Caring For Your Aging Cat: 9 Common Conditions & What To Do
November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month–celebrating old cats. Adopting a mature kitty can mean years of furry love–Seren nearly lived to celebrate her 22nd birthday, and still rules my heart from beyond the Rainbow Bridge. She inspired my work in countless ways, and also gave me first-hand (paw?) experience for caring for aging cats.
Dealing with Old Cat Health
Seren-kitty not only inspired my Complete Kitten Care book when she was a take-no-prisoners baby, but she also inspired the Complete Care for Your Aging Cat book several years later.
And Seren inspired me every day when my own creaky joints acted up. Getting older is NOT for weenies, but it’s not a sentence for chaining yourself (or your cat) to a rocking chair. These days, Karma-Kat has reached “middle age” but we’ve already begun some of these old cat health aids. Learn what’s considered “old” in cats in this blog post.
Of course, cancer also affects our old pets, and we see a higher incidence of breast cancer in Siamese cats. But there are also some simple and/or inexpensive ways from the book that owners can help keep an aging cat happy and healthy.
9 Old Cat Health Conditions
- About 75 percent of senior cats have arthritis. When creaky joints hurt, she can’t perform cat-yoga stretches to groom herself and may become matted. Place kitty’s bed under a lamp for soothing heat to loosen up creaky joints. Gentle massage works well, and over-the-counter supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine-type products also help.
- Does the water bowl run dry? Does your cat urinate a lot? Diabetes could be an issue. High protein diets can reverse diabetes in some cats—your vet will determine this. Meanwhile, add litter boxes on each floor and both ends of the house so kitty has quick access to the facilities.
- Old cats often get fat, which aggravates arthritis and can lead to obesity. Slim tubby tabbies by setting the food bowl on top of a cat tree so she must move to eat. And place a portion of her meal inside a puzzle toy so she must “hunt” to shake out the food. I use cat puzzle toys for Karma-Kat to keep his furry tail moving.
- Deaf cats often become more vocal and “holler” from the next room when they can’t hear you. Use vibration or visual cues to alert your deaf pet to your presence. Stomp your foot when you enter the room, for example, or flick lights on and off to avoid startling the cat. Learn about living with deaf pets.
- With age, cats lose their sense of smell so that food is less appealing and they snub the bowl. Heat makes odors more pungent. Zapping the food in the microwave for 10 seconds may be all that’s necessary to stimulate a flagging appetite.
- Constipation develops when the cat’s digestion doesn’t “move” as well as in youth. Added fiber can promote regularity. Many cats love the flavor of canned pumpkin, a natural high fiber treat. Buy a large can, and divide into single servings in ice cube trays, and freeze—then thaw just what you need. Once or twice a week should be enough to keep kitty regular.
- Seventy-five percent of cats have dental problems by age two, and the risk increases 20 percent for each year of your cat’s life. Commercial “dental diets” can be helpful, as can chicken or malt-flavored pet toothpaste. Offer a taste of toothpaste as a treat—the enzyme action breaks down plaque even if kitty won’t let you brush her teeth. Also, entice your cat to chew by offering thumb-size hunks of cooked steak. For toothless cats that have trouble eating dry foods, run small amounts of dry food in the blender with low-salt chicken broth for a softer alternative.
- Blind cats adjust so well and the loss is so gradual that you may not notice a problem—until you rearrange the furniture. So status quo your décor to help your cat can remember a mental map of the household. Place baby gates at stairs or other danger zones to protect blind cats from a misstep. Offer fair warning with sound cues about your location to prevent startling the blind cat. Scent can help identify important landmarks for the cat. Try dabbing a bit of mint on wall corners or tying catnip toys to furniture. “Bell” the other pets so the blind cat knows they’re near. Learn more tips for helping other-abled pets.
- Senility—yes, cats can get kitty Alzheimer’s, especially those over 14 years. These felines become confused, forget where to potty, cry, and may not recognize you. It’s heartbreaking for pets and owners alike. The drug Anipryl from your vet temporarily reverses signs in a percentage of cats, but the supplement Cholodin FEL also works pretty well. Delay the onset of senility in all cats by exercising the feline brain with play, games and puzzles.
What are some other “home care” tips that have worked well for YOUR “golden oldie” kitty? Have you discovered some awesome care product that makes life easier for you, and more comfy for your pet? What are the “old cat” issues that you deal with? Please share!
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!
I love cats and dogs very much. I have two cats: 11 years old and 7 years old. I feed stray cats and dogs and have a few kittens and one puppy. I urge everyone to help homeless animals. All health and well-being.
When my cats got older, the thing they liked best was a nice, warm bed. I bought a heated cat bed, and it was the best investment I ever made: both my Siouxsie Mew and my Thomas spent many happy hours curled up in it. One thing I’d add is that a lot of older cats get kidney disease, and part of managing kidney disease is administering subQ fluids. To make it easier on you and your cat, warm the fluids in a bath of hot tap water for 5-10 minutes. Then run the fluids through the line until they run warm before sticking your kitty with the needle. Warm fluids are a lot more comfortable for the cat than cold ones and will probably make the fluids-giving experience a lot better.
