Changes in Older Cats – Contents:
I live with an old cat. Her name is Binnie, or Lushty (my girlfriend’s name) or Judds (don’t ask how she got that one).
She is 18 years old, estimated…because I found her as a young cat on the street in London.
I have seen her change physically. She now has black spots in the iris of her eyes. She has some gray hairs and her coat feels finer, more silky but it is less well kept by her as she can’t groom herself as well. She gets matts for the same reason and because she is overweight due to being less active. She is stiff limbed and moves slowly. She cannot jump up at all.
She is, though, still the same lady I love. She is a bit more grumpy, granted, but the same. Her tail still judders when she is pleased. I know a little bit about geriatric cat care.
Apparently 30% of cats in the USA are over 11 years of age1. Some experts consider cats beyond 7 years of age, geriatric! I would prefer to say that an old cat is over about 12 years of age.
I have already touched on these. In terms of how we can improve the quality of life of our cat in old age, the argument is that we can do nothing about the aging process but sometimes old age brings diseases that might be masked by old age. We should be aware of these as they can often be treated.
The usual physical changes are:
What to do to combat these by way of geriatic cat care?
Kidney failure is a typical old cat problem. Apparently most old cats develop it to some degree. The signs are increased urination and drinking.
Urinary tract disease can cause urination outside the litter. See Feline Kidney Disease. Diabetes mellitus is also more common in older cats3. Dietary changes can help in relievig symptoms. Foods for older cats are available that take into account the older cat’s functional changes. See Diabetic Cat Food for example.
Constipation is another common geriatric condition. Hairballs are more of a problem in older cats. See these pages for some potential geriatric cat problems:
Chronic diarrhea in older cats can be a sign of illness. It can be controlled if it is due to old age. See a vet about diet and medicine. See Treating Cat Diarrhea.
Abnormal discharges (blood and puss) can signal:
Teeth decay and gum disease go with the territory of being geriatric. Inspection and action is the mantra. Cats with poor dental care resulting in mouth pain will be poor eaters and may drool. See Dental Gel for Cats.
Weight loss or gain requires geriatric cat care. Weight loss should be a concern as it may be due to a serious illness or loss of smell. A vet check is called for.
Weight gain is a “complicating factor in heart disease, arthritis and kidney disease…”. Dietary habits and exercise are called for.
A pot belly may not be due to excess weight but a build up of fluid in the belly. The cat may have heart, kidney or liver disease with ascites (an accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity). A veterinary examination is required.
See Feline hyperthyroidism – more common in the older cat.
An old cat’s daily energy requirments are 20% less than normal3. Older cats have “decresed digestive ability”. They can compensate for this by eating more. Weight monitoring is important for older cats.
As expected elderly cats are less energetic and curious than younger cats. They might look for warm areas. My lady is very “static” in her old age. She basically eats and sleeps with some love and play in between.
My old lady is also slightly irritable and cranky. She also makes loud impatient demands rather than asking nicely but I don’t mind.
If he or she becomes sidelined or a little forgotten because of age he may become withdrawn and start to show signs of OCD, (obsessive compulsive disorder) behavior that is demonstrated in over grooming or elimination in the wrong place.
The basic answer is to play with your cat and supervise some outside activities and get involved with him or her. Plenty of grooming helps to.
I think a cat that is withdrawn and old should be allowed to go out and take some risks in her or his old age. Genuinely old cats hardly roam so outdoor life if supervised is relatively risk free. This might rejuvinate her. Behavioral changes due to old age that do not respond to natural remedies can be treated as a last resort with drugs. These are to be avoided in my view unless absolutely necessary.
1. Goldston RT Introdustion and overview of geriatrics as referred to in The Cat, Its behavior, Nutrition & Health by Linda P Case.
2. Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin.
3. The Cat, Its behavior, Nutrition & Health by Linda P Case page 338.
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