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Aging Cats: When is a Cat Considered a Senior?

Cats require more specialized care to maintain their health and happiness as they age. In this article, our Lebanon veterinarians will explain when your cat reaches senior status and how you can provide them with the care they need.

How old is a senior cat?

Cats age differently, just like humans. Physical changes associated with aging in cats usually begin between 7 and 10 years of age, and most cats will experience these changes by the time they are 12 years old.

Contrary to popular belief, one "cat year" is not equivalent to seven "human years." The first year of a cat's life is similar to a 16-year-old person's development, while a 2-year-old cat is similar to a person between 21 and 24 years old. After that, each cat year is roughly equal to four human years. For instance, a 10-year-old cat's age is equivalent to a 53-year-old human's age, a 12-year-old cat is similar to a 61-year-old human, and a 15-year-old cat is similar to a 73-year-old human.

Cats are considered "senior" when they are around 11 years old, and "super senior" when they reach over 15 years of age. It is helpful to think of our older cats' ages in human terms when considering what type of veterinary care they need.

Changes in an Aging Cat

As cats age, just like humans, they may experience several behavioral and physical changes. Although aging itself is not a disease, it is crucial to have regular and transparent conversations with your veterinarian regarding any changes in your senior feline's health. This is a vital aspect of their overall health and wellness care. Some changes to look out for include:

Behavioral Changes 

As cats age, they may experience certain issues that can impact their health and behavior. One of these issues is cognitive decline, which may manifest in confusion around daily routines, litter box avoidance or accidents, wandering, excessive meowing, new or increased avoidance of people, and seeming disorientation. If you notice any of these symptoms, taking your cat to the vet for assessment is important.

Other health issues that can cause behavioral changes include arthritis, dental disease, kidney failure, and diabetes. Cats may become aggressive if they are in pain, so monitoring any mood changes is important. Mobility problems due to joint inflammation can also make it difficult for cats to access their litter box, leading to inappropriate elimination. If you notice any of these symptoms, it's best to consult with a vet for appropriate treatment.

Physical Changes

Grooming & Appearance - As cats age, they may encounter difficulties in grooming themselves effectively due to certain health issues. These problems can make it painful for them to reach all the areas on their bodies, resulting in oily or matted fur. This can cause skin odor, inflammation, and painful hair matting. 

Senior cats often have thick, brittle, and overgrown claws, which require more attention from their caretakers. Some common issues include a slight haze in their lens and a 'lacy' appearance in the iris, which is the colorful part of the eye. However, these issues do not significantly affect their vision. Nevertheless, some diseases, particularly those associated with high blood pressure, can seriously and permanently impair a cat's eyesight.

Unintentional Weight Loss or Weight Gain - Weight loss can point to any number of problems for senior cats, from diabetes to heart or kidney disease. Older cats also often experience dental disease, which can hinder eating and cause weight loss and malnutrition. Dental issues can also cause significant pain. 

Physical Activity & Abilities - Senior cats also experience arthritis or degenerative joint disease as they age. This makes it difficult for them to gain access to litter boxes, food and water bowls, and beds. This is especially true if they have to jump or climb stairs. Changes in sleep are a normal part of aging, but a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep could cause you to contact your vet. Aging cats that suddenly have an increase in energy may have signs of hyperthyroidism and should be seen by a vet. Inappropriate weight loss/gain can be a sign of issues ranging from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Hearing loss is common in geriatric cats for several reasons and should be monitored by your veterinarian.

Keeping Your Senior Cat Healthy

Observing your senior cat regularly is essential to ensure its happiness and health. You can easily monitor any changes in your aging pet by making minor adjustments to your cat's grooming, feeding, and regular interactions. This will help you identify any health issues early and take prompt action to keep your feline companion in good shape.

  • Grooming & Appearance - Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are great ways to keep older cats clean and healthy while checking for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.
  • Nutrition - Many cats get heavy or even obese as they get older, which can be controlled with diet and activity if the weight gain is non-medical. Other weight issues include elderly cats being underweight, which may be caused by a variety of medical conditions and should be assessed by a veterinarian.
  • Home Life - Older cats can be more sensitive to changes in routine or household, which can lead to stress. Patience and accommodations (extra affection, a favorite toy or blanket, a quiet room for them to stay in) go a long way to helping your senior cat adjust to upsetting changes. Don't forget to keep playing with your cat as they age; mental and physical stimulation is beneficial for their well-being.
  • Vet Care - Cats have a tendency to conceal their illnesses until they become serious or severe. Therefore, taking senior kitties for regular wellness check-ups is crucial, even if they appear perfectly healthy. Your veterinarian can monitor any medical conditions that your senior cat may have and identify any potential or emerging problems early when they are more treatable. Paying close attention to their behavior and health is crucial.

How Your Vet Can Help

It's important to share your knowledge about your cat with your vet and keep up with regular wellness examinations. Depending on your cat's needs, your vet may suggest increasing the frequency of physical evaluations.

A wellness examination for a senior cat includes the vet checking the cat's weight, skin and fur condition, organ systems, and behavior. Diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in older cats may also be run.

Combining home care with veterinary care can help ensure that your senior cat has a happier, healthier life with you and your family.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your senior cat due for a vet visit? Contact our Lebanon vets to book an examination for your feline friend.

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