I advise against warming the fluids in the microwave because many microwaves heat unevenly and can cause areas of scalding-hot fluids and areas of cold ones. When you warm the fluids in a pot of hot water, though, don’t submerge the part of the bag that’s been spiked; doing so could cause tap water to contaminate your cat’s fluids.
Fantastic information, JaneA, thank you for posting! I know Siouxsie Mew and Thomas were fortunate to have you caring for them.
I love the tip about the pumpkin. Trudy, a calico, is fifteen years young. What she leaves in the litter box seems hard as rocks to me sometimes when I’m scooping though she doesn’t seem to have any problems. She turns her little nose up at almost all treats but maybe I’ll experiment and see what she thinks of pumpkin. Thanks, Amy!
Hope it helps Trudy! You must be doing lots right for her to be 15 and doing so well. *s*
My mom’s senior cat is failing quickly, the vet said there is nothing left to do for her. I just called my mom and told her about warming up the chicken broth (she isn’t eating anymore,) The cat drank a little of it. Our hope is to keep her comfortable for as long as possible.
Beth, so sorry to hear that about your mom’s cat. Glad that the warmed chicken broth helped. Yes, keeping her comfy as long as you can is probably the best bet.
I remember Praline loved to rest in the sunbeams that came through the windows and doors as she aged.
Those sunbaths help a bunch…sort of a shiny massage, I like to think!
Our seniors get creaky but still love to be active. A cat is playful even when it gets older. Peanut (RIP) was 19.5 and still had a mad half hour several times a week.
We still do our best to care for and honour our seniors. we love them very much and your post gave me several points to check up on.
Thank you Marjorie. Something for folks to remember re: cat play….stalking & watching is PART of play. So even the very old kitties who don’t dash madly about will enjoy and engage in games of “watch the feather” and that’s exercise for the kitty brain.
We’re not kittens anymore, but we’re still on the young side. This is good info for mom to keep on hand as we age.
Cats age very gracefully so may your youth last for many cat-lives!
This information is awesome, Amy! I have an almost-16 year old cat who is still in great shape. I credit the two kittens we brought into his life for keeping him young by playing with him regularly. He does seem to have bladder issues at times, though. I am printing this post and keeping it nearby for reference as he (Shadow) ages. Thanks!
Oh good, Julie! Glad it was helpful. Scritches to Shadow. *s*
Simba’s bed is right under the window – prime sun-spot space. She’s sleeping in the windowsill right now though because her sun moved. LOL She’ll probably move to the chair later (that chair belongs to the cats now, so covered in hair we’ll never get it off). Can’t get the little butthead to eat any of those supplements though. Apparently all the ones I can find here don’t smell good to her.
Poor baby does drink and pee a lot. Though in her case last I heard from the vet was that it was a good thing because it’ll keep her urinary issues down.
Of course I think I already mentioned that I bought a puzzle toy for her, which she ignores. Anubis loves it, though, and so she just waits for him to miss a piece when he’s playing with it. Figures.
I really wish we could give Anubis the steak for his teeth, but it seems his tummy can’t handle it anymore. He used to be just fine with beef, now he horcs it right back up.
“Blind cats adjust so well and the loss is so gradual that you may not notice a problem” I don’t think Simba got that memo. LOL She’s not even totally blind but I swear she crosses her eyes when she’s trying to focus on something, and still hasn’t figured out that she has a whole bunch of other senses she can use. Doofus.
One of these days I want to get one of those heated pet pets for the fuzzballs to use in the winter.
This year at the CWA conference there were 3 heated pet beds in the door prizes–I really wanted one! Seren also follows the sun, as much for the “spotlight” effect (she knows she’s beautiful, I tell her all the time).
So much good information here. We live on 30+ acres with a 17-year-old indoor/outdoor cat. Though her eyesight is failing and we’ve had more than a few chuckles over her sporatic “forgetfulness”, she is just as curious, cunning & courageous as she ever was. She’s our first alert at encroaching frogs, lizards or snakes of any stripe, and any rodent is dispatched with efficiency, almost as if she uses ESP. She likes nothing better than an open window on a clear day so she can leap in and out of the house on her own terms. She’s noisy when she’s mad, playful when she’s happy, and stands her ground when provoked. No one who meets her can believe she’s a senior cat because the only easily visible sign is the two white whiskers she now sports (she’s a totally black cat). Just like the baby boomers she lives with, with a good diet, exercise and stimulating activities there’s no reason for her not to tap into her inner-kitty whenever the mood strikes. She moves slower somedays, probably from arthritis, but let’s nothing stop her. Loved your tips, Amy, and will keep them in mind as my cat moves deeper into the years–some I can already use, and others will keep her life more positive later on. Thank you!
Awww…17 is a great age, and so glad she’s still enjoying her “kingdom.” One day I noticed that Seren had tiny salt-and-pepper hairs around her eyes but that’s the only white I’ve noticed with her. She’s always been vocal but now she’s much louder–I think because of some hearing loss. So glad the tips could help!