Senior Cats Require Loving Care: Considerations for Elderly Cats

Over the past decade the life expectancy of cats has greatly increased. With major advances in veterinary medicine, the emphasis on the importance of regular veterinary care, feline neutering and spaying and providing cats with excellent quality feline nutrition; the average lifespan of an indoor-only domestic cat has reached to approximately 15.1 years of age. Cats are considered seniors between the ages of seven and eleven years of age and geriatric over the age of 12.
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Did you know that a 16 year-old cat is the equivalent of an 80 year-old human? However it is becoming more common to hear about cats who reach the ages of 18 and beyond. Having the potential to be able to extend cats life expectancy is wonderful news for cat lovers.

Feline old-age doesnt have to result in premature death. However, extending their lives requires owners to provide their cats with regular veterinary care and optimum nutrition to help ensure their cats the highest quality of life. While many of the physical and emotional conditions that often affect older cats cannot be corrected or cured; fortunately with the growing trends in innovative veterinary care now available, many of these chronic conditions can be controlled.

What are some of the physical and emotional changes that generally occur in kitties as they age? The immune system in older cats is weaker than that of younger kitties making it less effective in fighting off disease. Additionally, cats with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, hypothyroidism and kidney disease are common in aging cats which can further stress their immune system. As cats age their skin becomes thinner and to lose its elasticity. Their nails may become thicker and more brittle. Aging cats may lose interest in playtime, avoiding social interaction, become confused and disoriented and litter box habits may change drastically.

Since older cats tend to groom themselves less frequently, inflammation, skin odor and matted coats may occur. As cats age their skin becomes thinner and loses its elasticity Due to the several medical conditions found in elderly kitties, senior cats may become dehydrated; causing poor blood circulation, leaving them open to infection. Elderly cats skin Senior cats also may experience some vision and hearing loss, become less tolerant of cold or hot weather and may become mentally confused causing them to vocalize loudly and incessantly.

While all cats thrive on a consistent routine, elderly cats can develop age-related dementia. To prevent unnecessary stress, it is crucial to maintain a regular daily schedule. Additionally, providing senior cats with comfy bedding and a quiet, cushy getaway area in which to hang out can be very comforting to the feline elder.

There are several things that can be done to help enrich and provide your aging cat with an excellent quality of life: schedule bi-annual wellness exams for your cat and feed a balanced, antioxidant-rich nutritious, species- appropriate diet. Ask your veterinarian about whether adding omega-3 essential fats, such as krill oil, is appropriate.

Keeping cats hydrated is crucial. By offering cats a variety of water bowls around the house or a drinking fountain most cats will drink more water. Moist cat foods contain approximately 75 percent water, so either eliminate dry food from your cat's diet or greatly reduce the amount fed.

Schedule twice a year veterinary visits. Your vet will perform a Wellness checkup which includes a physical exam, blood work, urine test and dental exam. During these visits mention any behavioral changes you have noticed- no matter how trivial. This can give your veterinarian some clues about any developing health problems.

It is helpful to weigh your kitty on a regular basis. If you want to regularly weigh/monitor your cat's weight from home, then I would suggest purchasing a digital baby scale. It is worth its weight in gold.

If your cat is eliminating outside the litter box, besides first checking with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issues, try adding several litter boxes conveniently placed around the house. Since older cats may have arthritic issues, use lower sided boxes that are easier to enter.

Keep your senior cat's mind occupied. Talk to her often during the day. Keep consistent feeding schedules. To avoid feline boredom and depression, older cats still need regular play and moderate exercise. Set aside special petting time and if your cat will tolerate it, brush or comb her gently. But most of all, enjoy and cherish the very extraordinary relationship you share with your very amazing senior citizen. Just like humans, kitties thrive on love and attention.

By Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret.)