My Old Friend: Assisting Your Senior Cat

How old is your cat in human years? The Old Farmer’s Almanac calculator may surprise you. Thanks to improved diets and medical technology, cats who used to be considered old at age 8 can now live as long as 20+ years. 

The best way to improve your cat’s chances of living long is to catch the signs of aging early. Whenever your cat begins to lose interest in playing, sleeps a lot more, or has difficulty climbing, it’s time to start adapting to help her through her golden years. 

Start with a comprehensive vet exam with a blood panel to set benchmarks for evaluating decline, and devise a plan for counteracting it over the next few years. 

Cats are notorious for hiding pain and illness, so cat parents learn to become more vigilant to changes in eating, drinking, weight loss, activities or attitude. A suddenly grouchy personality, or hiding away are signs that something is wrong. Weight loss is a strong indicator of problems as well.

Older cats become dehydrated from kidney issues. Place water bowls throughout the house to encourage more drinking. Change to low-step litter boxes in several places in the home, including each floor, to help with bowel and bladder issues. Also, become more aware of  kitty’s output, which are details your vet can use to build a picture of overall health.

Your cat will experience a slowdown in circulation and mobility. Provide lots of warm blankets, sunny places, a cushioned pet bed, and perhaps pet stairs or makeshift methods for racing to the sofa, bed or window perch. Encourage short prowls, climbs or play times to keep her mobile. Introduce a new toy or open a cabinet to encourage curiosity. Help her back and neck arthritis problems by elevating food and water bowls closer to face height so your kitty won’t have to bend over to eat. You can purchase elevated bowl sets, or fold up a towel to the desired height.

Loss of smell and taste comes with old age, so it may be more difficult to coax your cat to eat. Add a stronger smell to the plate, such as fish oil for cats, or vet-recommended appetite stimulators. Feed her wherever she feels most comfortable. Whisker fatigue occurs when cats’ sensitive whiskers become irritated by the feeding bowl as they take longer to eat. It is more comfortable for older cats to eat out of a low, wide bowl.

Your cat will be less flexible to groom herself, and less likely to use a scratching post. Brush her regularly and keep her claws trimmed, because the curved nails can grow into the paw pads if left untreated. As you brush, check for lumps, sores that won’t heal, or unusual breathing, all of which could indicate problems requiring a vet visit.

Her vision will decline, so install night lights throughout the house, or keep lights on in key areas. 

If your cat becomes blind, keep the furniture and litter box in the same positions, and install screening across any open stairs or balcony railing to keep her from falling. Speak to her often, especially before touching her, so she will not be frightened. Even though she can smell you nearby, your voice is comforting. 

If your cat becomes deaf, know that she is already familiar with your gestures and facial expressions. You can still communicate easily. However, she will depend on you to help her be aware of what is happening around her.

As your furry friend continues to age, playfulness will be replaced by wanting to be held more, spending much more time just being with you, where she feels safe. Encourage her to walk around a little at a time, to stay limber. Pick her up and take her to look outside if she can no longer reach a window without help. Give her plenty of sunlight for daytime naps. Let her know how very special she is, and that you are paying attention to her. As our pets age and become more dependent, the bond we have with them becomes even stronger.

Heron’s Crossing provides end-of-life care for pets in the Metro Atlanta area. In-home appointments with compassionate vets are available. If you’d prefer a home-like setting away from your home, our Decatur office is also available by appointment.