Caring for a Senior Cat: 7 Healthy Habits
Dr. Mike Paul, DVMCat Checkups & Preventive Care
All cats deserve the best of care, but senior cats are in particular need of special attention for their health issues. As cats age, their health requirements change and they need our help to develop life “habits” that take these changes into consideration.
The term “senior” has been chosen to describe the aging/older cat. According to the ASPCA, most cats are considered seniors when they are between 12 and 14 years old. Your veterinarian may use a slightly different timeline.
There are a number of things we can do to introduce healthy lifestyle habits to our cats, and it’s never too late to start taking these steps. Pet health organizations like the American Association of Feline Practitioners have already developed some great, healthy guidelines for senior cats, and I have my own tips to offer.
According to the AVMA, as a result of improved veterinary care and dietary habits, “Pets are living longer now than they ever have before.” One consequence of this is that pets, along with their guardians and veterinarians, are faced with a whole new set of age-related conditions.
Like people, aging cats are often faced with a wide variety of age-related, life changes and basic healthy habits become even more important with passing time. Take a look at these healthy habits that lead to healthier cats:
1. Keep your senior cat inside
One of the most important habits you can practice to help your senior cat stay healthy is to be sure that she is not allowed outdoors without supervision. Cats kept exclusively indoors live longer, healthier lives than outdoor cats, according to the ASPCA. Even older cats can learn to be happy indoors if you provide them with enriched environments and give them opportunities to be alone.
2. Pay close attention to your senior cat’s nutritional needs
You can hardly pick up a magazine without seeing an article urging you to live a healthier lifestyle. Sadly, the importance of your cat’s weight is not always realized. Recent data, available from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, shows that 58% of cats were reported to be overweight or obese. Obesity is an extremely common problem in pets and, as with humans, can be detrimental to the health of a cat. Overweight cats have many added stresses on the body and are at an increased risk of diabetes, liver problems and joint pain— just to name a few of the possible consequences. One, very basic, healthy habit to develop is to feed your cat a balanced diet in amounts appropriate to maintaining a good body weight.
3. Regular veterinary visits
One very important habit to develop is regular veterinary care. Only about 14% of senior animals undergo regular health screening, as recommended by their veterinarians1. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends that healthy, older cats be examined by a veterinarian every six months. Regular testing is crucial, says AAHA, as baseline blood work can let your veterinarian know when something is abnormal. Cats are masters at hiding disease and may appear well, despite underlying problems. Examining cats more often as they age will help detect problems earlier, often resulting in easier disease management and a better quality of life.
Your cat’s veterinarian is trained to evaluate your cat’s health and wellbeing and make recommendations to keep her healthy and active. Having a senior cat necessitates a greater focus on early detection and prevention of health problems, like:
- Weight and body condition problems
- Skin and coat quality problems
- Oral health problems (mouth, gums and teeth)
- Eye and ear problems
- Thyroid gland problems
- Heart and lungs problems
- Gastrointestinal, pancreatic or kidney problems
- Joint and muscle problems
- Any changes in condition from previous visits
- Parasitic and infectious diseases
4. Prevent infectious diseases
Your vet can talk to you about vaccinations as appropriate for lifestyle, management factors, geographic region, and local regulations and laws. [Learn more about infectious disease in your area with this map.]
5. Maintain alert, active mental health
Keeping your senior cat stress free and stimulated can go a long way toward keeping her healthy. [Learn about stress reduction techniques here.]
6. Practice good grooming and hygiene
Dental cleaning and maintenance of gum health requires regular veterinary care, but can be helped by you getting into the habit of brushing your cat’s teeth, and perhaps with special diets. Ask your veterinarian how you can enhance dental care between professional cleanings.
Older cats may also have special grooming needs, particularly long-haired cats. Get into the habit of brushing this hair frequently for a happy, healthy cat.
7. Keep your senior cat active, moving and comfortable
Osteoarthritis is a condition most frequently recognized in a geriatric cat, but it may occur in any cat suffering from joint abnormality or injury. Exercise and limited use of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can be a great help in reducing discomfort. A number of agents other than NSAIDS may also improve the comfort and mobility of your cat, including oral, nutritional supplements. Use only products recommended by your veterinarian, exactly as prescribed [people medications are not safe for cats and even some combinations of prescribed medications can be dangerous].
You can maintain mobility and activity by getting into the habit of exercises or therapeutic intervention with your cat (such as massage and other complementary treatments). It may take coaxing to keep older cats active. But it is well worth the effort2. [Learn 6 Simple Tips for Exercising Your Senior Cat.]
(According to AAHA and AAFP, “Treatment of [degenerative joint disease] in cats should focus on environmental modification in addition to pharmacologic therapy. In addition to steps and ramps to facilitate access to favorite elevated areas, additional litter boxes with at least one low side will make access easier.”)
Be reasonable in your expectations for intensity and duration of activity.
Undoubtedly the greatest need when caring for a senior cat is patience. Old cats may sleep the majority of any day. Be sensitive to any changes in your senior cat. Even subtle changes can be an indication of significant health issues. When in doubt, consult with your veterinarian and see your veterinarian at least every 6 months.
- The Path To High-Quality Care: Practical Tips For Improving Compliance. Lakewood CO: Am Anim Hosp Assoc Press, 2003.
- Hines, Ron. “Dealing with Arthritis, Joint and Back Pain in Your Older Dog.” Dealing with Arthritis, Joint and Back Pain in Your Older Dog. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.