Lifestyle Guides

How to look after an older cat

older cat sitting on a table

While your adult cat might have continued to behave like a kitten at times, there will eventually come a day when they’ll start to slow down.

It’s an inevitable part of the ageing process. However, you can help your furry friend be happy and healthy in their twilight years.

What to look for as your cat ages?

A cat’s average life expectancy is 12-14 years, but it’s not uncommon for them to live to 20. Cats are generally classed as senior at 11 years old, and it’s at this time that you may start noticing the following changes in their pet.

  • decrease in activity levels
  • less time spent outdoors hunting
  • change of appetite
  • diminished vision and hearing
  • change in toileting habits
  • sleeping more but less deeply
  • deterioration in coat condition
  • appearance of age-related illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes and hyperthyroidism
  • behaviour changes such as becoming aggressive or seeming confused

Any changes in your cat’s behaviour and appearance can be an early indicator of illness, so it’s essential to report any changes in eating, drinking or toileting habits to your vet.

If you notice any of the following, make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible:

  • started eating less
  • started drinking more
  • smelly breath
  • weight loss
  • started limping
  • any lumps or bumps
  • trouble going to the toilet
  • become disorientated or losing balance

Taking your senior cat for regular check-ups with your vet is strongly advisable to identify and treat symptoms early. Some vet surgeries run special geriatric clinics where owners can take their pets for advice and support. 

Making your home suitable for your older cat

Your senior cat may benefit from changes around the house to make their lives more comfortable. However, older cats can be more sensitive to disruption, so gradually make changes.

Feeding

As cats age, their nutritional requirements change. They’re likely to burn fewer calories than they were younger. 

Consider switching your cat to food marked senior as it’s nutritionally matched to their life stage. As with any changes in diet, you should transition gradually over a week to avoid upset stomachs. 

Senior cats can sometimes need a bit of encouragement to eat if their senses have diminished and the experience is not as exciting as it once was. If your oldie is reluctant to eat, try the following:

  • feed your cat smaller meals more frequently so they aren’t overwhelmed by a large bowl of food
  • warm your cat’s food to increase its appeal
  • dental discomfort may cause a preference for softer food over crunchy kibble
  • put your cat’s food in a puzzle feeder to make mealtimes more fun as well as improve mental stimulation
  • if your senior cat suffers from achy and stiff joints, raise its bowl slightly to make it more comfortable for them
  • encourage drinking by placing multiple water bowls around the home or consider buying a cat drinking fountain for continuous fresh water

Grooming

Grooming becomes more difficult for cats as they age. Stiff and aching joints make it difficult for them to get to those hard-to-reach places. 

Help them with regular gentle brushing, which also allows you to check them for any lumps and bumps your vet can investigate.

Long-haired cats may require their coat trimmed around their rear end to keep the area clean and free from matting.

Stairs

If you live in a multi-story home, consider keeping their essential items on one floor. Your cat may also benefit from rugs being laid on any non-carpeted floors to prevent slipping.

Add ramps or steps up to their favourite perching so they don’t need to jump, which could be uncomfortable for them or cause injury.

Little tray

If your senior cat is less steady on their feet, they may benefit from a change of litter tray for one with low for easy access. Also, make sure it has some wiggle room. Older cats may find some types of litter rough on the paws, so test a softer one to see if they prefer it.

Scratching posts

If your cat likes to use a scratching post to sharpen their claws, they might find a horizontal scratching surface easier if their joints start getting stiff.

Insuring your older cat

Pet insurance helps cover treatment costs if your older cat gets sick. We normally recommend a time-limited policy for older pets as starting lifetime cover in later life is often more expensive.

Find out more about the differences between time-limited and lifetime pet insurance policies here.

I’ve spent 20 years writing about pets and exploring the wonderful relationships they have with their owners. I started as a staff writer on Dogs Today magazine, working my way up to become deputy editor in 2008. In 2010, I left the office to pursue a freelance career, relocated to north Norfolk and started a family. 

Over the years I’ve contributed thoughtful human-interest features, celebrity interviews and investigative news stories to publications including The Sunday Times, Dogs Today, Dogs Monthly and Your Cat. I’ve also ghost-written veterinary books and press releases for the pet industry.

When I’m not writing, I enjoy long walks in the Norfolk countryside with my rescue lurcher Popsie. These are always followed by tea and cake.
 

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