Cats are living longer than ever.
The average life span of a cat ranges from 14 to 16 years although some cats have been known to live into their 20s.
But cats are like people. Each is unique and not all of them age at the same rate.
Your cat may begin to experience changes in his body and behavior as early as 7 years of age but as late as 10. Most do experience change by age 12.
The Physical Changes Of The Aging Cat
Your cat will experience physiological changes as he ages just as you will. The changes in your cat's internal organs and body systems will occur without you being aware of them.
- The first visible signs of aging you may notice is that your cat's skin sags as it loses elasticity, just like in older people.
- His muscles will begin to atrophy resulting in weight loss.
- Tooth loss is common in the older cat.
- The older cat's eyesight may decline.
- The cat may lose some or all of his ability to hear resulting in unresponsiveness to your call or meowing more loudly.
- More susceptible to disease and infection
Changes in your cat's behavior will also naturally occur as he ages.
- Sleeping More: Cats routinely sleep between 16 to 18 hours per day. Cats over 10 years old will often sleep up to 21 hours a day.
- Self-Grooming Decreases: If the older cat finds bending or moving is more difficult due to arthritis or similar conditions, it will stop grooming its coat.
- Resist Being Petted: The older cat may object to being petted or picked up because it hurts if its joints or muscles are stiff.
- Aggression Towards Other Pets: If the aging cat cannot move easily or defend itself, it may hiss or growl at other family pets that it used to get along with.
- Increased Neediness: If the older cat has lost some of its sensory perception, it may become more clingy towards its owner because it sees the owner as a stabilizing influence in its daily life.
- Picky Eater: If the cat has lost some of his teeth, he may no longer be able to chew his regular food. If your cat cannot smell or taste as well, he may not enjoy his food and so will also appear finicky at feeding time.
- Mobility Problems: The older cat may have difficulty jumping up to favorite places such as the window sill, cat tree, sofa or its owner's bed.
- Increased Thirst: The cat may drink more, often a sign of kidney problems.
- Inappropriate Urination & Inappropriate Defecation: Litter box problems may begin.
Signs of illness may show up first in your cat's litter box,
so monitor his use of the box daily to detect problems early.
Behavioral changes in the aging cat can usually be traced to a physical problem. If, however, the older cat actually undergoes a change in personality, it may be due to a mental change. Although it is uncommon, a cat may suffer from memory loss or dementia. Signs of dementia include:
- The cat appears forgetful.
- The cat paces or wanders from room to room as if he is disoriented.
- The cat meows repeatedly for no apparent reason.
Visit the veterinarian to determine if the changes are simply behavioral or the onset of health problems.
Special Care For The Aging Cat
Most cats age gracefully, but your cat will depend on you to make his senior years as enjoyable as his youth.
Old age is not an illness, but your cat's old age will require special consideration from you to make it enjoyable. Most problems can be managed, and your cat will likely have a good prognosis for a long, happy life.
Tips For Caring For the Senior Cat:
- Adjust the diet, substituting softer food that is easier to chew.
- Make the litter box more accessible — closer to where the cat generally hangs out. Mobility problems may prevent he aging cat from descending the basement stairs to get to the box or getting into the box, so you may have to place the box in a more accessible location or find one with lower sides.
- Various illnesses such as diabetes or kidney problems may cause your cat to urinate more often which requires that you clean the box more frequently than before.
- If the cat has difficulty jumping up to places he likes to go, provide a ramp or steps.
- If your geriatric cat appears to want more attention, give it more attention.
- If your aging cat wants to spend more time alone, allow more quiet time by itself.
- Groom the cat more to help maintain a clean, soft coat. If your cat resists being combed or brushed due to decrease in muscle mass or skin elasticity, use a soft-bristled brush or grooming glove. Pet wipes will help keep his coat clean.
- In spite of mobility problems, it will be important for your cat to continue to exercise. Continue interactive play sessions, but increase their frequency and reduce the time length of each one. For example, if you played twice a day for 20 minutes, play four times a day for 5 or 10. If your cat exhibits panting or labored breathing, stop the play. Have him examined by a veterinarian for a potential heart condition. If your cat does not see as well, roll a ball with a bell for him to chase. If your cat enjoys catnip, provide catnip toys for him to kick and toss whenever the spirit moves him.
- If your cat uses his scratching post less often, clip his nails to keep them from becoming ingrown.
Stress can weaken your cat's immune system and make him more susceptible to disease.