Guinness World Records lists a Texas cat named Crème Puff as the oldest cat ever, reported to have lived to the age of 38. As of 2018, the oldest living cat was a 30-year-old orange and white male named Rubble, who lived with his owner in Great Britain.
Clearly, cats are living longer lives. And once a cat reaches the age of 15, she’s considered geriatric by veterinary standards, and her care requirements reflect her advanced age.
Up the checkups
A geriatric cat’s physical health differs from that of her younger counterparts, and your vet will help you provide the best possible care for your pet. Most vets want to see these older animals for health checks every six months instead of every year to make sure the cat doesn’t quickly deteriorate.
“The main focus of geriatric health care is owner education and the early detection and prevention of disease,” says Arnold Plotnick, DVM. “It is important to realize that aging itself is not a disease; it is simply a stage of life. Increasing age causes a gradual decline in the body’s ability to repair itself, maintain normal body functions and adapt to the stresses and changes in the environment.”
A typical checkup for your geriatric pet will likely include a complete physical examination, a blood test to check white blood cell counts and thyroid activity (among other things), and a urinalysis. Your vet may also want to perform a fecal exam. The goal of all the tests is to verify the cat’s good health and hopefully detect any potential problems early. As Dr. Plotnick points out, a geriatric cat’s body is less able to fight off illness.
If your pet has an existing condition, your vet may also want to continue monitoring his health through other procedures such as X-rays, EKG tests or ultrasounds. Your vet will also encourage you to keep up with dental care and may offer recommendations for cat foods appropriate to your cat’s age and health.
Tweak the diet
For a geriatric cat, proper nutrition becomes even more important. “Every nutrient counts!” says Pam Johnson-Bennett, a certified cat behaviorist. She recommends that owners of geriatric cats consult their vets to ensure the current cat food continues to meet the pet’s needs, and to make any necessary tweaks to raw or homemade diets.
And while you may want to tempt your geriatric cat to eat more to keep up her strength, Pam cautions that you don’t want your cat to gain too much weight. “Obesity isn’t healthy for a cat at any age but for an older kitty,those added pounds put extra stress on joints which can be very painful if arthritis is present,” she says. “Obesity can also increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.”
Watch for behavior changes
At your cat’s checkup, be sure to tell your vet about any unusual behaviors your cat has shown. You know your pet best, and you likely know when she’s not behaving normally. Sometimes these changes in behavior are related to a health issue, but as your cat ages, they may be related to her advanced years. Your vet can help you cope with these changes.
“Understanding the aging process and the most common problems that face the geriatric cat is the first step in providing the best possible care to geriatric patients,” Dr. Plotnick says.
Pam agrees. “Aging isn’t easy for anyone — human, cat or dog,” she says. “As your cat ages, she may develop poor aim when in the litter box, she may become less tolerant of things she used to accept willingly, she may not have the best table manners when eating, she may not groom herself to perfection, and she may not want to give up her side of the bed in order to make room for you.”
To help your cat cope with her changing abilities that come with her advanced age, Pam recommends the following:
- Offer her a heated bed to help with sore or stiff joints. Make sure she is mobile enough to walk away from it if she gets too warm. You don’t want her to overheat.
- Replace your cat’s litter box with a low-sided version to make it easier for her to get in and out of the box.
- Place additional litter boxes near your cat’s favorite spots. Her advanced age may affect her bladder control.
- Make playtime a priority. Regular activity will help keep her joints lubricated and muscles toned.
- Gently brush her every day. This will help distribute oils throughout her coat and will allow you to examine her for any changes in her skin.
Most of all, be patient with your pet. “Help her with the things you can, and be tolerant of the things you can’t change,” Pam says. “With your help, your cat can have a wonderful and comfortable life as a senior citizen.”