Looking After a Senior Cat: Top Tips

Top Tips on Looking After a Senior Cat | Animed Direct

Luckily for us, pet cats are living much longer today than they have in the past, thanks to better nutrition and healthcare. While this means more happy years of companionship, it’s important to be aware that as your cat reaches their senior years, their bodies and behaviour change. The way they are looked after needs to be adapted to ensure they are still receiving the best care and enjoying a high quality of life. In this blog, we’ll go through the changes that may occur as cats enter their senior years, and offer some top tips on how to provide the best care to senior cats.

What Age is a Senior Cat?

‘Middle-age’ in cats is generally thought to begin at around 7 years, and cats are considered to be senior when they reach the age of 11.

Cat Age in Human Years

When thinking about our cat’s age, it can be helpful to compare it to human ageing. A two-year-old cat is roughly equivalent in age to a 24-year-old human, and every year after that is equivalent to an additional 4 human years. For example, a 15-year-old cat would be equivalent to a 76-year-old person.

The Effects of Ageing in Cats

The ageing process can affect many aspects of a cat’s health and wellbeing. These include:

Mobility: As muscles and bones become weaker, cats might have reduced mobility in their senior years. It’s not uncommon for older cats to develop arthritis, a condition that affects the joints.

Health Conditions: As well as arthritis, other common conditions seen in older cats include diabetes, kidney disease and hyperthyroidism. Senior cats also tend to have a reduced immune function, which means they won’t be able to fight off infection as well as they used to.

Weakened Senses: Senior cats might start to experience a loss of hearing or vision, as well as a reduced ability to smell and taste food.

Digestion: Many senior cats have a reduced ability to digest fat and protein. This can result in digestive issues like diarrhoea. Senior cats might also experience changes in appetite and thirst, and some may find swallowing becomes more difficult, particularly dry food.

Activity: Cats slow down with age, often going out less and sleeping more. They might start to put on weight. Sleeping patterns may also change, with some cats waking up more in the night.

Personality: Some cats may become friendlier and want to spend more time with their owners, while others may start to dislike being petted. However, personality changes can also be a sign of underlying health problems, not just a natural part of ageing, so always see a vet if you’re concerned.

Looking After a Senior Cat

With all these changes, senior cats are even more dependent on you to look after them. There are lots of things you can do to make sure they are happy and comfortable in their old age.

Senior Cat Nutrition

Specifically tailored senior cat food helps to offer support where older cats most need it. For example Hill’s Science Plan Senior Vitality cat food contains easy-to-digest ingredients, and supports brain function, coat health and energy levels.

You can find a whole range of senior cat diets at Animed Direct, and for more information on the topic, read our Senior Cat Food Guide.

Senior cats with diagnosed health conditions may need special veterinary diets to support their condition. Your vet will discuss the best option for your cat with you, and you can find a range of veterinary and prescription diets from top brands at Animed.

Loss of appetite is also common among senior cats. It’s very important to see a vet in the first instance if you notice any reduction in appetite to find out the underlying cause. By the time a cat has stopped eating completely, many diseases will have significantly progressed, so early detection and treatment is key.

As well as visiting the vet, you can also encourage your cat’s appetite in the following ways:

  • Feed smaller meals more often throughout the day.
  • Provide a quiet, undisturbed environment for your cat to eat in.
  • Experiment with different bowls – many cats prefer a wide, shallow bowl. You can also try placing the bowl at different heights. Putting it on top of a slightly raised platform like a small box may be more comfortable for some senior cats.
  • Try gently warming your cat’s food to room temperature.
  • Experiment with different consistencies. Some cats might prefer their dry food if it’s soaked in a little water first. Others might like wet food that’s been mashed with a fork.
  • Try sitting with your cat while they eat, or even hand-feeding some of their food.

Grooming for Senior Cats

It can be more difficult for older cats to keep their coat in good condition, particularly if they start to experience stiffness in their joints.

Regular brushing will help prevent your senior cat’s fur from becoming tangled and matted. Use a soft brush and be gentle, as older cats tend to have very little padding over their bones and may find brushing painful if you do it too firmly. If your cat isn’t a fan of grooming, check out our post on how to encourage them to accept it for some tips on overcoming this problem.

