Recently, one of our technicians noticed that her usually spry cat was taking the stairs one at a time, instead of running down them like he used to do. The culprit: age. He recently turned 13.
Cats live longer than they used to, due in part to better veterinary medicine, advances in surgery and geriatric care and the shift to keeping cats indoors. While 13 years used to be towards the end of a cat’s life, cats now live well into their teens and sometimes into their twenties. With this extended life span comes the need to make allowances for your cat’s aging body to keep him comfortable and healthy.
Here are ten things your aging cat might need help with during his golden years.
GROOMING: Past a certain age, all cats will have some measure of arthritis. As your cat’s joints and spine stiffen, he may be unable to reach parts of his body to groom himself. (A sudden lack of interest in grooming is always a cause for concern and should be addressed with an exam.) You may notice that your cat’s coat is less shiny or that he has matted fur on his hind legs, tail or back. You can help by providing regular brushing to remove dander, loose hair or mats. Long haired cats may be easier to maintain by having them shaved short.
NAILS: The toenails of the cat grow thicker with age and don’t shed as easily. You will need to keep an eye on the claws and trim them when they get too long, to prevent them growing into the pad of the foot.
MOBILITY: Cats with arthritis will have a harder time navigating steps, jumping or running. You can help by minimizing the amount of potentially difficult movement your cat has to undertake to use the litter box, eat, and otherwise move around the house. Place litter boxes on every level if possible. Move beds and blankets to lower locations. Make sure food and water bowls are easy to access.
BODY TEMPERATURE MAINTENANCE: Older cats prefer warm places. Provide a window sill bed so your cat can sunbathe if he likes, and eliminate drafts from your home.
DENTAL ISSUES: By a certain age, all cats, even those who have had routine dental care, will be missing teeth. Cats who have not had regular dental care may have abscessed teeth or periodontal disease. Pay attention to your cat’s eating habits. He may need soft food or water added to his regular food so he can eat it without pain or difficulty.
WEIGHT MAINTENANCE: Weight issues with older cats can go both ways. Formerly active cats that have slowed down and get less exercise are at risk of becoming overweight. Older cats are also likely to lose muscle mass and bone density as they age, dropping weight and becoming more frail. You can help by monitoring your cat’s weight and adjusting food intake as needed. Provide low key exercise for cats that are putting on weight. BSAH also recommends regular bloodwork to check the function of the thyroid and kidneys.
LITTER BOX ISSUES: Location and ease of access to the litter box is important, but you also need to make sure your cat can navigate the box. When our technician with the older cat noticed he was having a hard time getting into and turning around in the covered box, she took the lid off. The sides of the box were still too high, so she has since switched to a more shallow pan. Older cats may have a hard time crouching to have a bowel movement, so make sure the box is large enough to move around in and low enough to get into easily. Consider placing newspaper or puppy pads under the box for ease of clean up if your cat misses the box.
JOINT PAIN: Weight loss and arthritis can make it uncomfortable to lie on hard surfaces. You can help by providing cushioned places for your older cat to sleep.
PREVENT SLIPS AND FALLS: Older cats with joint and spine problems aren’t as sure footed as in their younger days and jumping can lead to accidental falls. You can help by securing throw rugs and other slip hazards. Consider installing something for added traction on hardwood stairs. Block access to areas of the house that can’t be made safe. If your cat is having a hard time jumping, provide access for him to get to his favorite places with ease. Our technician’s cat was struggling to get into his favorite window, so she placed an elevated cat bed under the window that he can use as an extra step up.
ROUTINE AND CONSISTENT ENVIRONMENT: Older cats are creatures of habit and crave routine and a comfortable, consistent environment. If your cat is losing his eyesight or hearing, take care to not change his environment abruptly.
With your help, your older cat can live many happy and comfortable years.