As we age, our personalities mature, we (usually) get better at following the rules, and we don’t play with toys quite as much. Our beloved furry friends are much the same that way. Learning about your cat’s behavior changes in its senior years can help you understand what is normal for your pet.
Behavior Changes Due to Aging
Veterinarian Jeremy Grossbard says the number one thing to remember is that "age is not a disease." You don’t need to treat your cat’s every sign of aging, but rather understand the process and understand his behavior.
General "slowing down"
Getting older and settling into a more relaxed pace of life is absolutely normal. Kittens are bursting with energy and playfulness, but as your cat enters her senior years, this may slowly change. Your cat may play with toys less frequently and with less intensity. Grossbard doesn’t recommend pestering your cat with toys in an attempt to make her more playful, since this could just be aggravating. His advice? "Spend time with them." It’s the most important aspect of your relationship.
While naptime has always been a big part of your feline family member’s life, this may be even more so the case with age. With a cuddly cat, this can be a great opportunity for snuggling and bonding time together. It’s important to let your cat get the rest it needs.
If you do notice sudden changes in your cat’s behavior, go to the vet right away. This can be indicative of major health problems, including neurological issues, internal bleeding, or a host of other causes. Any significant or rapid onset of behavioral change is worthy of concern.
Vision and hearing loss
It’s normal for all cats to experience a certain degree of vision and hearing loss over time, the same way humans do. This can affect your cat’s behavior as well. Perhaps your cat will be more easily startled or be less inclined to play in dark places. If you can make adjustments, like keeping the stairwell lit or moving the cat jungle gym into a more central location, your cat may feel more comfortable.
Cataracts are more serious and make your cat’s vision cloudy. A vet eye specialist can perform surgery to remove cataracts or prescribe eye drops to help improve vision. If your cat starts running into things or seems afraid to move, go to the vet immediately.
Common Ailments that Affect Behavior
While there are many different senior cat health issues that can affect the way your pet behaves, there are two major categories that are important to call out.
Grossbard explains that some level of dementia will affect almost all pets. This can affect their daily habits, meaning they may sleep more during the day and pace more at night. Your cat might stare into space, unaware of her surroundings, while crying and acting nervous. A change in eating patterns or loss of housebreaking can also be associated with dementia.
While dementia cannot be reversed, your vet may recommend medications or dietary supplements to slow the progression. Talk with your vet about the best treatment options for your cat, and go in immediately with any sudden changes.
Some joint stiffness is normal as cats get older. It may take your pet a while to limber up after lying down, or she may slightly miss her target when jumping. This is normal, but pain is not.
Pets are instinctively guarded about showing signs of pain. Grossbard says, "In the wild, dogs and cats don’t act like they are painful because that puts up a big neon sign that tells a predator, ‘Hey, come eat me.’ Our pets may be instinctually preprogrammed to not show off their pain."
Some cats may turn stoic, others may paw or lick without stopping, some won’t eat, and yet others will cry. If you think your pet is in pain, go to the vet immediately.