A cat is considered elderly from around ten years of age, which would translate to 57 in human years. Ageing is a gradual process and one which the pet owner may not really see until one day they notice their cat seems to have suddenly become very old and very frail overnight.
Not all cats will age at the same rate, some may appear almost “kitten-like” well into the double digits, whereas others may slow down as early as middle age. There are many factors that will contribute to how quickly a cat ages such as genetics, activity level, quality of diet and health care and general living conditions.
There are a number of behavioural and physical changes that may occur as the cat becomes old. This may be the result of failing senses (poor sight and hearing), or sore joints making certain activities more difficult.
From middle age, the cat will slow down, and this will become progressively worse as the cat ages. They will spend more time sleeping and less time playing. They may no longer jump up onto high spots (tops of bookcases etc).
Common age-related problems your cat may experience include:
- Muscles shrink and lose strength and flexibility.
- The metabolic rate slows down, often making it more difficult to keep off excess weight
- Vital organs begin to lose their efficiency
- Bones lose calcium, which leads to weakening
- Hearing and vision also decline with age
- Skin is thinner and loses elasticity
- Hair becomes more sparse
- Joints stiffen
- Cognitive abilities decline
- Sleeping more
- May develop grey hairs around the muzzle
- Decreased tolerance to cold and hot
Age-related health disorders
- Feline diabetes occurs when the cells build up a resistance to insulin, a hormone necessary for glucose to enter the cells. As a result, glucose levels build up in the bloodstream.
Chronic kidney disease
A common disease seen in senior cats, there is no cure for chronic kidney disease but it can be managed through medication and diet.
- Osteoarthritis is a painful condition in which the shock-absorbing cartilage which cushions the joints wears down and is eventually lost.
- Dental disease becomes a greater problem in senior cats, which has a run-on effect of causing pain when your cat eats, therefore a senior cat may be reluctant to eat.
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- An endocrine (hormone) condition in which the force of the blood against the artery walls is too high, hypertension poses a serious risk to multiple body systems including eyes, kidneys, brain, arteries, and heart.
- As the cat ages, decreased activity in older cats can lead to weight gain which places added pressure on the joints.
- On the other hand, cats may have a decreased sense of taste and smell, plus older cats often have dental problems. Both of which can result in a reluctance to eat.
- A common condition in older cats caused by a benign tumour of the thyroid gland.
- Cats can develop cataracts in their senior years, although they are fairly uncommon. Degeneration of vision is a side effect often encountered in senior cats.
- Loss of hearing can develop in their senior years. This comes on gradually. Cats with loss of vision or hearing can still lead a full and happy life although adaptations will be necessary. Deaf or blind cats shouldn’t be permitted to roam outdoors unless they are in a harness or in an enclosure.
- As the cat ages, the chances of developing cancer increase.
- Older cats may lose their cognitive ability and can easily become confused.
- The liver is susceptible to tissue degeneration, plus a diminishing of the bile secretions and a tendency for scar tissue formation. These can all result in liver disease.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common heart problem in older cats and can lead to congestive heart failure. Feline hyperthyroidism is often associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
- Irritations and wounds are slower to heal due to a less efficient immune system.
- Senior cats may develop constipation with age often as a secondary complication of an underlying disorder.
- Claws become thickened, overgrown and more brittle with age and it may be necessary to regularly clip them.
- This may be the result of a loss of vision or hearing, also an older cat may lose some cognitive function which can cause increased vocalisation.
Ways to help
- Provide a warm and comfortable place to sleep.
- Feed them a diet specifically formulated for older cats. It is common for older cats to lose teeth if too many have been lost it may be difficult for them to eat hard food, speak to your veterinarian about a suitable diet to give your kitty if they have lost a lot of teeth.
- Take them to the vet for a checkup twice a year. Tests your vet may wish to perform may include a complete blood count, urinalysis, stool exam and other tests depending on your cat’s situation.
- If eyesight and hearing do begin to fail, provide your cat with a secure and constant environment. Don’t move furniture around, keep food bowls and litter trays in the same spot. Do not allow a cat with failing eyesight or hearing to roam outside.
- Be careful with young children.
- Give your cat lots of love and attention.
- Groom your cat regularly. This is a great way to spend time with your cat. As they age, joints may become stiffer making grooming more uncomfortable for your cat. Not only will most older cats appreciate you brushing them regularly, it is a good way to check over your cat for subtle changes such as lumps and bumps, weight loss etc. I have found that older cats tend to develop thicker and longer claws which sometimes grow into the paw pad (possibly due to decreased activity levels), so it is a good idea to check the claws and trim if necessary.