The 3 Stages of Your Senior Cat’s Life, and What to Expect of Each

Senior Cat

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  • Cats are officially “seniors” by the time they reach 10 years of age. Fortunately, kitties today often live well into their teens and even their early 20s, so a 10-year-old healthy “senior” cat still has lots of living left to do!
  • At 10 to 12 years, most cats have slowed down a bit and tend to feel more stress in response to changes in their routine or environment. Cats at this age can also begin to develop the same types of health problems older people face, including arthritis, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and kidney disease. That’s why it’s so important to bring your cat for twice-yearly wellness visits with your veterinarian. The sooner a change in your kitty’s health is identified and addressed, the better the long-term outcome.
  • At 13 to 15 years, many cats experience some loss of vision and hearing, and can also develop age-related cognitive dysfunction. Kitties at this age tend to do a lot more napping and may grow a little crabby and easily annoyed. Frequent checkups in which your vet performs a complete geriatric workup are essential to maintaining your cat’s good health.
  • One can compare a cat of 16 to an 80-year-old human. A kitty at 16 or older is moving and thinking more slowly than he once did, and he probably has a few age-related health issues. He’s likely not as alert or responsive as he once was. It’s a good idea to keep a journal of any changes you notice in your pet, including his appetite and water consumption, signs of constipation or incontinence, aggressive behavior, or mental confusion. Signs that a cat is in pain can include hiding, panting, shortness of breath, teeth grinding, loss of interest in food, or reluctance to move around.
  • There are many things owners of senior cats can do to help their pet enjoy a good quality of life in their golden years. These include feeding the right nutrition, providing opportunities for exercise and environmental enrichment, offering supplements that are especially beneficial for older cats, providing multiple easy-in/easy-out litter boxes, and setting aside time each day to have positive interactions with their pet.

By Dr. Becker

By the time your cat reaches the age of 10, she’s officially a feline senior citizen. The good news is that many cats today are living into their late teens and even early 20s. With the proper care, a kitty in good health at 10 can easily live another 8, 10, or even 12 years.

So there’s no need to panic if your purr-y companion is getting older, but it IS time to start taking some steps to insure your pet stays as happy and healthy as possible throughout her senior and geriatric years.

But first, let’s take a look at how cats show signs of aging and what you can expect as your kitty gets older.

What to Expect at 10 to 12 Years

By the time most kitties turn 10, they have slowed down a little (or a lot, depending on how high-energy they were as youngsters). You might notice your cat isn’t jumping up on high surfaces as much anymore, or isn’t climbing to the uppermost spot on the cat tree.

And while all cats, regardless of age, do best with a consistent daily routine, older cats can become especially stressed when presented with anything new or different in their environment.

You might also notice your kitty doesn’t always run right out to greet you when you get home. He may not initiate play as often as he once did, and he may take more naps.  

Many cats also become more vocal as they age, and more fearful of strange or loud noises and unfamiliar people.

Older cats can also suffer from many of the same health challenges older humans face, including arthritis, diabetes, thyroid problems, and kidney disease, so it’s really important to bring your cat for twice-yearly wellness visits with your veterinarian. The sooner a change in your kitty’s health is identified and addressed, the easier it will be to resolve or manage the problem.

At veterinary visits, be sure to mention any and all behavior changes you’ve noticed in your cat, no matter how minor, as these can provide important clues about health problems that may be brewing under the surface. It’s also important you and your vet keep regular tabs on your cat’s weight, to assure she isn’t gaining or shrinking over time.

What to Expect at 13 to 15 Years

From 13 to 15 years of age, not only are most cats moving quite a bit slower than they once did, many are also experiencing at least some loss of vision and hearing. They may also have less tolerance for cold temperatures.

Elderly cats can develop age-related dementia, making small changes in their environment or routine increasingly stressful. Some older kitties are also easily confused.

Along with more napping and less activity, your senior cat may grow a bit cranky and easily irritated. If your household includes young children or a rambunctious dog, everyone will need to learn to approach kitty in a quiet, non-aggressive manner. And if yours is a multi-pet household, it’s important not to allow your aging cat to be bullied by younger pets who may sense a change in the natural pecking order.

You may also notice that your cat prefers to spend more time alone these days. You can enhance his feelings of safety and security by making his favorite hideout a warm, comfy little spot he can retreat to whenever he likes. But keep in mind that senior cats still need to interact with their humans regularly, so set aside some time each day to spend with your pet. You can engage him in gentle play, an ear scratching session, or some brushing or combing.

As I mentioned earlier, your cat is now at the age where twice-yearly veterinary checkups are essential in order to safeguard his health. Your vet will perform a geriatric workup, including a physical exam and blood, urine, and stool sample tests. The results of these tests will provide a snapshot of how well your cat’s organs are functioning, and point to any potential problems.

