As your feline friend ages and shows signs of slowing down, you may be curious about when they should be considered a senior cat. Our veterinarians from Harbor Animal Hospital are here to guide you through recognizing the indications of aging and determining when your cat reaches senior status.
How Old Is A Senior Cat?
If, like most cat owners, you spend every day with your kitty, it can be challenging to tell when they become a senior. But make no mistake - your cat's body goes through changes as it ages, much like a person's body does.
In another similarity to humans, aging cats experience these changes uniquely. Many cats begin to show age-related physical changes by the time they are between 7 and 10 years old, and most will have by about 12 years old.
People often think that one "cat year" is equivalent to 7 "human years," but this isn't quite accurate. Instead, it's generally accepted that a cat's first year is similar to the development that would occur in a human by the time they reach 16 years old. So, a cat at 2 years old is more similar to a human between 21 and 24 years old.
After that point, one "cat year" is equal to roughly four human years (for example, a 10-year-old cat = 53-year-old human; a 12-year-old cat = 61-year-old human; a 15-year-old cat = 73-year-old human, etc.)
You'll be the proud owner of a senior cat by the time it hit about 11 years old. If a cat lives beyond 15 years of age, it'd be a "super-senior." When caring for older cats, it sometimes helps to think of their age in human terms.
What Happens As My Senior Cat Ages?
Cats experience many behavioral and physical changes as they age, just as we do. While aging in cats is not a disease in itself, keeping your vet up to date on changes in your senior cat's body and personality will go a long way to ensuring they receive the most comprehensive wellness care possible. Some changes to keep an eye out for include:
Grooming & Appearance
As cats age, they may struggle to groom themselves properly, leading to matted or oily fur. This can cause skin inflammation and unpleasant odors. Additionally, senior cats' claws tend to become thicker, more brittle, and overgrown, requiring extra attention from their caretakers. Older cats may also experience changes in their eyes and vision. They may develop a slightly cloudy lens, and the iris (the colored part of the eye) may appear lacy, but this alone may not significantly impact their sight. However, certain diseases, particularly those related to high blood pressure, can have a serious and irreversible impact on a cat's vision.
Unintentional Weight Loss or Gain
If your older cat is experiencing weight loss, it could indicate a range of issues, such as diabetes, kidney or heart disease. Additionally, dental problems are quite prevalent in senior cats. As they age, dental concerns can hinder their ability to eat properly, leading to malnutrition and weight loss, as well as causing significant pain in their mouths.
Physical Activity & Abilities
As cats age, arthritis or degenerative joint disease may develop, making it challenging for them to reach their food and water bowls, beds, and litter boxes. This is particularly true for cats that need to climb stairs or jump. While changes in sleep are typical with age, a substantial increase in sleep or depth of sleep should be reported to your vet. If your senior cat suddenly has more energy, it could be a sign of hyperthyroidism, and you should seek veterinary care. Additionally, senior cats often experience hearing loss due to various reasons. If this happens to your cat, it's essential to schedule a visit to your veterinarian.
Observing your cat struggling with tasks or objects that are part of their everyday routine could indicate problems with their memory or cognition. Changes in behavior, like avoiding the litterbox, avoiding humans, wandering aimlessly, excessive meowing, or appearing disoriented, may also suggest confusion or feline senility. It is important to seek veterinary attention for these symptoms.
Issues Caused by Disease
It's important to keep an eye on your cat's mood because they tend to hide their discomfort. Health issues like dental disease or arthritis can cause pain, which may lead to aggression. Additionally, diseases like diabetes or kidney failure can cause cats to use the litterbox more frequently, leading to inappropriate elimination. If your senior cat has joint inflammation, they may have difficulty accessing or climbing into their litterbox, especially if there are stairs involved. This can also lead to inappropriate elimination and should be addressed by a vet.
How Can I Help Keep My Senior Cat Healthy?
Your observations are some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy. Incorporating simple changes to your grooming, feeding, and general interactions with your cat can be a low-pressure way to watch for any changes in your aging pet so your vet can provide geriatric care geared to your pet's needs.
Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are great ways to keep older cats clean and healthy while also checking for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.
Many senior cats get heavy or even obese as they age, 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.
As cats get older, they may become more sensitive to changes in their environment and routine, which can cause them to feel stressed. To help your senior cat adjust to these changes, it's important to be patient and make accommodations, such as giving them extra affection, providing their favorite toys or blankets, or creating a quiet room for them to relax in. Additionally, it's important to continue playing with your cat as they age to provide them with mental and physical stimulation, which is essential for their overall well-being.
Taking your cat for regular wellness checks with the veterinarian is crucial, even if they appear healthy. Cats are skilled at concealing illnesses until they are advanced or severe. Your vet can also keep an eye on any underlying health conditions in your senior cat and detect any possible or emerging issues early on when they are more manageable. This helps to maintain their well-being and behavior.
How Can A Veterinarian Help?
Your knowledge of your cat's activities, health, and personality, and any observations you may be able to offer, will serve as an important guide for your vet. These should be paired with regularly scheduled routine exams. Depending on your senior cat's age, lifestyle, health status, and a few other factors, including any ongoing needs they may have in terms of medical conditions, your vet can tell you how often to come in for a visit and may recommend increasing the frequency of physical checkups.