When you have a family pet it means that you get to enjoy the entirety of their life with them. But as your dog or cat ages, there is more care that will be needed. Today our Deer Park vets discuss the aging process in cats and how to care for your geriatric pets.
When Will Your Cat Be Considered Geriatric?
Because you spend every day with your cat it can be hard to tell when they have become a geriatric cat. While you may not notice these changes, it is important to know that they are going on.
In another similarity to humans, aging cats experience these changes uniquely. Many cats begin to show age-related physical changes by the time they are between 7 and 10 years old, and most will have by about 12.
You can consider your cat to be geriatric by the time they are 11 and beyond.
What happens as my senior cat ages?
Cats experience many behavioral and physical changes as they age, just as we do. While aging in cats is not a disease in itself, keeping your vet up to date on changes in your senior cat's body and personality will go a long way to ensuring they receive the most comprehensive wellness care possible. Some changes to keep an eye out for include:
Physical Changes of Geriatric Cats
Your geriatric cat's appearance will change
Geriatric cats might develop issues related to their fur more often as self-grooming becomes more difficult for them. Painful hair matting can result in inflammation and skin odor. Senior cats' claws also often become thick, brittle, and overgrown, and will need more attention from caretakers.
Your geriatric cat's ability to see may be severely altered as they commonly have a slightly hazy lens and a 'lacy' appearance to the iris (the colorful part of the eye), but there is little evidence that their sight is significantly impacted by this alone.
However, numerous diseases, especially those related to high blood pressure, can seriously and irreversibly affect the vision of a geriatric cat.
You may notice weight changes in your senior cat
If your senior cat is losing weight, this can point to many problems, from diabetes to kidney and heart disease. Dental disease is also extremely common in senior cats. As they age, dental issues can impair eating, causing malnutrition and weight loss along with causing significant pain in their mouths.
Your geriatric cat may lose some physical capabilities
Arthritis or degenerative joint disease often becomes a problem for older cats. This condition makes it difficult to access food and water bowls, beds, and litter boxes. This fact is especially true for a cat that needs to climb stairs or jump.
While changes in sleep are a normal aspect of aging, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep is a concern and your vet should be notified. If you notice your senior cat's energy has suddenly increased, this may indicate hyperthyroidism and should be checked by a vet.
Geriatric cats also commonly lose hearing for several reasons. If this happens for your cat, it's another reason to visit your veterinarian.
Behavioral Changes with Geriatric Cats
Cognitive concerns with senior cats
If you notice that your geriatric 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 mean that you should visit the vet for the necessary geriatric cat care.
Disease side effects causing issues in geriatric cats
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 geriatric cat eliminating in inappropriate places and you should have them examined as soon as possible.
How to Care For Geriatric Cats
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 so your vet can provide geriatric cat care geared to your pet's needs.
Grooming Your Geriatric Cat
Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are great ways to keep older cats clean and healthy, while also checking for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.
Nutritional Needs of Geriatric Cats
A lot of geriatric cats get heavy or even obese as they age, which can be controlled with diet and activity if the weight gain is non-medical. Other weight issues include geriatric cats being underweight, which may be caused by a variety of medical conditions and should be assessed by a veterinarian.
Accommodating Your Geriatric Cat at Home
Stress can occur with cats of any age but this can be especially true for geriatric cats. It is always best to keep to a daily routine and avoid making major changes around the home if possible. 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 geriatric cat adjust to upsetting changes. Don't forget to keep playing with your cat as they age; mental and physical stimulation is essential for the well-being of your senior cat.
Attentive Veterinary Care For Your Geriatric Cat
All cats are masters at hiding pain and illness, this goes for geriatric cats as well. Your veterinarian will provide attentive geriatric cat care and 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.
What Are Some Ways a Vet Can Help Your Geriatric Cat?
Your knowledge of your geriatric cat's activities, health, and personality, and any observations you may be able to offer, will serve as an essential guide for your vet. These should be paired with regularly scheduled routine exams. Depending on your senior cat's age, lifestyle, health status, and a few other factors including any ongoing needs they may have in terms of medical conditions, your vet can tell you how often to come in for a visit and may recommend increasing the frequency of physical checkups.
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.