more important than ever. In fact, at this stage of your pet's life, it is recommended that they receive a thorough examination every 6 months, as adult cats can age as much as 4 years (in human terms) within the period of one calendar year. Besides the usual complete physical examination, your veterinary surgeon may conduct a urine and faecal analysis and a full blood screen. If your cat goes outdoors, or is part of a multi-cat household, he or she may also recommend that your pet be tested for the presence of feline leukemia or immunodeficiency virus.
Keep your Vet Informed
Most importantly, you should tell your veterinary surgeon about any noticeable change in your cat's physical condition or behaviour. A problem that you may assume is simply related to your pet's advanced age may actually be the result of a treatable medical condition. For example, your cat's lack of interest in exercise or play may not stem from the normal decrease in energy that comes with age, but be due to the stiffness and pain that results from arthritis - a condition that can be managed with the proper treatment. Regular checkups can thus help your veterinary surgeon work out a suitable preventative health programme for your pet and catch any disorders sufficiently early to provide effective treatment. Working together, you can both ensure that your cat's senior years will be healthy and happy ones.
Put a healthy diet on the menu
As he or she ages, your cat's nutritional needs may also change. You may find that, although your pet is eating less, he/she still puts on weight. This could be due to a slowdown of metabolism or a decrease in activity. Excess weight can aggravate many feline medical conditions, including heart, respiratory, skin and joint problems. To help a portly puss lose weight, try feeding smaller quantities of food or gradually switch to a diet that is lower in calories. Other cats have entirely the opposite problem-they lose weight as they age, sometimes as the result of heart, periodontal disease, diabetes or sometimes an overactive thyroid gland. Appetite can be reduced or sometimes increased in these conditions. In either case, ask your veterinary surgeon for advice about your pet's individual nutritional requirements.
The top 10 health tips for senior cats
- Take your cat to their veterinary surgeon for regular checkups.
- Become informed about conditions and diseases common to senior cats, be on the lookout for signs and, should they arise, inform your cat's veterinary surgeon promptly.
- Consider feeding a 'senior' pet diet, nutritionally appropriate for the older cat.
- Don't overfeed-obesity causes many health problems and may shorten your cat's life.
- Make sure your cat has opportunities to exercise to preserve muscle tone, preserve bone and joint strength and fight obesity.
- Look after your cat's dental health. Have their teeth cleaned professionally when your veterinary surgeon so advises, and ideally brush their teeth daily.
- Ensure vaccinations are kept up-to-date.
- Do your utmost to control fleas and make sure your cat and the environment (bed, play area, etc.) are always spotlessly clean.
- Check your cat's nails weekly and trim them as often as necessary, as senior cats may not use their scratching posts as often as they did when younger.
- Give your cat lots of love and attention and do all you can to keep them interested, active, happy and comfortable.