Do you have a cat? In 2020 there were nearly 11 million cats in the UK so we wouldn’t be surprised if you are one of the lucky ones to be owned by a cat – let’s face it, it really is that way round isn’t it! For a small animal, a healthy cat has quite a high life expectancy, the average age is approximately 14-16, but they can exceed this and the oldest cat ever recorded, according to the Guinness World Records, lived to the grand old age of 38 – that is approximately 168 in equivalent human years!
The different stages of a cat’s life are as follows:
- Age 0-6 months old – kitten
- Age 6 months to 2 years – junior
- Age 3 to 6 years – prime
- Age 7 to 10 years – mature cat
- Age 11 to 14 years – senior cat
- Age 15 plus – super senior or geriatric cat
Dependent on the age of your furry friend, their needs will differ to that of a cat at a different point in their life stage. Today we are looking at how to care for senior or geriatric cats.
By the time your cat reaches the age of 14 or 15, you may notice signs of ageing. You might notice that their fur is duller and has a slightly different texture to that of a younger cat, a sprinkle of white hairs may be spotted – particularly noticeable in a black cat. You may observe that their eyes look a little cloudy, this is usually just a result of ageing and the cat won’t have any discomfort – they just don’t look as bright eyed and bushy-tailed as they may have done before! Of course if your cat’s eyes take on a milky appearance and they appear to have problems with their vision, it may be that they have developed cataracts. If you feel this is the case we would advise seeing your vet.
Your older cat will probably have slowed down quite a lot, they may feel less confident about going outside and doing battle with any neighbouring cats. For this reason, if you do not yet have an indoor cat litter tray, this would probably be the time to get one. Of course your cat may prefer to still toilet outside and if this is the case, try and create an area close to the house where they will feel a sense of security and closeness to their home. If they are very senior and still want to go outside, you could accompany them and enjoy time in the fresh air with them.
Ensure their food and water is convenient for them to get to. If they spend a lot of their time, for example, upstairs perhaps have a bowl of food and water upstairs as well as downstairs for them. Water fountains are a great alternative to a bowl of water as let’s face it most cats love to drink from a bath or basin tap with running water! Fresh water is vital for cats as it helps to flush out any toxins from their body as well as the other health benefits of water.
Older cats can develop kidney problems and as a consequence you may find they drink more or try and drink from unusual places – such as the bath taps or sink. If you suspect your cat may have kidney problems it is vital to get them seen by your vet as urgently as possible as if detected at an early stage, the effects of this can be slowed down. The other symptoms of kidney disease are: weight loss, urinating more than usual, eating less or nothing, vomiting, low energy or mouth ulcers. Sadly by this stage it may be that the kidneys have failed to such a level that the effects are irreversible.
Your senior cat may find it a little harder to groom themselves effectively. You might want to help them out with this by gently brushing them with a soft-bristled brush. If your cat enjoys attention it will love this additional quality time that you are spending with them. Furthermore stroking or brushing your cat is calming for you too and a great stress-buster, especially in these uncertain times we are in.
As older people feel the cold more, you will most likely find that your geriatric cat will appreciate somewhere cosy, comfortable and warm to sleep. Hammock style beds that hook over the radiator are quite comforting if your cat is able to jump up to this. (If not, they could benefit from a step to assist this jump.) Alternatively they may be happy with a cosy cat bed – or to snuggle with you on your bed!
Keep a check on your cat’s claws. As cats age and tend to go outside less they will not wear down their claws as much as previously. They may forget or find it difficult to use the scratching post and their claws will continue to grow. This will be uncomfortable, particularly as they will snag their claws on any materials they come into contact with – think your favourite cashmere sweater! Luckily your vet is on hand and will be more than willing to trim your cat’s claws for you at a pretty reasonable cost. Our vet charges about £15 for this service. If you are confident and experienced you could do this yourself or perhaps enlist the services of a pet groomer. Personally we prefer to let the vet do it.
Your senior cat will require different food as they age. They may have slowed down and not be as enthusiastic about their food, or find it more difficult to chew, so lose weight; alternatively their metabolism will have reduced and they will inevitably be less active so they may put weight on. It is important to seek a food that is developed specifically for older cats. We usually feed dry biscuits but as our cats have aged we have also introduced wet pouch food in additional to the dry food. The pouch food provides additional moisture and will also probably be easy for them to eat. The appealing smell of meat or fish in gravy or jelly may encourage them to eat more if they need to.
As with human beings, a cats senses will definitely deteriorate with age – you may notice they don’t always hear you when you call them (they may not hear how loudly they are yowling in the middle of the night either!) Cats may appear confused at certain times and you may potentially detect other subtle behavioural changes. Your cat will usually still enjoy lots of attention from you – you can enrich their waking time by playing gently with them or supervise them as they investigate their surroundings.
The most important thing is to let your four legged family member know how much they are loved. Care for them, nurture them and if think there is something wrong please take them to a vet. Cats are extremely good at hiding things and can’t tell you if they aren’t feeling great so we owe it to our important family members to keep an eye out on them. Visiting the vet for twice yearly check ups would be prudent too.
Do you have any tips for caring for elderly cats?