Today, our Riverbank vets answer questions about aging cats, how old a cat is when it's considered a senior, how to identify signs of aging, and special care needs that an aging cat may have.
How old is a senior cat?
When you spend every day with your feline friend, it can be difficult to tell when your cat becomes a senior. That said, your senior cat's body is absolutely undergoing changes as it ages, like our own bodies.
In another similarity to humans, aging cats have unique experiences when it comes to their changing bodies. Many cats will begin to show age-related physical changes by the time they are between 7 and 10 years old, and most will have by about 12 years old.
Cat parents often assume that one "cat year" is equivalent to seven "human years". However, this isn't quite accurate. Instead, the general rule is that a cat's first year is similar to the development that a person would experience by the time they've reached about 16 years old. So, a two-year-old cat is more similar to a person between 21 and 24 years old.
After this point, one "cat year" is equal to roughly four "human years" (for example, a 10-year-old cat = a 53-year-old person; a 12-year-old cat = a 61-year-old person; a 15-year-old cat = a 73-year-old person, etc.).
By the time your cat reaches about 11 years old, it will be a senior. If your cat lives beyond 15 years old, they would fall under the classification of "super senior". When caring for older cats, it may sometimes help to think of your cat's age in human terms.
What happens as my senior cat ages?
Cats experience many physical and behavioral changes as they age, just like people do. While aging in cats is not in itself considered a disease, discussing changes in your senior cat's personality and body with your vet will help to ensure your pet receives the most comprehensive wellness care possible. Some changes to monitor include:
Grooming & Appearance
Some aging cats may gradually become less effective at grooming. This can lead to matted or oily fur. Painful hair matting can also result in skin odor and inflammation.
Your older kitty's eyes and vision may also change - you might notice a slightly hazy lens and 'lacy' appearance in the iris (the colorful part of the eye). While there's little evidence that this along has a significant impact on their sight, several diseases (especially those related to high blood pressure) can have severe and irreversible negative effects on a cat's ability to see.
Senior cats' claws may also become brittle, thick and overgrown, so these will also need more attention from caretakers.
Unintentional Weight Loss or Gain
Is your senior cat losing weight? This may indicate any number of problems, from diabetes to kidney and heart disease. Dental disease and periodontitis are also extremely common in senior cats. As they grow older, cats with dental issues can have trouble eating, which can cause malnutrition and weight loss along with causing painful symptoms in their mouths.
Physical Activity & Abilities
Older cats often deal with degenerative joint disease or arthritis, which makes it difficult for them to access water and food bowls, litter boxes and beds. This is especially true for a cat that needs to jump or climb stairs.
While changes in sleep are a normal part of aging, sleeping significantly more, or more deeply, is a concern and your vet should be aware. If you see a sudden increase in your senior cat's energy, this can point to hyperthyroidism and should be monitored by a vet.
Geriatric cats also commonly lose hearing for several reasons. If this happens for your cat, it's another reason to visit your veterinarian.
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 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. Diseases and disorders affecting urination (e.g. diabetes, kidney failure) can cause an increase in litterbox usage, which may lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate areas.
Cats that are experiencing mobility problems due to joint inflammation may have challenges accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also lead to your senior cat eliminating in inappropriate places and should be addressed by a vet.
How can I help keep my senior cat healthy?
Your observations are some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy. Incorporating simple changes to your grooming, feeding and general interactions with your cat can be a low-pressure way to watch for any changes in your aging pet so your vet can provide geriatric care geared to your pet's needs.
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.
A lot of senior cats get heavy or even obese as they age, which can be controlled with diet and activity if the weight gain is non-medical. 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.
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.
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's activities, health, and personality, and any observations you may be able to offer, will serve as an important guide for your vet. These should be paired with regularly scheduled routine exams. Depending on your senior cat's age, lifestyle, health status, and a few other factors including any ongoing needs they may have in terms of medical conditions, your vet can tell you how often to come in for a visit and may recommend increasing the frequency of physical checkups.