Living with an elderly cat
Cats are considered to be elderly once they reach around 12 years of age, and – like ageing humans – can sometimes struggle with their mobility, failing senses, and age-related disease. As a pet owner, there are lots of ways you can help to make your pet’s golden years as comfortable as possible.
As cats age their nutritional requirements change, so the diet that they have been on during their adult years may not suit them in later life. Complete senior foods designed especially for elderly cats generally contain higher antioxidant levels to provide extra support to the immune system, as well as being made from easily digestible ingredients that are gentler on a cat’s digestive system.
Some senior foods are designed to maintain a healthy body weight because obesity can make age-related conditions, such as arthritis, much more difficult to manage.
Older cats sometimes lose their enthusiasm for mealtimes, but it is very important that they eat enough to fulfil their nutritional requirements. If your older cat needs encouragement to eat, you could try the following:
- Feed smaller meals more frequently, rather than one or two big meals so your cat doesn’t feel overwhelmed.
- Warm your cat’s food slightly as this will help them to smell and taste it better if their senses are diminishing.
- Offer a different consistency. Your cat might be struggling with their teeth so they may need something softer to eat, such as wet food or moistened dry biscuits.
- Give your cat their food in a puzzle feeder to make mealtimes more interesting. Mental workouts also help to keep the brain young.
An elderly cat is not going to be as nimble as they were in their youth, so you may need to make some adjustments around the home. A cat that is starting to struggle when it comes to jumping and climbing can be helped by placing boxes or moving furniture to create steps to their favourite vantage points.
Some cats with reduced mobility might struggle with slippery floor surfaces, so if you have wooden or tiled floors, a mat or two will help your pet feel secure while navigating the home.
If you have a cat flap, have you noticed your cat starting to struggle getting through it? It might be that you need to start opening the door for them. Also, could they have difficulty getting access to their favourite spots in the garden? How could you make life easier for them?
Some elderly cats have trouble bending their necks so it can be very uncomfortable eating and drinking from bowls on the floor. Consider raising their bowls slightly on a stand or step so they can eat and drink more comfortably.
Grooming is a very important part of being a cat, but as a cat ages they are likely to find it difficult to get to those hard-to-reach areas. You can help your cat by gently brushing them regularly with a soft brush. You should also keep an eye on their claws as they might not be scratching as much as they used to. If you notice your cat’s claws start to curl, you should ask your vet to trim them before they become uncomfortable.
Your cat may have always been to the toilet outside, but as they age they can find this more difficult. It is a good idea to provide several litter trays indoors for your cat to use and you may notice they begin to favour these instead of going outdoors when it is wet or cold.
Use litter trays that are low sided so that your cat can get in and out easily, and make sure they are big enough for your cat to have plenty of room to move around inside. You may also like to consider using a softer type of litter, which will be more comfortable on elderly paws.
Although their activity levels are likely to reduce in later years, older cats still need regular exercise to keep them physically and mentally healthy. Experiment with different toys to see what games your older cat enjoys. If they are struggling with their mobility, avoid anything that would entice them to jump.
Toys that encourage a cat to kick their back legs while lying down are good for those who might be getting a bit stiff. Cardboard boxes are always a winner but use them on their sides so that your elderly cat does not have to jump in and out.
When to see your vet
It is a survival instinct for cats to hide pain, so you may not notice that your elderly cat is starting to find life a struggle. Regular check-ups with your vet will ensure that any issues are identified early. If you notice any changes to your cat’s appetite, toileting habits, sleeping patterns, mobility, or if they seem confused or disorientated, it could be a sign that your cat is unwell so you should seek veterinary advice.