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Aging Cats: When is a cat considered a senior?

Senior cats need specific care to stay happy and healthy into old age. This includes routine veterinary care to detect and prevent illnesses. Here, our Thornton vets explain when a cat is considered a senior and how you can care for it. 

How old is my cat in human years?

Similar to us, each cat experiences aging differently. Many cats begin to display age-related physical changes between 7 and 10 years, and most will by the time they reach 12. 

While many think of one 'cat year' as equivalent to seven 'human years,' this comparison isn't entirely accurate. Instead, the accepted wisdom is that a cat's first year is similar to the development of a 16-year-old person, and a cat at two years old is more like a person between 21 and 24 years old. 

After that, each of your cat's years equals roughly 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 to be 'senior' once they are about 11 years old and 'super senior' when they reach over 15. It sometimes helps to think of our older cats' ages in human terms when considering what type of veterinary care they need. 

What happens as my cat ages?

Many pet parents wonder, 'Is my cat sick, or is it old age?' Cats may experience many behavioral and physical changes as they age, just like their owners. While aging itself is not a disease, having regularly scheduled open and honest discussions with your vet on changes in your senior cat is an important part of their overall health and wellness care. Some changes to look for include: 

Behavioral Changes in Aging Cats

Cognitive Issues—Has your cat become confused by objects or tasks that are part of its daily routine? This may point to issues with cognition or memory. Behavioral changes such as litter box avoidance or accidents, wandering, excessive meowing, new or increased avoidance of people, and seeming disoriented are also potential signs of feline senility or mental confusion. Your vet should assess these symptoms. 

Issues Caused By Disease - Health issues such as arthritis or dental disease can cause pain in aging cats, which may prompt them to become aggressive. Since cats tend to hide discomfort, keeping an eye on mood changes is important. Disorders and diseases affecting urination (e.g., kidney failure and diabetes) can cause your kitty to use the litter box more or eliminate inappropriate areas. 

Cats with mobility problems due to joint inflammation may find it difficult to access or climb into their litter box, especially if they need to navigate stairs. This may also lead to your senior cat eliminating in inappropriate locations, and a vet should address this. 

Physical Changes in Aging Cats

Grooming & Appearance: Aging cats are sometimes unable to groom as effectively as their younger counterparts due to health issues that make reaching all the areas of their bodies painful. This leads to oily or matted fur, which can cause skin odor, inflammation and painful hair matting. 

Senior cats' claws are often thick, brittle, and overgrown, so they'll need more attention from their caretakers. A slightly hazy lens and a 'lacy' appearance to the iris (the colorful part of the eye) are also common issues. However, there is little evidence that this significantly affects their sight. That said, several diseases, particularly those associated with high blood pressure, can seriously and irreversibly impair a cat's ability to see. 

Unintentional Weight Loss or Weight Gain: Weight loss can indicate any number of problems for senior cats, from diabetes to heart or kidney disease. Older cats also often experience dental disease, which can hinder eating and cause weight loss and malnutrition. Dental issues can also cause significant pain. 

Physical Activity & Abilities: Senior cats also experience arthritis or degenerative joint disease as they age, This makes it difficult to gain access to litter boxes, food and water bowls, and beds. This is especially true if they have to jump or climb stairs. Changes in sleep are a normal part of aging, but a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep could cause you to contact your vet. Aging cats that suddenly have an increase in energy may have signs of hyperthyroidism and should be seen by a vet. Inappropriate weight loss/gain can be a sign of issues ranging from heart and kidney disease to diabetes. Hearing loss is common in geriatric cats for several reasons and should be monitored by your veterinarian.

How can I keep my senior cat healthy?

Your observations are the most important tools for keeping 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.

  • Grooming & Appearance: Brushing your cat's fur, trimming its claws, and brushing its teeth are great ways to keep older cats clean and healthy while checking for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.
  • Nutrition: Many cats become heavy or obese as they age, 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 various medical conditions and should be assessed by a veterinarian.
  • Home Life: Older cats can be more sensitive to changes in routine or household, which can lead to stress. 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 senior cat adjust to upsetting changes. Don't forget to keep playing with your cat as they age; mental and physical stimulation benefits their well-being.
  • Vet Care: Because cats are adept at hiding illness until it is advanced or severe, it's important to take them regularly to the vet for senior wellness exams, even if they seem perfectly healthy. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor any conditions your senior cat may have and catch any potential or emerging issues early when they're more treatable. their behavior and health.

How can my veterinarian help?

Your knowledge of your cat and observations are an important resource for your vet, as are regular wellness examinations. Depending on your cat's needs (e.g., if they have a medical condition), your vet may suggest increasing the frequency of physical evaluations. A wellness examination of a senior cat includes the vet checking the cat's weight, skin & fur condition, organ systems, and behavior and running diagnostic tests for certain conditions common in older felines. Combining home care and cooperative veterinary care is a great way to help ensure your senior cat has a healthier, happier life with you and your family.

Geriatric Veterinary Care in Thornton

At Caring Hands Veterinary Hospital, our vets offer complete care for senior dogs and cats. We will thoroughly examine your senior pet, ask about its home life in detail and perform any tests that may be required to obtain additional insight into their general physical health and condition.

Based on the findings, we'll recommend a treatment plan including medications, activities and dietary changes that may help improve your senior pet's health, well-being and comfort. Contact us to schedule geriatric dog or cat care today.

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.

Is your furry friend due for a vet visit? Contact our senior dog and cat vets in Thornton to book an examination.

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Caring Hands Veterinary Hospital is always accepting new patients! Our vets are passionate about providing kind and loving veterinary care to Thornton companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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