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How to care for older cats [eBook]

Getting the opportunity to care for older cats as they age is incredibly special as you get to see them happy and thriving well into their golden years. With improvements in veterinary care and nutrition, cats are living longer than ever - they’re considered to be ‘senior’ at eleven years of age.

Common physiological changes that occur in healthy cats as they age are increased frailty, and reduced hearing, smell, taste, digestion and immunity. Behavioural changes can also occur including your cat being less active and sleeping more. These changes are important to acknowledge to ensure a good quality of life for your cat in their senior years.

Older cats are more likely to develop illnesses such as kidney disease, heart disease, cancer and more. Cats can be masters at hiding their sickness, making it important to keep a close eye on them, especially as they age, including getting regular checkups with their veterinarian (at least every 6 months). It’s important to tell your veterinarian about any noticeable changes in your cat’s physical condition or behavior. Some of these signs can include change in appetite, stiffness/lack of mobility, difficulty eating, weight loss or gain and respiratory problems.

In addition to remaining alert to any changes, there are many ways you can adapt care of your senior cat to support their health and wellbeing. These can include:

Eating and Drinking

Physiological changes can mean that older cats are not able to digest or absorb the nutrients in their food as effectively. They may also have a declining sense of smell and taste. Your veterinarian can advise a premium diet specifically for senior cats that is highly digestible/absorbable, very palatable, and with high quality nutrients to support healthy aging and address some age-related issues. As cats age, they struggle more with maintaining their hydration and often need a higher fluid intake to prevent dehydration and help support kidney function. A higher fluid intake can be achieved through an increased fluid content in their diet as well as through water intake. So, it is a good idea to discuss feeding more wet or canned food with your veterinarian. Keeping a variety of different water bowls around the home can encourage intake and help keep them hydrated. You can also try using pet water fountains as the moving water can encourage some cats to drink more.

Weight Control

From the age of eleven, many cats tend to lose bodyweight gradually. Weight loss in senior cats is referred to as ‘cachexia’ when associated with chronic disease and ’sarcopenia’ (loss of muscle mass and strength as a result of ageing) when not associated with disease (sarcopenia can be associated with insufficient caloric intake or reduced appetite due to a declining sense of smell and taste). This highlights the importance of regular veterinary checks to assist in the early detection of underlying disease and identification of strategies to manage any diseases appropriately and/or assist with healthy aging.

Mobility and movement

Although older cats often have reduced activity or changes in mobility, keeping your senior cat active is important for both their physical and mental health. There are many ways you can encourage your cat to exercise through interactive play or by moving around and entertaining themselves. All these activities can be tailored to your cat’s individual activity levels, condition and situation.

Download the Caring for older cats [eBook]

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.