New technology and care options mean that we can help keep our feline friends happy well into their golden years. Today, our Bedford vets share some information about senior cat grooming and care and the changes that happen as they age.
Can I Think of My Cat's Age in Human Years?
Just like humans and other animals, every cat will age in a different way. Even so, many cats will begin to show the signs of aging, even if it's subtle, by the time they reach 7 to 10 years old and most cats have some signs of aging once they've reached 12 years old.
To make it easier to think about the aging process in cats you can use human terms to think about what stage they are in. Once cats reach 11 years old you may begin to refer to them as "senior" cats and "super-senior" when they reach over 15 years of age.
Changes As Your Cat Ages
Just as their owners do, cats experience many physical and behavioral changes as they age. While aging itself is not a disease, keeping your vet updated on changes in your senior cat is an imperative part of their overall health and wellness. Some changes to keep an eye out for include:
Grooming & Appearance
As they age, cats may have difficulties with grooming and caring for themselves, which can result in painful hair matting, skin odor, and inflammation. Senior cats' claws are often overgrown, thick, and brittle, requiring more attention from their caretakers.
Aging cats commonly have a slightly hazy lens and a 'lacy' appearance to the colorful part of the eye (iris), but there is little evidence that this significantly affects their sight. There are, however, several diseases, especially those associated with high blood pressure, that can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see.
Unintentional weight loss or weight gain: In an older cat, weight loss can be a sign of any number of problems, from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Dental disease is extremely common in older cats and can hinder eating, causing weight loss and malnutrition in addition to causing them significant pain.
Physical Activity & Abilities
Older cats often experience degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, which makes it difficult 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.
- If you notice that your cat has started being confused by tasks or objects that are part of their daily routine, this may be a sign of issues with memory or cognition.
- Behavioral changes such as litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and seeming disorientated, are also potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be examined by your vet.
Effects of Diseases
- A cat may become aggressive due to pain from health issues like dental disease or arthritis, so keeping an eye on your cat's mood is important because cats tend to hide discomfort.
- Diseases and disorders affecting urination (e.g. diabetes, kidney failure) can cause an increase in litterbox usage, which may lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate areas. Cats that are experiencing mobility problems due to joint inflammation may have challenges accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also lead to your senior cat eliminating in inappropriate places and should be addressed by a vet.
Ways To Keep Your 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.
- Nutrition: A lot of 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.
- Homelife: 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: Because cats are adept at hiding illness until it is advanced or severe, it's important to take them regularly to the vet for geriatric cat wellness checks even if they seem perfectly healthy. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor any conditions that your senior cat may have, and catch any potential or emerging issues early when they're more treatable. their behavior and health.
How To Keep Your Senior Cat's Fur Clean
It's common knowledge that cats are not a fan of water, which can make bathtime a dangerous experience. You must stay calm and talk to your cat in a soothing calming voice during the entire process. By keeping the bathroom door shut you can also help prevent your cat from running away and hiding in the house if you happen to let them go.
Here are some steps to help you through bathing your senior cat:
- Fill a large plastic bin or your bathtub with enough warm (not hot) water to cover their underbelly.
- Make sure you brush your cat first and that they are free of any mats or tangles.
- Gently place your furry friend into the tub, reassuring your cat by giving them praise and petting them.
- Carefully wet your cat's fur with a cup full of water or a wet cloth. Keep your cat's head and face dry to prevent any irritation to their eyes, ears, and nose.
- Lather your kitty in a special cat shampoo (do not use human shampoo) avoiding the head and face.
- Using a cup or a detachable showerhead rinse the soap off of your cat. To prevent any irritation make sure all of the soap is rinsed off (this could take several rinses).
- Wrap your cat in a clean, dry towel and pat them dry. Don't use a hairdryer because it can burn their sensitive skin.
- Until your cat is completely dry keep them in a warm area.
How can a veterinarian help?
Along with the routine care and teams that your vet performs, your personal experiences with your cat will help ensure your cat's health. Depending on your cat's needs (e.g. if they have a medical condition), your vet may suggest increasing the frequency of physical evaluations. A wellness examination of a senior cat includes the vet checking the cat's weight, skin & fur condition, organ systems, and behavior, and running diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in older felines.
By combining at-home grooming and care for your senior cat with routine veterinary care specific to their needs you can help keep your cat healthy and a part of your family for many years.
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.