You may also need to wipe away any discharge around their eyes, nose and bottom. You can use moist cotton wool to do this – make sure you use a separate piece for each area.

Senior cats also struggle to retract their claws as easily. They might get caught in furniture and carpets, or even curl backwards and start growing into their paw pads if they are allowed to grow too long, so they will need to be trimmed regularly. Have a chat with your vet about the best way to do this – it’s often possible for cat owners to do it themselves at home.

While they may be less effective at it, senior cats will still try to groom themselves, and may therefore suffer from increased hairballs. Their older digestive systems are less adept at processing fur, and it may lead to vomiting or constipation. Have a chat with your vet if this becomes a problem; there are lots of hairball products including foods and supplements available to help.

Play for Senior Cats

Play is still really important for older cats, as it provides essential mental stimulation and exercise. Many will still love to play just as much as they did when they were younger – it may just be gentler than they may have been used to in the past.

Simple games with teaser toys are a great way to indulge your cat’s natural hunting instincts. Even if they only watch, this is still valuable interaction that can provide stimulation for your cat. Try different toys and see what catches their attention!

If your cat suffers from stiff joints, kick toys can be very effective. These allow cats to play even while lying down, encouraging them to exercise their hind legs.

In terms of scratching posts, older cats may struggle with upright ones, so you may want to consider getting them a horizontal scratching surface. Disposable cardboard scratchers are good for this, as they’re easier to scratch than the conventional wood and twine scratchers.

Mobility

If your senior cat is struggling to move around as easily as they used to, you might need to make some adjustments to your home for them.

For example, if you have stairs in your home, your cat might be spending most of their time on one floor. It’s important to make sure that they have everything they need on that floor, such as food, water and a litter tray. This will help prevent accidents, and make sure they have access to resources.

Senior cats might also find laminate, tiled and wooden flooring difficult to walk on as it can be slippery. Equally they might get their claws stuck in thick carpet. You could consider adding cut pile runners to the areas of your home that your cat regularly walks across to make it more comfortable for them.

To make sure your cat doesn’t miss out on their favourite look-out spots and sleeping places, you might consider adding a set of shallow steps or a low-angled ramp beneath them.

Litter Trays

Even if your cat is used to going to the toilet outside, once they reach their senior years, it’s best to get them an indoor litter tray. There will be times when an older cat will need to go to the toilet indoors, for example if it’s particularly cold or raining. Senior cats may also feel vulnerable outside, perhaps intimidated by neighbouring cats now that they are slower on their feet.

Making sure your senior cat has an easily accessible litter tray will help prevent any accidents indoors. Even better, place several litter trays in a few quiet areas of your home where your cat feels safe. This gives them plenty of options.

Large litter trays give your cat plenty of space to move, while low sides make it easy for them to get in and out. Some litters may be too rough for an elderly cat, so try some softer litter, but don’t make any sudden changes.

Having an indoor litter tray also allows you to check for any signs of illness, such as blood in stools.

Things to Watch Out for in Senior Cats

Some changes are inevitable as your cat gets older but there are certain symptoms that could be a sign of a health problem. If you notice any of the following, it’s a good idea to let your vet know.

  • Changes to how much your senior cat eats and drinks (whether it’s more or less food or drink being consumed)
  • Changes to your cat’s usual bowel movements and/or urination patterns
  • Changes to their mobility and activity levels, especially if you notice that they seem to have difficulty moving around
  • Any signs that they are in pain
  • Changes to their behaviour, including hiding, being more vocal than before and seeming more bad-tempered (this can be a sign that they are in pain)
  • Lumps and bumps on their body
  • Weight loss
  • Balance problems or disorientation
  • Toilet accidents

Wrapping Up

Cats undergo a lot of changes as they reach their senior years. While their mobility may decline and they may need a little more help keeping their fur nice and tidy, most senior cats still have plenty of playfulness in them! By making some small changes to the way you care for your senior cat, you can ensure that they have a wonderful quality of life, and that you make many lots of happy memories in this stage of life together.

Sign up for Animed emails