With better cat care, medical advances that enhance a cat’s life and foods formulated to meet a cat’s special dietary needs, more and more of our feline friends are living to age 10 and beyond, entering what are known as the senior years for cats. And just like with humans, senior cats need adjustments in their activity levels, diets, grooming routines and doctor’s visits. Here’s how you can help your 10-year-old cat live comfortably.
“Cats become more fragile as they age, and senior cats can decline quickly if issues aren’t addressed quickly,” says Arnold Plotnick, MS, DVM. To prevent that type of decline, he recommends that senior cats see a veterinarian once a year for a checkup, and more frequently if you notice a change in behavior or suspect any type of medical issue.
This annual senior checkup may include blood work to check for anemia or other underlying medical issues, along with a complete examination of your cat’s physical body. Your veterinarian may ask questions about your cat’s behavior to help pinpoint other medical conditions, Dr. Plotnick says.
“[These] specific questions may uncover problems that an owner may simply attribute to ‘old age’ and just something that they will have to live with,” he explains. “Very often these are signs of underlying disease and are very treatable.”
Changes to make
You can also take steps at home to help your cat adjust to any limitations caused by his advancing years. Marilyn Krieger, certified cat behavior consultant (thecatcoach.com) and author of Naughty No More, shares these tips:
- Add pet steps, short chairs or stable boxes near beds or perches to help your cat access his favorite spots.
- Adjust your cat’s favorite napping spots to make them wider or more spacious, so there is less danger of him falling off while napping.
- Make the litter box easily accessible; replace a high-sided box with one that has lower sides. Keep the old box near the new one until your cat gets used to new box.
- If your home has more than one level, place a litter box on each level so your cat doesn’t have to travel quite as far when he has to use the box.
- Because some cats start losing their eyesight as they age, place night-lights in dark rooms or hallways so your pet doesn’t become disoriented.
Also as your cat begins to lose flexibility and mobility, it may become more difficult for him to twist his body to reach certain spots to groom. Make grooming sessions a part of your cat’s weekly routine to keep him looking his best while also allowing for valuable quality time with your pet.
Your 10-year-old cat’s advancing age may begin to affect his appetite. (If your cat shows any changes in his eating behavior or begins losing weight, have him examined by your vet.)
Once your vet has ruled out any illnesses, adjust your cat’s eating experience. Marilyn suggests making mealtimes as stress-free as possible.
“Food bowls need to be located in quiet places that are easily accessible to the cat,” she says. “If there are other cats in the household, the dishes should not be placed right next to each other; it’s better to place them on either side of the same room or, depending on the cats, in separate rooms.”
To help stimulate your cat’s appetite, Marilyn suggests heating up his food or sprinkling a bit of freeze-dried meat on top. “Some cats can be enticed to eat by making them work a little for it,” she says. Owners can do this by “placing food in puzzle toys and by rolling healthy treats and dry food in front of cats to chase, catch and then eat.”
Though some cats might respond well to chasing their food, remain mindful of your cat’s limitations and mobility issues, and never force him to play, Marilyn says. Keep in mind that a 10-year-old cat does not have the flexibility, agility or energy level of a younger cat.
“Senior kitties should not be encouraged to jump and leap for toys,” Marilyn explains. “Instead, have subdued play sessions, dragging a pole-type toy along the floor for the cat to chase. If he loses interest, then stop the game.”
Your senior cat might do better with one or two short play sessions a day, instead of a longer play session, Marilyn adds. “Always play within the cat’s limitations.”
Changes: Medical or Behavior?
Some of the behaviors typically associated with old age that can be signs of medical issues include:
- changes in vocalizing
- difficulty getting around
- different sleeping habits
- changes in social behavior
“Behavior changes can be subtle or overt,” says Marilyn Krieger, “Whenever there are behavioral changes, cats need to be checked out by veterinarians.”
About the author:
Stacy N. Hackett is a lifelong cat owner and freelance writer based in Southern California. Her life has been enriched by many wonderful cats.