Nine Ways to Ensure Your Senior Cat is Happy and Healthy
It's said that old friends are the best friends, and that's especially true of feline friends. The older our cats get, the more they get under our skin, endearing us with a sweetness that only gets better with age. But when they reach old age (at about ten years) that's when our felines need us to make a few simple adjustments - and take some important precautions - for their enhanced comfort.
"As cats age, they naturally slow down, sleep more, and might even eat less," explains Dr. Andrew Kaplan, founder of The Toby Project. "It's important not to mistake signs of aging with evidence of illness - especially if the symptoms are not associated with your cat feeling poorly. Elderly cats need to be examined every 6 months, where both examination and blood testing can help uncover common, insidious problems." In between vet visits, Catsters, here are some simple things you can do to keep Fluffy in the pink of health.
1. Fun and games - Exercise is more important than ever as cats (and people) age, so don't slow down on the fun stuff that keeps Kitty active and amused. Cat teasers and catnip toys should be getting extra play as Kitty ages! If you and Kitty enjoy playing with a laser pointer, however, take extra care not to shine that strong light directly into her aging eyes.
2. Acquired tastes - If you notice your cat has developed a strange new habit, take note - it could work out to her (and your) benefit! For instance, one of my cats recently started voraciously nibbling at a bar of soap made from coconut oil. I thought this was odd, until I remembered that coconut oil has amazing health benefits for companion animals (which is why I treat my dogs to it every day). Now, I provide my cats with their own loving spoonful of coconut oil every day - they love it, and it's good for them. Cats will prove that it's never too late to teach an old human new tricks!
3. Group dynamic - If there are younger pets in the home, especially boisterous dogs, provide Kitty with a shelf or other perch that's high enough to be out of the younguns' reach - yet easily accessible. This way, en elderly cat won't feel stressed out that she'll get accidentally roughed up with younger, bigger pets play rough. I installed a series of four cat shelves on my wall that were simple to fabricate (readymade cat shelves are also widely available), so my cats can always take a "time out" from my dogs.
4. Sleeping beauty - You may notice senior cats snoozing more frequently than they did in their younger days. That's OK - provide them with an extra bed or two around your home, to accommodate their increased need to catch ZZZ's. And if you notice that the kitty who once used to doze off on your bed no longer joins you in the sack, pull a chair or stool up to the bed, to make it easier for her to jump up and gain access to the mattress.
5. The belly of the beast - "Weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea - alone or in combination - can indicate advanced inflammatory bowel disease or low grade intestinal lymphoma," Kaplan adds. Although the latter is a scary diagnosis, it's certainly trreatable; many cats bounce back from these illnesses and thrive, leading happy lives!
6. Hunger artist - One very common senior-cat disease is hyperthyroidism. "This is accompanied by increase in appetite in conjunction with weight loss," Kaplan explains. Just because Kitty is demanding multiple extra meals and between-meal snacks does not mean you should indulge her! Instead, bring her to the vet for a checkup; if caught early, simple-to-administer medication can quickly help improve Kitty's thyroid function, extending and improving her quality of life.
7. Drinking problem - When cats start drinking lots of water, it could mean a decline in kidney function, cancer, thyroid disease, or diabetes - all common ailments that affect older cats (and all very easily treated). You may not notice an increase in thirst, but here's something to be on the lookout for: "A cat that's hanging out by the water bowl looking kind of dazed - that's a warning sign," says Dr. Elizabeth Higgins of the Humane Society of New York.
8. Just breathe - One warning sign that you'll need to take a senior cat to the vet is so subtle, it takes a practiced eye to observe: A change in Kitty's breathing. "Cats suffering from lung illness will display labored breathing, like they're really working hard to take each breath, or breathing from their belly," Higgins points out. "They don't cough like dogs do - that's part of their feline survival instinct - so it can be tough to tell."
9. The skinny on thin - Diminished appetite is frequently an indicator that something is seriously wrong. "Sometimes you'll notice a cat go to its food, take a sniff, then turn away without eating," says Dr. Elizabeth Higgins of the Humane Society of New York. If Fluffy appears to have little or no appetite, or a once-pleasingly-p'slump cat starts looking svelte, then downright skinny, run - don't walk - to a vet. It could mean s/he is in the early stages of cancer or liver disease, but both are very treatable.