How to Keep Your Senior Cat Healthy


As my cat, Yoda, enters his senior years, it makes me sad to see the once vibrant kitten (who earned his name because he was so adorably ugly, with a giant head) start to slow down. He is now 13, an eighth grader at Colonel Meow Middle School, and although he purrs loudly and often, we are always watching for signs of declining health or distress and thinking of how to improve the time he has left with us.

Here are some tips for making sure your older kitty gets to live out his best years yet.

1. Feel your cat’s fur

While you and your couch, clothes, and bed are all well-acquainted with your cat’s hair, make sure to pay attention to just how much hair is appearing in the house.

Excessive shedding and a dry coat are signs of an unhealthy kitty, so if petting your cat is leaving clumps of his mane in your hand, take him to the vet for a checkup to make sure nothing is wrong. Because of his age, Yoda’s coat has a bit less fluff than it used to, but we were partly able to tell when his food allergies flared up because of how much scruffier he started to look. Now that he is better, his shiny coat reflects his good health and he spends plenty of time grooming it — just in case it’s picture time.

2. Continue playtime

Playing like a kitten, with anything from feathers on a string to those all-too-realistic fake mice, is important for your older kitty’s general well-being.

As Yoda’s kitten years get further behind him, he makes more of an effort to avoid going up the stairs or playing with the hyper Chihuahua, so we look for new ways to help strengthen his joints and muscles that can otherwise weaken with age. Yoda loses interest in most toys right away, mostly because they are not edible, but we try to encourage playtime by rolling a jingly ball towards him and hoping he’s in the mood to knock it around. If that fails, however, there is always catnip to add to the party.

3. Visit regularly with your cat’s least favorite person — the vet

Going to the veterinarian may be your kitty’s most hated activity, next to swimming and manicures, but it’s a crucial part of maintaining his or her health. Regular visits to the vet, even if your cat seems to be in excellent health, are necessary for keeping up on their vaccines and detecting future illnesses.

After the visit, you might have your very own Grumpy Cat, but eventually she’ll get over it. Or you might be lucky like we are and have a goofy cat who purrs throughout the whole visit — even while having his temperature taken (!) — and leaves the vet technicians smiling as they remark, "He’s so cute! And cross-eyed!"

4. Don’t skip on dental duties

Just like your dentist taught you, good oral hygiene prevents plaque from building up and causing gum disease, and this is no different for cats. But if you find brushing your cat’s teeth to be too difficult and uncomfortable for both of you, have your vet do it at your next appointment or buy chewable dental treats like Greenies to help keep your kitty’s mouth clean.

Yoda might purr for the vet but he definitely doesn’t sit still or calmly for a teeth cleaning, so sometimes a special treat finds its way into those sharp tiger teeth.

5. Maintain your cat’s weight

According to the Animal Health foundation, half of indoor cats are overweight or obese, which can lead to liver disease, diabetes, and other serious health concerns.

Make sure your older cat is eating a balanced diet, which will keep him healthy and happy, because chances are he is not getting fluffier — just fatter. Yoda, who used to take up even more room on my bed, has gone the opposite route, however, and lost a small amount of weight in his later years. This, too, is not uncommon in older cats but should still be monitored just as closely.

6. Consider a special diet

Unfortunately for you and your cat, she probably isn’t unfamiliar with throwing up, whether it be occasional hairballs or twice-a-week vomit on your pillow. But if your older cat has only recently been coughing things up (or doing so often), try switching brands to a food that might be easier on her stomach.

After Yoda started throwing up most days from many of the standard brand foods, the vet attributed it to food allergies and prescribed special hypoallergenic food, which he does not particularly enjoy. Yoda now sees this a reason to relentlessly try sneaking bites off of our dinner table (the only time he is inspired to move particularly fast), but we try to get him to stick to his new diet and keep his weight up. If your cat refuses the prescription food, however, try mixing in some salmon or other vet-approved ingredient, which can add a little flavor without compromising his health.

Do you have advice to add on caring for an older kitty? Tell us in the comments!

About the author: Julia is a student living in New York City. She misses her three cats back in Maryland as much as or more than she misses her family. You can follow her on Twitter.

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