Your little kitten is now a cat, and this adorable furball has become a big part of the family. A fact of life is aging, and understanding what it means to have a senior cat can help you care for your feline friend better and make her senior years as fun-filled and loving as possible.
When is my cat a senior?
Veterinarian Jeremy Grossbard says that both cats and dogs are considered "senior at seven," regardless of breed or size. This benchmark age is a means of guiding the care you give your cat, not a danger zone marker. He cautions against the stigma sometimes associated with being senior. "’Senior’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘geriatric.’ It does not mean your animal is dying." He compares it to being 50 to 55 years old as a human: "It’s just about that age when our bodies start to change. ‘Senior’ isn’t always the best word to use."
The biggest reason for recognizing this life transition is to ensure regular, thorough health exams and baseline bloodwork. "We may catch an early problem before it develops into something more serious and it gives us something to compare to in the future," he says.
Your cat may very well live for years and years past the popular "senior at seven" mark, but this is a helpful guideline to ensure your pet is getting the right kind of medical care and advice.
Even though the buzzwords say "senior at seven," there are many factors that can affect how your cat will age. Each cat is different, and there is no formula to accurately predict aging, but these four basic categories can help you understand your cat’s point in life.
Diet and Exercise
Healthy lifestyle choices for your pet are a special priority with cats. Obese and overweight animals are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, and increased joint pressure, which can lead to the development of arthritis. These diseases can shorten your pet’s life and decrease her quality of life.
Senior cat health issues like obesity are important to treat. Dr. Grossbard typically recommends a strict dry food diet with treats and snacks in moderation. He says, "In general, the more exercise, the better," and advises going to the vet to check out weight issues. You can feed your cat a healthy diet and encourage exercise with fun toys and regular playtime together, and by keeping an accessible, well-lit cat jungle gym.
Your cat’s feline family genetics are another thing to consider. If you bought your cat from a breeder, you may be able to get some information about her parents’, grandparents’, or previous offspring’s medical history. This can help your vet recommend preventative measures or diagnostic testing to catch issues early on and prevent health problems from occurring.
If you adopted your cat, a previously stressful or unhealthy lifestyle and past abuse is another thing to consider. Taxing life situations can accelerate aging. Another example of a commonly stressful life event is having a family member go to college, or household members go through a divorce or breakup. Your cat may feel abandoned, especially if she got lots of attention and playtime from the now-missing person. Pay attention to your cat’s signals and be available for loving playtime and snuggles to help decrease stress levels. Your vet may have additional recommendations.
Unlike dogs, Dr. Grossman says that a cat’s breed has little to no effect on its aging process. Perhaps it’s because cats have nine lives.
Still Your Feline Family Friend
The most important takeaway is that no matter your cat’s age, a loving family environment is always important. Be sure to stay on top of regular checkups and bloodwork and keep in touch with your vet about any aging concerns you have for your furry loved one.