Welcome to my guide on caring for older cats! As our feline friends enter their golden years, they need special attention and love to ensure they stay happy and healthy.
In the world of pets, cats are not just useful animals; they are beloved family members. We love them and hope they love, or at least like us back (you just never really know with a cat ☺️). We take care of them from playful kittens to graceful seniors.
It’s crucial to understand that as cats age, their health and nutritional needs change significantly.
Cats are generally considered seniors around the age of 10-12 years. You might notice graying fur, especially around the face, and a decrease in activity.
Their senses may dull, leading to reduced eyesight, hearing, and changes in taste or smell. Behaviorally, senior cats often sleep more, play less, and react slowly to stimuli.
They may also experience changes in urinary habits and weight (either gain or loss).
At the veterinary clinics, we see more and more senior cats – cats that are over 12 years old that still have an amazing and active life. With a few mindful practices, you can also help your cherished cat enjoy a fulfilling and comfortable senior life.
So how can you help your older lady to stay fit as long as possible? Here are a few useful tips 🙂
While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.
1. Be observant and keep track of your cat’s health
The older your cat is, the more observant you need to be. With cats, any changes in their behavior are important.
Keeping a close eye on your senior cat’s daily behaviors and routines is key to ensuring their well-being. Cats are masters at hiding their pain and discomfort. As they age, sometimes only subtle changes indicate underlying health issues.
Learn to recognize the signs of pain in cats
Cats are notoriously famous for hiding their pain, so it’s important to know the subtle signs. These can include decreased activity, reluctance to jump or climb, changes in grooming habits (either grooming less due to pain or focusing excessively on a painful area), and changes in temperament, like increased irritability. Cats in pain may also hide more or avoid human interaction.
Learn more about the 25 scientifically acknowledged signs of pain in cats in my other article 🙂
Monitor your cat’s toilet habits
Toilet habits are an important indicator of your cat’s well-being.
One of the most telling indicators of a senior cat’s health is their toilet habits. As cats age, they can develop a range of issues that affect their urinary and bowel movements. Regular monitoring can provide early warning signs of potential health problems.
First, it’s important to understand what normal toilet habits look like for your cat. Most cats urinate two to four times a day and have a bowel movement at least once a day. However, these can vary based on diet, hydration, and individual health.
Be on the lookout for changes in the frequency, consistency, and appearance of your cat’s urine and feces. Key changes to watch for include:
- Increased urination or thirst: This can be a sign of kidney disease or diabetes, both common in older cats.
- Straining or crying in the litter box: This may indicate urinary tract problems, such as a blockage or infection.
- Urinating outside of litter box: This is a general “cat” sign that something is not right. Your cat might be in pain, stressed or she might be suffering from an underlying health issue or infection… it’s hard to tell what’s happening, but something is definitely going on with your cat.
- Changes in stool consistency: Diarrhea or unusually hard stools can indicate digestive issues.
- Changes in urine color: Blood in your cat’s urine, dark yellow, orange, brown or pink urine are a sign that a veterinary visit is needed.
- Changes in stool color: Normal poop is light or dark brown, sausage-shaped and soft. If your cat has red, yellow, orange, green or very dark stool, please call your vet. Specks in stool might mean your cat has parasites and needs deworming. And yes, even indoor cats need regular deworming ☺️
Inspect your cat’s litter box every time you clean it. Yes, I know, it sounds weird and disgusting, but monitoring your pet’s bowel movements is a great way to keep track of their health.
Ensure that the litter box is always clean and easily accessible. Senior cats may have difficulty accessing high-sided boxes, so consider a low-entry litter box.
A clean environment encourages regular use and makes monitoring easier.
Monitor her eating and drinking habits
Appetite and water consumption can fluctuate with age, but significant changes could signal health issues.
A decrease in appetite is particularly concerning in senior cats.
Older cats often suffer from dental problems, which can make eating very painful. Often cats loose some or all their teeth, which in itself is not a problem for the cat, if handled properly.
Other potential causes include digestive issues, respiratory problems, or more serious conditions like kidney disease, liver problems, or cancer.
Conversely, an increase in appetite could also be problematic, potentially indicating hyperthyroidism or diabetes.
Changes in water consumption are equally important.
Increased thirst and urination are common symptoms of kidney disease, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism, all of which are prevalent in older cats.
On the other hand, reduced water intake can lead to dehydration, especially in cats eating primarily dry food.
Ensure fresh water is always available in multiple accessible locations around your home. Some cats prefer running water; thus, a cat fountain can encourage them to drink more. Monitoring how often you refill the water bowl can help you keep track of their intake.
Equally important is to monitor your cat’s weight, to ensure she doesn’t become too thin or overweight.
Notice any signs of joint or back pain
In research conducted by Utrecht University, a group of 100 cats aged six years and older were assessed for signs of osteoarthritis. The findings were remarkable. It was discovered that 61 of these cats had osteoarthritis in at least one joint, while 48 had the condition in multiple joints.
Furthermore, a separate study revealed that a staggering 90% of cats over the age of 12 were affected by some form of degenerative joint disease. To emphasize, 90%!
