By Anna Rogan
My life has been enriched by animals of all types, none more so than my first pet, a cat named Chinny who lived to the grand old age of 22 (that’s over 100 in human years).
Thanks to advances in veterinary science, as well as better nutrition and care at home, this situation isn’t as unusual as it once was. Our beloved feline companions are living longer and longer, but as they age they need more attention and care. In this article, we’ll explore the changes you can expect in your ageing cat and our top tips to care for them.
So, just how old is my cat?
The first two years of a cat’s life are equivalent to 24 human years, and every year after that is roughly equivalent to 4 human years. You can use this pet age calculator to work out your cat’s age. Generally speaking, cats over the age of 10 human years old are considered senior, while cats 15 years and older are considered geriatric.
How your cat changes as they age
Ageing cats experience a range of physiological changes including a reduced ability to see, hear, smell and taste, joint pain and mobility issues, dental problems and gum disease and a loss of skin elasticity.
Older cats can have sluggish digestion as well as a reduced ability to digest fat and protein. They are more susceptible to illnesses, can have lowered immune function and are less able to tolerate stress.
All of these physiological changes can have an enormous impact on your cat’s wellbeing and may lead to some behavioural changes. You might notice a reduced attention to hygiene and grooming, less activity, a waning motivation to spend time outdoors, loss of appetite or fussiness with food and more time sleeping.
Top tips to care for your ageing cat
- Book in regular health and dental checks
It’s vital not to assume that changes in your cat’s behaviour are a normal part of the ageing process. They could be, or they could indicate illness or disease. In either case, your vet can advise the best way to treat and care for your cat, including special dietary considerations. Prevention is the best cure, and booking in a regular check-up ensures you are proactive about your cat’s care.
- Encourage good nutrition.
Older cats can tend towards obesity, which can exacerbate other health issues. Your vet will be able to tell you if your cat is overweight and provide a diet plan to suit your cat’s individual needs. Given their decreased ability to digest proteins and fats, you may want to consider talking to your vet about the amount of protein in your cat’s diet. You can also discuss whether you should fortify your cat’s diet with fatty acids and whether you should offer supplements like glucosamine, which can be beneficial for mobility issues and joint pain.
If your cat is a bit fussy at meal times, you can encourage their appetite by offering small amounts of fresh food and water often. Each cat will have their preferences so you may need to experiment with different types of food and water at various temperatures to find something they will enjoy.
Mobility issues and joint pain can be getting in the way of a good feed. Improving access to food and water by using shallow bowls and elevating them on a slightly raised platform may increase your cat’s intake.
One last consideration to encourage appetite is to make mealtime an opportunity to bond and spend time together. Sitting with your cat and petting them while they eat, or even hand feeding them may help. This solution won’t suit everyone; some cats will respond well while others will see it as an intrusion. It is a time-consuming option but may be particularly beneficial if your cat is geriatric.
- Give a helping hand with grooming
Many older cats experience difficulty grooming themselves and will need help. Every couple of days give your cat a gentle combing and check for lumps and bumps, cut off matted fur, and wipe away discharge from their eyes, nose and bottom. Once a week check and trim their claws and brush their teeth. Many cats will not stand for teeth brushing, in which case dental treats are an option. If your cat is fussy with grooming in general, your vet may be able to assist, or you could hire a grooming service.
- Enrich their environment
Your cat may be slower and sleepier these days, but environmental enrichment and play are just as important as ever. You can improve your cat’s motivation for play by supplying new toys and making their favourite areas of the house more accessible with ramps or shallow steps.
Links to useful ageing cat care information
Senior pet care: RSPCA > Health and Behaviour > Senior pet care
Article by Anna Rogan
Anna is a Melbourne-based writer who loves telling good stories, drinking strong coffee and travelling to offbeat destinations.