Building a better future for all Earth's inhabitants and habitats
Cats hit seniority at around 12 years of age. The ageing effect on their physiology tends to be broadly the same across all sizes and breeds, although some may be more or less susceptible to arthritis and joint pain, which is dependent on both hereditary issues within certain breeds as well as the weight of the individual cat.
Generally, a senior cat will show signs of habituating less quickly to changes in her environment, showing a marked preference for routine. However, this does not mean that life needs to become boring. Both physical and mental stimulation are vital to abate some of the more negative effects of ageing. Simply be aware that geriatric cats don’t respond well to change, so introduce alterations to their daily regime gradually to give them time to adapt to those changes.
Individual cats will express the effects of ageing to varying degrees, and so it is important to consider each cat’s requirements for caloric intake, exercise, and comfort based on their personal circumstances. A lot of this will have been determined by the amount of exercise and the quality and quantity of their diet through their earlier years.
As has been noted, while the ageing effect on a cat’s physiology tends to be the same across all breeds, individual cats may express these effects earlier or later, or at different rates, depending on their fitness, health, and their nutritional intake throughout their formative years. It is therefore important to assess each cat based on their individual circumstance.
Typical indicators of an ageing cat include:
As in humans, the onset of ageing can lead to cognitive decline in elderly cats. The term Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, or CDS, relates to a range of clinical signs and behaviours that are neurological in origin. It is therefore important to check with your vet that symptoms are indeed related to a mental issue rather than to a physical one, such as arthritis, cancer, kidney or liver issues, or sensory degradation.
Behavioural changes may include: Aimless wandering, increased anxiety, a lower threshold for irritability and aggression, disorientation, increased vocalisation, loss of litter tray training, disruption of normal sleeping patterns, and decreased interactions with owner and other familiar pets.
There may be gradual signs of memory loss and a decline in learning or being able to adapt quickly to changes in their surroundings. But it is worth bearing in mind that, as with senility in humans, cats are more likely to retain their early memories, even though they may not be able to preserve their later ones, so their broad familiarity of people and places from throughout their lives will remain. If your cat did not get on with the dog from next door, chances are that won’t change!
Consult with your vet as to the best course of managing the condition, but the general rule of thumb would be to stimulate your cat’s mind while not adding to their anxiety or distress. Exercising their visual and auditory senses will also help delay their deterioration. It is important to note, though, that enriching your cat’s environment is not the same as changing it. Keep to a strict routine of feeding and exercise, and try not to further disrupt their sleep-wake cycle by having lights on in their sleeping area when it is time for them to bed down. Be understanding of any inappropriate toileting, and help them to succeed by making their food and water bowls, as well as their litter tray, more accessible to them.
When it comes to feeding, if your senior cat appears to become more fussy than usual, it’s not necessarily that she has simply become a grumpy old feline. She still might be that, but there may be a few other issues at work, as well.
A cat’s sense of taste diminishes with age, and so what may have tasted palatable before may now no longer hold any interest for her. Joint and dental pain may also make eating no longer a pleasure but a source of pain. All of these can lead to a decreased intake and a loss in weight.
By placing their food and water bowls where it is more easily accessible, thereby reducing their need to jump up or climb to get to it, and by mixing some wet food in with their kibble, or even moistening their dry food with some warm water, you can help bring out the food’s flavour and reduce the stress on their joints.
Elderly cats may have reduced daily energy needs, depending on their activity level, and therefore should possibly be consuming less calories than they used to. Their metabolic rate will have also declined, and so too their body’s ability to absorb all the nutrients. Ensure proper portion control if you are free-feeding, or if not, by moving from two meals to three smaller meals a day, you can improve nutrient intake and reduce any feeling of hunger between meals, which you may have dealt with otherwise by providing unnutritious treats.
It’s not only the quantity that you feed but the quality of the foodstuff, as well, that is important. As previously mentioned, a cat’s ability to absorb nutrients diminishes with age, and so you want to feed high quality ingredients to your elderly cat. Geriatric cats may, in fact, benefit from a slight increase in high quality proteins, so ensure that the food you provide has a high quality protein source. Avoid food that states that their primary protein source comes from meat derivatives or animal by-product. Similarly, avoid feeding too much fish that is packed in oil, such as sardines and tuna, as these oils contain high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and overconsumption can lead to an increased risk of pansteatitis and vitamin E deficiency.
Special diets and supplements are available for senior cats that suffer from joint issues, as well as heart and kidney problems. Consult with your vet or a feline nutritionist as to what feeding regime is best for your mature moggie.
Crucially, remember to always have fresh water readily available. Monitor their daily intake, and remember that those senior cats that drink more regularly will invariably need to urinate more frequently, so be sure that their litter tray is kept clean and is easily accessible.
As a cat grows older, her ability to self-maintain is greatly reduced. Not only are her claws more likely to grow, no longer being worn down naturally because of reduced exercise, but she may also have problems cleaning extreme areas of her body, owing to arthritis or general stiffness.
It is therefore vital that owners of elderly cats be more vigilant and proactive when it comes to their pet’s ablutionary needs, brushing them regularly to remove dead hair, checking their ears for waxy buildup, trimming their claws, and brushing their gums and teeth.
Dental hygiene is incredibly important for senior cats, as the buildup of calculus and the onset of periodontal disease can make it painful to chew, resulting in decreased food intake. It may already prove an uphill battle to get your elderly cat to eat, owing to the reduced palatability of her food, so adding dental disease to the mix may prove disastrous to your pet’s health.
With regular grooming, you will also be able to feel for any lumps or bumps that might appear. Early detection means that your pet will stand a better chance of recovery should they prove to be malignant or cancerous.
Elderly cats will tend to sleep and rest more often, and as they become even more predisposed to maintaining their routine, it is important that those nesting spots and perches to which they have become accustomed continue to be within paw reach, even though their motility may have declined. It is therefore important that you familiarise yourself with your cat’s favourite basking spots and try to ensure that they remain accessible, be it through the addition of ramps or repositioning of furniture. Failing that, alternative spots will need to be secured by providing additional cat beds and cozy spots nearer to ground level. Be sure to introduce any changes gradually to allow your cat sufficient time to adapt to alterations to her environment.
Try to encourage activity through play and social interaction, especially in the garden, but do so only according to your cat’s ability and health status. Exercising your cat in this way not only provides her with mental stimulation but also enhances her circulation, as well as helps to maintain muscle tone.
Be aware that your cat will need to toilet more frequently, so provide easy access to the litter tray, and ensure that it is regularly cleaned out and replenished with fresh litter. As your cat ages, she may show less desire to wander outside, and so additional trays may be required inside the home.
Your cat has been your companion for many years, and you would want to reward her for that love and friendship by providing her with a safe, age-friendly home.