Thanks to advancements in veterinary care and medicine, pet nutrition and diet research and development, and accessibility to information for pet owners, our senior cats are living far longer than they used to. Today, our Tucson vets talk about what to expect as your cat ages and share tips on how to care for your senior cat.
How old is my cat in human years?
Similar to people, every cat ages differently. Between 7 and 10 years of age, many cats begin to show age-related physical changes, and the majority have by 12 years of age. The conventional wisdom holds that a cat's first year is comparable to the development of a 16-year-old human, and that a cat's second year is more comparable to a human between 21 and 24 years old. The common belief that one "cat year" is equal to seven "human years" is not entirely accurate. After that, every cat year is roughly equivalent to four human years (e.g., a 10-year-old cat equals a human age of 53; a 12-year-old cat equals a human age of 61; a 15-year-old cat equals a human age of 73, etc.).
Cats are considered to be "senior" once they are about 11 years old, and "super-senior" when they reach over 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 change physically and behaviorally as they age, just like their owners do. Even though aging is not a disease in and of itself, it is crucial to keep your vet informed of any changes in your senior cat as part of their overall wellness care. Observe the following changes, among others:
- 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. There are, however, several diseases, especially those associated with high blood pressure, that can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see. Unintentional weight loss or weight gain: In an older cat, weight loss can be a sign of any number of problems, from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Dental disease is extremely common in older cats and can hinder eating, causing weight loss and malnutrition in addition to causing them significant pain.
- Physical activity & abilities. Cats that are older frequently have degenerative joint disease or arthritis, which makes it challenging for them to access beds, food and water bowls, and litter boxes. This is particularly valid if they need to jump or climb stairs. Age-related changes in sleep patterns are common, but if your pet's sleep patterns significantly change or deepen, it may be time to call your veterinarian. The signs of hyperthyroidism in older cats who suddenly become more energetic should be checked out by a veterinarian. Unexpected weight gain or loss can be a symptom of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease. Your veterinarian should keep an eye on any hearing loss because it is common in elderly cats for a variety of reasons.
- 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. Behavioral changes such as litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and seeming disorientated, are also potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be examined by your vet.
- Issues caused by disease. A cat may become aggressive as a result of pain caused by health issues such as dental disease or arthritis, so keeping an eye on your cat's mood is critical because cats tend to hide discomfort. Diseases and disorders that affect urination (e.g., diabetes, kidney failure) can increase litterbox usage, causing cats to eliminate in inappropriate places. Cats suffering from joint inflammation may have difficulty accessing or climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also cause your senior cat to eliminate in inappropriate locations, which should be addressed by a veterinarian.
How can I help keep my senior cat healthy?
Your own observations are some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy. Simple changes to your grooming, feeding, and general interactions with your cat can be a low-pressure way to monitor any changes in your aging pet.
- 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. Other weight issues include elderly cats being underweight, which may be caused by a variety of medical conditions and should be assessed by a veterinarian.
- Home Life: 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. Don't forget to keep playing with your cat as they age; mental and physical stimulation is beneficial for their well-being.
- 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. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor any conditions that your senior cat may have, and catch any potential or emerging issues early when they're more treatable. their behavior and health.
How can a veterinarian help?
Your knowledge of your cat and your observations, as well as regular wellness exams, are valuable resources for your veterinarian. Depending on your cat's needs (for example, if he or she has a medical condition), your veterinarian may advise you to increase the frequency of physical examinations. A senior cat's wellness examination includes the veterinarian checking the cat's weight, skin and fur condition, organ systems, behavior, and running diagnostic tests for certain conditions common in older felines. The combination of at-home care and collaborative veterinary care is an excellent way to ensure that your senior cat lives a healthier, happier life with you and your family.