Senior cats have special needs. Most of the time, they’re pretty easy to meet. Stay ahead of illness and disease with these simple tips.
FIDO: Hey, Fluff, happy birthday to you! How old are you?
FLUFFY: Well, Fido, that depends on whether you’re counting human years or cat years. In human years, I’m 12. In cat years, I’m 61.
FIDO: Whoa! How do you figure that?
FLUFFY: People don’t know how to count cat years. They think it’s just 4 human years for every year we’re alive, but it’s not. When we’re one year old, it’s like 16 in cat years. At two, we’re 21. And then, after that, it’s 4 years for every year we’re alive. So that makes me 61. Mom says I have special needs now but they’re easy to work with. She loves me!
FIDO: What kind of needs?
FLUFFY: So many! Let’s tell Meryl about them so that she can send them out to all of our Santé D’Or friends.
FIDO: Great idea, let’s go!
…And so they did. Your senior cat has lots of good years ahead. Here’s how to help him stay happy and healthy.
What is old? Most vets agree that cats enter middle age between 7 and 10. They’re considered seniors from 10 to 15, and geriatric from then on. Start paying close attention to wellness when they’re 7 or 8 and you may add years of comfort to your best feline friend’s life.
Visit your vet regularly. Don’t just see the vet when it’s time to vaccinate every few years. The better she knows your animal, the more effectively she can treat problems that come up. You’ll catch them sooner, when the treatment may be less expensive, more effective, and easier on both you and your baby. And, regular visits mean you’ll have baseline data so that you can more accurately assess the meaning of the changes you’ll see with age. Some vets recommend twice yearly visits once a cat reaches middle age. Certainly once a year is necessary.
What’s normal? You’ll notice many changes as your cat ages, so how do you know what warrants a call to the vet? The answer is: any prolonged (more than 2 weeks) change in behavior is worth a call. Although lots of what you see is just simple aging, you may also be seeing early signs of arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease or dental problems. These may show up as difficulty using the litter box, especially if your baby has to negotiate stairs to get to it; ineffective grooming; increase or decrease in urination, water consumption or appetite.
What about mental health? Just as happens with some humans, cats may experience cognitive decline as they age. You may notice excessive meowing, wandering, disorientation or withdrawal from social interaction. Speak to your vet; there are medications that offer some relief from these symptoms. If your normally placid and social cat becomes aggressive, it can also mean that she’s in pain. See your vet right away.
How can you help? Once you’ve seen the vet, make sure to follow any protocol he recommends. Even cats with diseases as serious as kidney failure or diabetes can live very well for quite some time if you’re vigilant about their care. And, for more simple issues of aging, you can help keep your cat happy and comfortable by following these tips:
- Brush her more frequently to get rid of mats and dead hair; she’s not as good at grooming as she used to be. Remember to be gentle. The skin of older cats loses elasticity and thins out, making it more prone to infection.
- Clip his nails regularly, and don’t forget the back paws. When a cat is older and even a little arthritic, he can’t always get to those back paws. Don’t clip them short; just take off the ends for him.
- Clean the litter box more often. As cats age, they may urinate more frequently, and the odor may get stronger. This often turns them off, so they look for somewhere else to go. A clean litter box can go a long way toward keeping both you and kitty happy.
- Provide cat stairs or ramps so that your baby can still get up on the furniture. Even non-arthritic older cats often have trouble jumping.
- Keep the environment as calm and serene as possible, and minimize environmental changes. Cats like peace and quiet, and most don’t like change, even as youngsters. That’s even more true when they get older. Especially if your cat is experiencing any kind of cognitive deficit, a change in environment can be extremely upsetting. Her vision, hearing and sense of physical orientation in space may be declining, so she depends on familiar patterns and body memory to get around. If you change things in any significant way, it can be very confusing.
The bottom line? Cats age and get sick just like humans. And, just as with humans, there are many things we can do to keep them happy and comfortable in their senior years. Caring for your senior cat can be a rewarding and uplifting experience for both of you. The most important ingredients are good medical care and a whole lot of love. And we know you have that!
We hope you enjoyed these tips, and that you learned something, too! We’d love to hear from you, so please send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meryl Schwarz, M.A., M.Ed., is an animal lover and Certified Professional Coach specializing in grief support for people grieving their beloved animals. Whether you’re grieving a terminal diagnosis, the normal aging process, a disappearance or a death, Meryl offers compassionate and caring support with the wisdom of experience. Visit her website at www.merylschwarz.com to schedule an appointment by Skype or phone.