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The "Frisky Felines" Guide to Supporting Senior Cats

Updated: May 5

Watching your cat get older can sometimes seem to happen overnight, when we stop and recognize that the cat that once was keeping you up with midnight zoomies now spends days sleeping in the most quiet and secluded space in the house.

When we think about the aging process, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is "arthritis". Your cat's joints have played an important role in their lives, and it is quite common to start seeing behavioral changes in your cat when joint pain comes into the picture. Although arthritis is commonly seen in cats in ages 7 years or older, cats bearing additional weight on their joints may begin having pain and limited mobility even before this time. It's important for cat owners to know that joint pain is just one of many changes for an "aging cat". Other changes a senior cat may experience are: impaired vision, impaired hearing, increased sensitivity to stimulus, dental pain, and cognitive dysfunction. With these physical changes slowly happening, many cat owners report changes in their cat's behaviors.

For a cat with arthritis you might see your cat resting on lower surfaces than before. This might look like your cat who once played on a cat tree daily, never "bothers" with it anymore - or the cat that once always slept with you now never does. Painful joints can also cause your cat to struggle with entering the litter box, and thus you may find your cat having accidents around your home. Additionally, a cat who has painful joints may become extremely sensitive to touch meaning activities like picking them up, clipping their nails, brushing them, and even petting can become a painful experience that they may no longer enjoy. Lastly, self grooming can become a painful activity for them especially when reaching those difficult to reach areas. Thus your cat may begin to display a more "oily" looking coat. The aging cat also experiences some sensory changes as well, including mild to complete loss of vision or hearing. Some cats with hearing and vision impairment can become more sensitive to certain sounds or movements because they are no longer able to see and hear things at the same distance they once could. These cats can become easily startled and may seem to be "on edge" or fearful without reason. These changes also play a part in your cats preferences of "safe" places to hangout as well so keep a close eye on where your cat is spending most of their time. If your senior cat's appetite has seemed to change suddenly, dental disease could be the reason. Cat's with poor oral hygiene can experience tooth decay, which results in gum inflammation, infection and of course pain. Cats who are on a dry food diet may start being more messy at their bowl, flicking food in all directions while they try to eat with areas of their mouth that hurt less. In more painful situations, your cat may attempt to swallow large amounts of food without chewing which can result in stomach upset or vomiting. If your cat has stopped eating their food completely, a call to your vet is necessary. Cognitive changes in your cat are also important to look out for. Cats with cognitive decline may have a decreased interest in certain activities and increased moments where they seem confused or lost. Visually you might see your cat pacing back and forth through rooms of your home or even sudden yowling in the middle of the night or when in the dark when the house is quiet. This vocalization is your cats way of expressing their confusion and may be seeking guidance to something such as a valued resource, place or person. Even with everything we mentioned above, there are even MORE possibilities for changes in your cats health as they age. If there is one thing all cat owners should know, it's that cats do an incredible job of hiding pain and discomfort. Now more than ever, it is essential to pay close attention to their your cat's health and behavior.

Wondering how you can help support your cat through their senior years?

  • Make time to for your cat. Find what they love and do it. Playtime, treats, brushing - whatever it is, they deserve it now more than ever.

  • Keep a routine for your cat's meal times, playtime, and other daily activities.

  • Take a few minutes to look over your cat's overall appearance, coat , teeth, eyes, ears, paws, for anything abnormal. Watch for overgrown nails and fur matting as these generally can be avoided with regular maintenance.

  • Consider your cat's mobility needs as they get older. If you see your cat struggling to go upstairs consider adding additional resources in the main level of your home so your cat does not need to travel to places like the basement to use their litter box.

  • Adding items like pet stairs and ramps are a great way to help your cat be able to again enjoy time with you in their favorite spots like the couch or your bed.

  • If you have a cat tree, consider purchasing a "senior" cat tree for them with shorter distance between perches and multiple resting places.

  • If your cat has a vertical scratching post - keep it! But also try to offer horizontal options as they can be easier for them to use as they get older.

  • Watch your cat's eating habits! if you are seeing changes - consider your cat's dental hygiene and work to find a solution that works for your cat's needs. Sometimes softening of the food or a soft/wet diet is helpful to cats with painful dental disease. As always, we recommend you talk to your vet about your cat's eating habits and your concerns.

  • Pay attention to your cat's elimination habits. Any change in your pets elimination habits should be addressed with your veterinarian as soon as possible as these can be symptoms of very serious illnesses. If after your vet has examined your cat but you find that they are still having "accidents" in your home, consider switching to a senior litter box which is structed to make things easy for your cat to get in and out of.

  • Avoid additional stressors when possible - remember your cat is likely more sensitive now.

  • Consider leaving a night light on for your cat overnight to help them maneuver through your home and to necessary resources like food, water and their litter box.

  • Allow your cat quiet time and areas specific for resting, especially if you have a busy home.

  • If you are considering getting another pet, consider the impact it can have on your cat. Most senior cats are already experiencing physical changes and difficulties with basic tasks. Avoid making this time more difficult with the experience of a new pet.

  • Keep up on your cat's routine medical care and be sure to communicate with your veterinary team about any changes to your cats behavior. Talk to your vet about how to best manage your cat's changes and if supplements or medications can help them feel their best.

Written By: Amanda Caron - Cat Behavior Consultant May 6, 2022

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