Thanks to advancements in veterinary care and medicine, pet nutrition and diet research and development, and accessibility to information for pet owners, our old cats are living far longer than they used to and becoming super senior cats. Today, our White Settlement vets talk about what to expect as your cat ages and share tips on how to care for your senior cat.

How old is my cat in human years?

Every cat, like every human, ages differently. Many cats begin to exhibit age-related physical changes between the ages of 7 and 10, with the majority having done so by the age of 12. The commonly held belief that one "cat year" is equivalent to seven "human years" is incorrect; instead, the accepted wisdom is that a cat's first year is comparable to the growth of a 16-year-old human, and a cat at 2 years old is comparable to a human between 21 and 24 years old. Following that, each year for a cat is roughly equal to four human years (e.g., a 10-year-old cat = 53-year-old human; a 12-year-old cat = 61-year-old human; a 15-year-old cat = 73-year-old human, and so on).

Cats are considered "senior" when they reach 11 years of age, and "super-senior" when they reach 15 years of age. When caring for senior cats, it can be helpful to think of their age in human terms.

What happens as my cat ages?

Cats, like their owners, go through a variety of physical and behavioral changes as they age. While aging is not a disease in and of itself, keeping your vet up to date on changes in your senior cat is an important part of their overall wellness care. Among the changes to keep an eye out for are:

Physical changes

  • Grooming & appearance. Matted or oily fur is caused by aging cats' ineffective grooming, which can lead to painful hair matting, skin odor, and inflammation. Senior cats' claws are frequently overgrown, thick, and brittle, necessitating more attention from their owners. Aging cats frequently have a slightly hazy lens and a 'lacy' appearance to the colorful part of the eye (iris), but there is little evidence that this affects their vision significantly. However, there are several diseases, particularly those associated with high blood pressure, that can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's vision. Weight gain or loss that was unintentional: Weight loss in an older cat can indicate a variety of issues, ranging from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Dental disease is extremely common in older cats and can prevent them from eating, resulting in weight loss and malnutrition as well as significant pain.
  • Physical activity & abilities. Degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, is common in older cats, making access to litter boxes, food, water bowls, and beds difficult. This is particularly true if they must jump or climb stairs. Sleep changes are a normal part of aging, but a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep should be reported to your veterinarian. Aging cats with a sudden increase in energy may be suffering from hyperthyroidism and should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Inappropriate weight loss or gain can be a sign of a variety of problems, including heart and kidney disease, as well as diabetes. Hearing loss in geriatric cats is common for a variety of reasons and should be monitored by your veterinarian.

Behavioral changes

  • Cognitive issues. If you notice your cat becoming confused by tasks or objects that are part of their daily routine, this could be a sign of memory or cognition issues. Litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and appearing disoriented are all potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
  • Issues caused by disease. A cat may become aggressive due to pain from health issues such as dental disease or arthritis, so monitoring your cat's mood is critical because cats tend to hide discomfort. Diseases and disorders that affect urination (e.g., diabetes, kidney failure) can increase litterbox usage, which can lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate places. Cats with mobility issues due to joint inflammation may have difficulty accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also cause your senior cat to eliminate in inappropriate places, which should be addressed by a veterinarian.

How can I help keep my senior cat healthy?

Some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy are your observations. Simple changes to your grooming, feeding and general interactions with your cat can be a low-stress way to keep an eye out for any changes in your aging pet.

  • Grooming: Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are all excellent ways to keep older cats clean and healthy, while also keeping an eye out for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.
  • 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: Changes in routine or household can make older cats more sensitive to stress. Patience and accommodations (extra affection, a favorite toy or blanket, a quiet room to stay in) can go a long way toward assisting your senior cat in adjusting to upsetting changes. Don't forget to keep playing with your cat as they get older; mental and physical stimulation is good for their health.
  • Vet care: Because cats are adept at hiding illness until it is advanced or severe, it is critical to take them to the vet for wellness checks regularly, even if they appear perfectly healthy. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor any conditions that your senior cat may have and identify any potential or emerging issues early on when they are more treatable.

How can a veterinarian help?

Your knowledge of your cat and your observations, as well as regular wellness examinations, are valuable resources for your veterinarian. Depending on your cat's needs (for example, if they have a medical condition), your veterinarian may advise you to increase the frequency of physical examinations. A senior cat's wellness examination includes the veterinarian checking the cat's weight, skin and fur condition, organ systems, behavior, and running diagnostic tests for certain conditions that are common in older cats. The combination of homecare and collaborative veterinary care is an excellent way to ensure that your senior cat lives a healthier, happier life with you and your family.

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.

Wondering how to care for a cat in their golden years? Get in touch with Frontier Veterinary Hospital to book a wellness check for your senior cat today.