Do Senior Cats Have Special Needs? Living with Elderly Cats

two oriental shorthair cats

Dr. Hush Puppy and Sir Hubble Pinkerton enjoying an afternoon siesta. Photo by Jo

Lately it seems that it’s been getting a lot more difficult for me to grasp the fact that it’s been almost fourteen years since we welcomed Dr. Hush Puppy and Sir Hubble Pinkerton, our two amazing, beautiful four month-old Oriental Shorthair kittens into our family. It often feels that it was just yesterday that we were blessed by the love of two such affectionate and delightful kitties.

However when the reality sets in that Dr. Hush Puppy had already turned fourteen this past January and Sir Hubble will be fourteen this coming October, I am forced to face the sobering truth that both of our cats are senior “catizens”; starting to show various signs of age-related physical changes, commonly associated with growing older.

Perhaps it’s just my denial system working overtime, or anticipatory grief setting in, but over the past two weeks, I catch myself wishing deeply that both of them were still kittens; those healthy, young and playful felines who were constantly full of themselves and experts at dreaming up some highly unique creative methods to get into mischief. There was never a dull moment in our home; especially when the boys decided it was time to watch our reactions to their comical behaviour, and perhaps even delight in the fact that their antics struck “pay dirt” when they saw us pulling out our hair while they wreaked a bit of havoc around the house. I know that there’s no going back- they will never be kittens again. But at times that still doesn’t dispel my melancholy.

But, on the other paw, the heartening news that over the past decade the number of cats living well over the age of six has nearly doubled is certainly comforting to me. Being able to give our kitties an opportunity to have a longer life expectancy is certainly good news for all kitty guardians. By providing our cats with the highest and healthiest quality of life, feline old-age doesn’t have to result in premature death. While many of the physical and emotional conditions that often affect older cats cannot be corrected, fortunately today, many of them can be controlled.

What physical and emotional changes can we expect in our ageing kitties?

The immune system in older cats is weaker than that of younger kitties, making it less effective in fighting off disease. Additionally, cats with chronic illnesses common in cats as they age can further stress their immune system. Older cats often tend to groom themselves less frequently, which may result in inflammation, skin odor, and matted hair. Older cats tend to become dehydrated as a result of several conditions found in elderly kitties which causes poor blood circulation; leaving them open to infection.

As cats age their skin becomes less elastic and thinner. Nails can become thicker and more brittle. Impairment in both hearing and eyesight can cause some cats to vocalize incessantly and loudly. Aging cats may lose interest in playtime, avoid social interaction, become confused and disoriented, and litter box habits may drastically change. Arthritis, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure (usually the result of hyperthyroidism or kidney failure), dental disease, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer are all conditions to which elderly cats are at risk.

Therefore it is crucial for elderly cats to receive semi-annual wellness exams in order for a prompt diagnosis of any underlying medical/psychological conditions can be made. Any necessary dietary and exercise changes can also be initiated. Regular follow-up veterinary care is also essential so that the health of our beloved senior “catizens” can be monitored. By paying close attention to both the physical and emotional needs of our senior cats, we help to ensure them a higher quality of life for their remaining years they have with us.

What other suggestions can you make to make to enrich the lives of our elderly cats? Share them in a comment.


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Do Senior Cats Have Special Needs? Living with Elderly Cats — 34 Comments

  1. Thanks for this Jo. For me looking after a geriatric cat is a bit like being a carer for a person – for example, a daughter looking after her elderly mother who may have dementia or something like that. There is a greater element of care in the sense of nursing care.

    It depends on the age and health of the cat of course but the older and more infirm a cat becomes the more concern one has. Perhaps we have to be more observant. In fact the good cat caretaker naturally becomes more observant, watching for slight changes in behavior, poop! and appearance etc.

  2. My dear neighbor Shirley had the pleasure of a ginger longhaired girl named Whistle and her offspring Patches. Whistle died at 24 and Patches at 23. I was amazed they led such long lives.

  3. I tend to mostly forget that both our boyz are almost 13 years old because they are still very healthy and playful. But then sometimes it hits me that the years have flown by and seem to fly even quicker the older I get.
    There’s nothing we can do to stop the dreaded days drawing closer except to ensure that our cats have the best food, the best care and to spend lots of quality time with them. We must treasure every moment because we can never have those moments back.

    • Sealy and Gizzy are senior cats and we pretty well knew that. The surprise was learning Coral is also a lot older than the shelter said. Vet said she’s at least 10. She had to have her teeth scaled and we learned it then.

  4. This has definitely helped at this time, as my Smokey cat is starting to get older at 7 years old. He seems in good health so far. I’m mindful, to not go down the same path as Cassy. Its good to be more aware of things when cats get older so will definitely be interested what others think

      • Thanks Ruth. I was just looking for a chart like this. When Michael talked about adopting Charlie after his mother died, five years ago…I realized I’ve had Bigfoot for six. (I remember when he adopted Charlie so clearly). Bigfoot was already an adult cat of probably 13 or more years. It makes sense he is behaving like a geriatric cat. Given his health issues as well, this is his time to be treated with kid gloves, gentleness and understanding. He is doing well all thing considering he is in his eighties. Yikes.

