A loyal Birman kittens, a smart Ragdoll kittens, or a loving Maine Coon, here are some of the feline friends we adore and love but just like any other pets, time will come when they grow old and their needs definitely change. What was once a playful kitten, scampering about the house, has become a mature, dignified senior cat.
Caring for a senior cat requires understanding, compassion, and patience. It can be challenging but ultimately rewarding, knowing that you’re providing the best possible life for your beloved companion during their golden years. As your feline friend transitions into their golden years, it becomes crucial to understand these changes and adjust their care accordingly.
Understanding Age in Cats
Firstly, it’s important to define what a senior cat is. Cats, on average, live to be 15 years old. However, they may be considered ‘senior’ or ‘geriatric’ from the age of 10 or 11. This is somewhat comparable to a human in their 60s or 70s. Many indoor cats live well into their teens and some even into their 20s, given proper care and a good quality of life.
What Cat Owners Can Do
Regular Vet Check-Ups
Senior cats should be taken to the vet at least twice a year for check-ups, as opposed to the annual visits recommended for younger cats. Older cats are prone to several health issues like dental disease, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and cancer. Regular blood tests, urine tests, and physical exams can help detect these issues early.
Diet and Nutrition
As your cat ages, their nutritional needs change. Many older cats experience a decrease in appetite due to a reduced sense of smell or dental problems. Therefore, it’s essential to provide them with a diet that’s palatable and nutrient-rich.
Senior cat diets should be high in quality proteins and lower in fat, as older cats may have a harder time digesting fats. The diet should also have a good balance of fibre to help with digestion and keep your cat’s weight under control.
For cats with certain health problems, your vet might recommend specialised diets. For instance, cats with kidney disease might need a diet low in phosphorus and protein. Cats with diabetes could require a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Always consult your vet before making changes to your cat’s diet.
Water intake is crucial for senior cats, especially for those with kidney disease. Encourage your cat to drink more by providing fresh water in multiple locations around your home. Using a cat water fountain, which provides a continuous stream of fresh water, might also entice your cat to drink more.
Exercise and Enrichment
Senior cats may not be as active as they used to be, but they still need regular exercise to keep their bodies fit and minds sharp. Try to engage them in short play sessions throughout the day, using toys that mimic hunting behaviours, like toys that flutter, squeak, or hide.
In addition, provide mental stimulation by changing up their environment occasionally. This could be as simple as providing a new box to explore, rearranging furniture, or adding a new perch or cat tree.
As cats age, they may struggle with grooming due to arthritis or other health issues. Regularly brushing your cat not only keeps their coat looking good but also helps you monitor for any changes in their skin condition. Brushing can also serve as a bonding activity between you and your cat.
Pay special attention to dental health. Brushing your cat’s teeth regularly can help prevent dental disease, which is common in senior cats. Use only a pet-safe toothpaste, and consult with your vet if your cat is reluctant to have their teeth brushed safely.
Monitor Weight and Body Condition
Keeping an eye on your senior cat’s weight is crucial. Unexplained weight loss can be a sign of health problems, such as hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. On the other hand, obesity can exacerbate health issues like arthritis and can lead to diseases like diabetes.
A regular weigh-in every month will help you spot any significant changes. Always consult your vet if you notice dramatic weight loss or gain.
Comfort and Accessibility
Arthritis and other mobility issues can make it difficult for senior cats to move around. Ensure that your home is senior-cat-friendly by providing easy access to essential resources. Litter boxes should be easily accessible, and you might consider providing a box with lower sides for easier access.
Also, your cat might appreciate a heated bed or a soft blanket, as older cats often feel the cold more than their younger counterparts.
Regular Observations and Monitoring
Finally, it’s important to monitor your cat’s behaviour. Changes in behaviour are often the first sign of potential health issues. Be observant of any alterations in eating habits, litter box use, grooming, activity levels, or interactions. Any significant changes should warrant a call to your vet.
Caring for a senior cat may require a bit more effort and vigilance, but the rewards are enormous. Their companionship, wisdom, and unique personalities make them a joy to live with.
Providing them with a safe, comfortable, and loving environment in their later years is the best gift we can give them in return for their unconditional love and affection. Remember, always consult with your vet when you notice significant changes in your cat’s behaviour or health. Together, you can ensure that your senior cat lives out their golden years in comfort and happiness.