So chances are your senior cat suffers from some kind of joint disease, even when she’s showing no signs. Cats are very good at masking any signs of pain, remember? Common signs of joint or back pain include difficulty jumping, stiffness after resting, or reluctance to be petted on their back or joints.
Here’s a detailed guide on how to help a cat with arthritis where you can learn more.
Monitor your cats weight
Regularly weighing your cat is important. Sometimes difficult, but important ☺️
Weight loss in senior cats can be a sign of chronic conditions like hyperthyroidism or cancer, while weight gain increases the risk of diseases like diabetes. If you notice any significant changes, consult your veterinarian.
Contact your vet if your cat:
- doesn’t urinate for a whole day
- has diarrhea
- doesn’t pass stool for more than 2 days
- has small grain-like particles in her stool (they might be parasite eggs)
- urinates outside her litter box
- suddenly drinks too much or too little
- doesn’t want to eat
- has bad breath
- suddenly loses or gains weight
In general, if you observe any kind of change in your senior cat, it’s better to contact your vet.
You know your pet, if you have a feeling that something is not right, call your vet. Trust your instincts.
If you cannot take your cat to a vet (for whatever reason), you can still discuss your pet’s individual health issues with a licensed vet ☺️ 👇
✅ Licensed vets available online 24/7
✅ Perfect If you are unable to visit your local clinic (or if visiting a vet is challenging for you)
✅ Simple and easy-to-use
Sadly, equally important is to recognize the signs that it may be time to say goodbye.
2. Schedule regular veterinary visits
I cannot stress enough how important regular checkups are, especially for a senior cat. Preventive care is often more successful than treating advanced diseases. In many cases, early detection of the disease can prolong your pet’s life by several years! ☺️
Geriatric checkups are preventive, meaning that they should be done even if the animal doesn’t display any symptoms and seems healthy.
I would recommend visiting a vet at least once a year. Every 6 months is even better if possible.
You can read more about the importance of geriatric check-ups here.
3. Choose the right diet for your older cat
Senior cats have different nutritional needs.
They need high-quality proteins, easy-to-digest nutrients, balanced minerals, and appropriate levels of amino acids, omega fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins.
As their metabolism slows, they need fewer calories to avoid weight gain.
For cats with specific health issues, like kidney disease, dietary adjustments are even more crucial.
They often have a declining sense of smell and taste, which can turn them into picky eaters. Try to find a cat food that your cat likes.
Senior cats like to eat frequent small amounts of foods.
I wouldn’t recommend cooking for your cat at this age. Of course, you can give her cooked chicken or a piece of fish if she likes it, but a whole balanced diet should be done by a specialist.
If your cat is obese or overweight, please consult your vet for a safe weight loss plan.
Obesity is a huge risk factor for several serious health problems. It can also worsen common age-related conditions such as arthritis and progressive joint disease.
3. Make your cat comfortable
Provide her with a soft bed
Older animals tend to sleep a lot. Providing them with a cozy cat bed with a soft cushion or a soft cuddle den will help them relax.
Try to keep your cat inside
Just like senior people, senior animals can get very sensitive to cold. Try to keep your cat inside if possible during extreme hot and cold temperatures, as they can be dangerous for your pet.
Senior animals are not as quick and agile as they used to be and can easier have an accident.
Try to minimize stress
Your cat may find some things that haven’t bothered her before suddenly stressful. Things like frequent guests, strange animals, and kids… especially small kids are a huge stress factor for most senior animals.
Give her a gentle massage
Everyone loves massage, and your cat will probably love it too 😊 Regular gentle massage helps with circulation and flexibility. It also reduces stress and calms your kitty.
However, if she doesn’t like massage, never force it! Just pet her for as long as she wants.
4. Keep her active with mental and physical stimulation
Just like older people benefit from a bit of mental and physical stimulation, so do animals.
You can keep your cat mentally engaged with treat-release toys and puzzles.
Regular exercise (aka gentle play 🙂 ) will help your cat maintain her muscle strength, and keep her heart and digestion healthy. You can ask your vet which exercises are appropriate for your cat.
5. Help your senior cat with grooming and hygiene
Back or joint pain might hinder senior cats from properly grooming themselves. Brushing your cat regularly will help them stay clean and feel better. And it’s a nice way to relax together ☺️
Fleas and ticks can be extremely annoying when you can’t clean yourself effectively, so try to prevent them by using a certified product.
Brush your cat’s teeth if she allows it.
Senior cats might not show it, but they need affection and love as much as older dogs do. They might not play so much or be that active anymore, but they have their own way of relaxing and enjoying themselves. Find out what your darling currently likes and needs. Try to be with them as much as you can and enjoy these slow and relaxing moments together ❤️
PS: If you are as crazy about animals as I am and want to get more pet health tips, subscribe to my newsletter! Today you will get a free cat care planner as a bonus 🤗
- Osteoarthritis: the hidden suffering of older cats
- Old cat losing weight: Causes and solutions
- How to care for a cat with no teeth