  5. GREAT Chart and thanks for adding that, Ruth. According to the chart I am still a few years older than the boyz, but we are almost the same age.

    I sure wish that there was a Medicat program:) Since many of our kitties that own us are certainly eligible.

  6. We live in a home of senior cats. The oldest is 18 yrs and the youngest is 9 years old as of this August. Miss Mouse just had thyroid surgery and the age of 16 yrs.
    I keep a journal on the cats. Each day after observing them in their daily routines I keep track of anything I see. It is very helpful to myself and the vet. Our oldest cat, Whiskers, died this spring. She was 26 years old. She had many senior issues but none that were bad. Mostly she was deaf and had to be encouraged to eat and drink. Her eye sight was starting to get bad too. One thing we have done is to make sure we have low sided pans for the older cats. It makes it easier to get in and out and solved a temporary problem with not using the pan.
    Thanks for a great article. Lots of good information.

    • Your seniors are well taken care of. I can tell.
      The low litter pans are very necessary. I, also, had my son-in-law build a few very low feeding stools so some of mine don’t have to bend over so much to eat. They’re working well, and the 3 seniors I have eat much better now.

      • The low sided pan is a good idea I hadn’t thought of yet. I’ll get on it. Thanks for that Iniki and Dee. I fashioned a study cardboard box for feeding and I honestly think it helped encourage old Bigfoot to eat longer, and bigger meals. (Can I borrow your son-in-law?)

        I have to say, I enjoy very much having the contrast of both the aged cat who needs loving attention, and young Marvin who is a rascal full of energy (who also needs loving attention!). It keeps life interesting.

  7. So my Mz Kitty’s now 18 which means she’s 88, still active goes outside during the day, sleeps on the back or front porches, still eats dry food with a little wet and kitty treats and has always weighed 25Lbs since she came to live with us at 6 yrs old in ’02. Tigg will be 14 (72) Sept 16th goes outside, plays with Mz Kitty, rolls in the dirt/grass and is about half MK’s weight. Gidget is soon to be 8 and smaller, fluffier than the other two so our middle aged cat she’s also agressive to the other two. Hoping for a long life.

  8. Wow! Thanks for a great article, Jo. And Ruth, your poster was very informative. Our home is blessed with seven kitties ranging in age from 6 years to 18 years. I notice the older ones like quieter settings, so we have set up baby gates with cat sized holes cut in them so the elderly cats can have “dog free” areas for them to sleep peacefully. I also watch them like a hawk for any changes in behavior or eating habits. They go to the vet at least twice a year and have blood work done to monitor renal, thyroid, and liver function. I have also invested in water fountains as I have found that especially the older cats are much more willing to drink from them rather than the bowls.

  9. If my boys are 64 they are aging way better than I am! They act like cat children, not old men.

  10. Great article and many insightful posts here! Ruth’s chart is helpful and informative, too. Maybe I’ve had a different sort of life from many here, as I have always had friends and relatives of all ages, and that applies to cats as well, so I just tend to think of everything in life as fairly normal, and deal with it as it comes. My beloved feline family now ranges in age from the eldest “kitten” at 19 years young — and yes, he still plays with toys and acts quite kittenish at times — to the “baby” of 9. Keeping everyone healthy and happy is Priority 1, so I keep a variety of water bowls filled fresh daily, plus the fountain, and I feed top-quality foods. The fact that we are a multicat family in a fairly large house means everyone gets exercise, too. It seems to work!

  11. I had to be sure that the younger cats didn’t bother Tiggy when she had her heart condition and I thought a lot about when she would have to leave us. I think I made quite a fuss of her as she did seem weak towards the end.I think I was grieving for a while before and when it happened of a sudden it was a relief although very upsetting but she was 14 though I know some live a lot longer !!

    • I was so happy you wrote about “pre-grieving” for Tiggy. I’ve done that a few times too.
      When I knew the inevitable was just around the corner, my grieving process began.

  12. My cat in Canada was born in 2000 – so 14. She had 3 bladder infections in 2013 – she has kidney problems. She’s far away from me but I make sure she gets check ups regularly – infact if I hadn’t told her caretaker to start doing blood work she wouldn’t have caught the kidney issues and things would have gotten much worse very quickly. But as it stands it was caught in the very early stages, her diet was changed and now I am just hoping she will live another 6 or 7 years. She was my first cat – she chose me actually, and made me a cat person. She is really starting to look old too – here she is recently – it makes me sad to see her like that.

  13. My Shakti is a long-haired cat like Marc’s. At 15 or 16 she’s starting to show signs of age: she’s blind in one eye,and she doesn’t groom herself as well as she used to. She also yowls at dawn, which she never used to do, and she seems less tolerant of petting…or could it be that I’m petting her more? …according to Ruth’s chart, I’m not much younger than she is. But she still pounces like a kitten if presented with a string or a shoelace!

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