How to Care for Elderly Cats

Provide a warm resting area for an elderly cat.
Provide a warm resting area for an elderly cat. (Image: Ryhor Bruyeu/iStock/Getty Images)

Elderliness varies in age from one cat to another based on health conditions. Most cats are considered to be seniors between the ages of 7 and 10 years, according to Dr. Heidi Lobprise, a veterinarian and the spokesperson for International Veterinary Senior Care Society. Senior cats aren't "old," necessarily; they're beginning to age but should be healthy if they've had adequate care. Geriatric or elderly cats, meanwhile, are those 12 to 14 years of age or older, and they're more likely to need health-related care and attention, such as a specific diet, regular clinic time and more affection.

Senior Diet

Ask your veterinarian when to feed your cat a senior diet. He may recommend switching as early as 7 years of age or at a later point. Do not change your cat's diet without consulting your vet.

Senior cat foods are specially formulated for the needs of aging cats for dietary issues that change with age. Senior cat foods are generally lower in fat to help kitties ward off weight-related ailments. Senior diets are usually higher in protein for older cats to utilize as energy sources.

Feeding your senior cat more frequently throughout the day rather than once or twice a day is easier on his digestive system.

Older cats with dental problems may not be able to eat hard foods. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation of a soft food or whether you should put water on hard food to make it easier to eat. Many elderly cats lose their sense of smell, making hard food less appealing and causing weight loss.

Veterinary Checkups

An elderly cat should have wellness checks at the veterinarian twice a year as he ages to detect age-related abnormalities, rather than once yearly when he was in his prime. Your veterinarian will likely do urine tests to screen for diabetes and kidney malfunctions, and blood tests to determine thyroid production levels and blood cell balance. These conditions are easier to treat when caught early.

Hyperthyroidism is the overproduction of thyroid hormone. The treatment is normally an oral medication to correct the thyroid glands' production before it causes complications of heart disease, high blood pressure and kidney disease. Hypothyroidism, or thyroid hormone underproduction, is rare in felines, but it can occur as a result of hyperthyroidism medication dosage adjustments.

High white blood cell counts signify infection, autoimmune disease, potassium deficiencies, cancer or allergies. Additional tests are required if a screen shows high white blood cell counts to determine the underlying condition.

Ongoing Senior Treatments

Many elderly cats need ongoing care for life. Senior cat health issues that require frequent checkups include arthritis, cancer, diabetes, constipation, liver and kidney disease, skin problems, urinary problems and dental disease.

A vet can address feline dental disease. Skin conditions usually require oral and topical steroid treatment. Insulin injections usually treat diabetes. Treat urinary health problems, liver and kidney disease, and arthritis with oral medications. Give a cat with chronic constipation oral stool softeners or liquids.

Decrease Stress

Environmental stress can be devastating for older cats, who are less accepting of change. Moving to a new home or being boarded can flat out kill an elderly cat, particularly a frail one. Try to stay in one location, don't introduce new pets to the household and have someone he knows care for him at home if you must leave town, to alleviate his fears. Keep the same blanket or toy as a constant in the same place so he sees and feels something familiar to him at all times. Give your elderly cat lots of love and affection to reduce his stress.

Senior cats may vocalize more as they age because of hearing loss, disrupted night time sleep, uncomfortable elimination, disorientation, or pain. See your veterinarian if your cat's crying is increased.

Helpful Tips

An elderly cat may not be as fastidious a groomer as he once was. Brush him daily to help prevent skin conditions and diseases caused by matted hair. An elderly cat usually develops arthritis in his joints, making it difficult to step as high or walk as far as in his prime. If you have a two-story home, place at least one litter box with low sides on each floor to enable your furry friend to get to one in time to relieve himself. An orthopedic cat bed can help aching joints while he is at rest to give him more support as he naps.

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