A cat can be considered old when he starts to take things easy and spends more time than usual sleeping. The old cat’s reactions are sharp, his movements are subtle, and he may even deign to chase string and pat feathers, as long as he is not made to feel foolish. Just because he sits around a lot and is undemanding and quiet, an elderly cat should not be ignored.

To remain happy and in the best possible health, he needs everything on the checklist.

  • lots of love and affection
  • particular attention to claws and teeth
  • extra care with diet
  • help with grooming
  • twice-yearly veterinary check-ups patience and understanding if ‘accidents’ occur
  • unchanging daily routine
  • minimal upheaval in his life
  • plenty of sleep
  • Lifestyle

While one year in a dog’s life is said to be the equivalent of seven years in a human’s life, the formula is different with cats. The average cat lives to be 16-18 years of age, which is the equivalent of a 75-85-year-old human. The lifespan of cats is longer than ever before, which may be attributed to any number of factors including better diet, more frequent medical care and living in a safer environment.

Any given grocery or pet store has dozens of varieties of cat food, so selecting the right brand can be difficult. An older cat needs food that is made of high-quality ingredients and contains plenty of vitamins and minerals. While high-quality foods may be more expensive, their ingredients provide better nutrition, which can extend the health and longevity of a cat.

Elderly cats may develop dental problems, so it is important to select a brand that is easy for a cat to consume. Canned foods are high in moisture, which can reduce the prevalence of hairballs and digestive problems, and soft consistency makes it easy for an older cat to eat. Warmed canned food will also help to increase the aroma of food, which can make it more appealing to a picky eater.

On the other hand, dry cat food also has its benefits, particularly because its texture helps to safely decrease the amount of plaque on a cat’s teeth. A diet that consists mainly of dry food, which is generally not as fattening, will also help reduce a cat’s chances of becoming obese. If a cat is lacking a certain nutrient, such as fibre or protein, there are specific types of food that can be chosen. Veterinarians will be able to make dietary recommendations as necessary.

Obesity in older cats can have a big impact on the quality of life, along with the duration of life. Even a small weight gain can put undue stress on a cat’s body. Organs and bones naturally become weaker as a cat ages and extra weight can increase the pressure put on an already fragile body.

In addition to choosing the right food, exercise will also help reduce a cat’s chances of becoming obese. Cats can be sedentary in nature, and even more so as they age, but continuing to evoke its playful side will help promote an active lifestyle. If a cat no longer shows interest in playing with its toys, consider investing in new items that may pique its curiosity. Cat towers are another viable option, as they are not only a place to climb and scratch, they also provide additional spots for an older cat to curl up and sleep.

While kittens and adult cats have an active and playful side, they also spend a great deal of time resting. The amount of time a cat spends sleeping generally increases with age, so it is important to ensure that an elderly cat has comfortable spots in which to do so. A cat bed, a comfortable chair or a soft blanket are some examples of places a cat may enjoy sleeping. Having several choices available will help provide an elderly cat with the comfort and rest it needs to have occasional bursts of energy and activity.

As is the case with humans, ageing can sometimes be a painful process as arthritis and sore muscles can make simple activities difficult. If an older cat spends much of its time in an inactive state, it may be due to the discomfort it experiences while up and moving. To promote good health in an ageing cat, it is important to keep food and water in an easily accessible location. Older cats are at a greater risk of dehydration and malnutrition, so keeping multiple bowls of food and water around the home will provide a cat with additional opportunities to eat and drink. An arthritic cat that has to jump or bend in an uncomfortable position may not be getting proper nutrition.

Due to decreased mobility, an older cat may lose its ability to properly groom itself. In this case, it is important to regularly brush its coat and bathe the cat as needed to promote cleanliness. A litter box with high edges may not be easily accessible to a cat with stiff joints, which may cause it to go to the bathroom in inappropriate places, so a litter box with easy entry and exit may be necessary.

Elderly cats are at a greater risk of developing serious health problems, as their older and weaker bodies make them more susceptible to diseases such as cancer, diabetes and kidney failure. Veterinary care will help determine the best course of action. Providing an elderly cat with tender care and a comfortable place to live will help it enjoy the remainder of its life.

Just like elderly people, old cats are resistant to and can be upset by major changes in their routine and lifestyle. If changes do have to happen, try to incorporate them gradually to allow your cat time to get used to them. Everything should be done to keep the elderly cat feeling as good as possible. Disturbed behaviour patterns may be the result of chronic illness in the old cat. For example, a previously clean cat may have ‘accidents’, making puddles on chairs and carpets. Should this happen, it may be best to keep the cat in areas of the house where such accidents don’t matter, but that does not mean he should be shut away or limited in his access to his family, as this would be unfair and cruel.

Some people consider getting a kitten when their established cat gets old. This can be a good or bad decision, depending on the temperament and nature of the aged cat. If he likes the kitten, then he may gain a new lease of life. If, however, he does not, then he may resent the newcomer and become depressed and withdrawn, stop eating and, ultimately, become very ill. If the old cat is the only one in the household and has always been a loner, then it would be kinder not to get another cat or kitten.

If your elderly cat displays an increased need for your company, always give him plenty of attention and reassurance – even consider moving his bed into your bedroom at night if necessary. Leaving a radio on low while you are out can help provide ‘company’.

Foods specially formulated for elderly cats are available, and these contain all the nutrients the ageing body needs to remain in the best possible condition and help delay or alleviate the onset of conditions such as senility. As older cats can often suffer from urinary tract problems, a totally dry diet may not be the best choice.

An older cat may not be able to defend his food as well as he once could, so if you have other cats and/or dogs ensure they are not allowed to steal his meals or intimidate him while he is eating and scare him off. Being less active as he grows older, it is easy for the cat to pile on weight, which can put undue strain on his heart and joints; keep a careful watch on this. Equally, he could lose weight rapidly and starve if he is not eating for some reason. Weighing your cat once a week can help you monitor his weight – and this is quite simple to do. First, weigh yourself on your bathroom scales, and then weigh yourself again while holding the cat; deduct the first weight from the second to ascertain your pet’s weight. It may be easier for a helper to read the weights while you stand still on the scales.

Veterinary Surgeon, London at Blue Cross UK | + posts

A London based Veterinary surgeon, Sanja is also an avid writer and pet advocate.