Your vet will also check the condition of your kitty’s coat and skin, his footpads and nails, and his teeth and gums.

What to Expect at 16 Years and Older

If you’re lucky enough to share your life with a cat of 16 or more, first of all, congratulations! Either you’ve done a bang-up job raising your kitty to a ripe old age, or you’ve opened your heart to an elderly cat in need of a loving home in her final years. Regardless, you did good!

As a point of reference, you can reasonably compare your cat at 16 to an 80-year-old human. She’s moving and thinking more slowly these days, and she may have an assortment of age-related health challenges. She’s probably not as alert or responsive as she once was, and at times she may seem quite confused.

Even if she’s still in good health, chances are she’s sleeping and vocalizing more, and interacting with family members less. She may not be as perfectly groomed as she was in her younger years, and even the most well-mannered geriatric cat may occasionally forget to use her litter box.

As long as your cat is seeing the vet at least twice a year for checkups, and between visits you’re keeping an eye out for significant or sudden behavior or health changes, there’s no reason to be alarmed. Try not to hover, as your cat is still a cat and prefers attention on her own terms. Do make every effort to keep her comfortable, secure and relaxed by maintaining a consistent daily routine and providing her with a quiet, cozy hideaway equipped with comfy bedding and a familiar toy or two.

At your regular vet visits, you’ll want to mention any changes you’ve noticed in your pet, including increased or decreased appetite or water consumption, constipation or incontinence, aggressive behavior, or mental confusion. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for signs that your cat is in pain, which can include hiding, teeth grinding, panting, shortness of breath, loss of interest in food, or reluctance to move around.

10 Tips for Helping Your Senior Cat Sail Through Old Age

  1. Feed a balanced, antioxidant rich species-appropriate diet. Your kitty’s diet should include omega-3 essential fats, such as krill oil. Moisture is an aging cat’s best friend, so encourage adequate hydration by offering a variety of water bowls around the house or a drinking fountain, in addition to minimizing dry food. If your cat is addicted to terrible food, adding a whole body supplement, such as Feline Whole Body Support is a good idea.
  2. Keep your pet’s body and mind active with regular exercise appropriate for your cat’s age and physical condition, and mental stimulation (puzzles and treat-release toys can be beneficial). Think of creative ways to enrich your cat's indoor environment and if your kitty never touches the earth’s surface directly (most housecats don’t), consider a grounding pad to help reduce the buildup of EMFs.
  3. Provide your kitty with a SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) supplement as a safe and effective way to stall or improve mental decline, improve mobility, as well as assist in liver detoxification. Consult your holistic veterinarian for the right dose size. Periodic detoxification with the herbs milk thistle and dandelion can also be very beneficial, as can providing super green foods in the form of fresh “cat grass” to nibble on. Chlorophyll, chlorella, or spirulina can also be offered in supplement form to enhance your cat’s detoxification processes.
  4. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to be safe for cats and can improve brain energy metabolism and decrease the amyloid protein buildup that results in brain lesions in older pets. Coconut oil is a rich source of MCTs and may also reduce hairball issues. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight twice daily for basic MCT support, if your cat will voluntarily eat it.
  5. For aging kitties who prowl the house all night and vocalize, consider low dose melatonin, which is not only a sedative with a calming effect, but also an antioxidant. I also use Rhodiola, chamomile, and l-theanine with good results.
  6. If your cat seems disoriented, consider limiting her access to certain parts of the house. Keep doors closed so she can’t wander into a closet or any place where she might be unable to get herself out.
  7. Set aside time each day to interact with your kitty. Make sure meals are provided on a consistent schedule, along with playtime and petting/lap time. If your cat tolerates being brushed or combed, work that into the daily schedule as well, to help her with grooming chores. Trimming hair around her perineal area reduces her grooming chores and is usually much appreciated by retired cats.
  8. If your cat has turned into a midnight prowler, if possible, try gently waking him up from naps during the day. The more active you can keep him during daylight hours, the more likely he’ll be to sleep on your schedule.
  9. Sometimes all a vocalizing cat needs to quiet down is to hear his owner’s voice, so try calling your kitty’s name when he starts to vocalize from another room or in the middle of the night. If that doesn’t do the trick and the nighttime crying is really a problem for you, consider earplugs. Flower essences and homeopathics (such as low potency Belladonna) may also reduce yowling.
  10. If eliminating outside the litter box is an issue, try putting additional boxes around the house. Also insure it’s comfortable for your cat to get into and out of the box. Cats are very adept at hiding arthritis and other aches and pains, which can limit their ability to climb into high-sided boxes, or boxes kept in bathtubs or up a flight of stairs, for example.
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