THE JOY OF ADOPTING A SENIOR CAT!
LONG-TERM CARE ADVICE
Adopting an elderly cat as an animal companion is very rewarding and can be a wonderful addition to a mature person or a couple. Senior cats need much more TLC in comparison to an adult cat and depend on you to provide ongoing care and comfort.
What Is a Senior Cat?
Like humans, some cats age faster than others, generally speaking older cats can be placed into one of three groups:
- Mature or middle aged: 7 – 10 years
- Senior: 11 – 14 years
- Geriatric: 15+ years
With a wonderful home and a fantastic veterinary health care team, many cats live into their late teens and early twenties. It’s vital to understand your cat is likely to experience physical and cognitive changes with age which will influence their quality of life. Understanding aging changes and attending senior cat wellness visits at your veterinary clinic will enable your vet care team to detect early problems and delay or manage age-related health conditions.
Senior Cat Care Areas of Care:
- Nutrition / Feeding – Geriatric cats must be fed high quality protein – protein wasting and loss of muscle strength can result from inadequate protein intake or digestibility at this age. Feeding frequent small portions will improve nutrient absorption. It’s vital to alternate between flavours, textures and offer both wet and dry food depending on your cat’s preference and oral health. Supplementation and dietary modification to include antioxidants and free-radical may aid cats with intellectual dysfunction. Dry foods can be more calorie dense and can be left without spoiling encouraging your cat to graze throughout the day. Strong smelling foods such as fish flavours (i.e. sardines) or warming food in the microwave may be more tempting and would inspire fussy eaters.
- Water consumption – geriatric cats with diluted urine or chronic kidney disease will need to be stimulated to drink water to reduce risk of de-hydration. Encouraging wet-food in their diet may also increase fluid intake.
- Weight / Loss of body mass – geriatric cats often become underweight with a low body condition score. Most likely due to underlying or chronic disease, changes in metabolism, hormonal changes and a decrease in the ability to digest and absorb protein. Muscle atrophy is also common and usually secondary to nerve damage or chronic osteoarthritis while muscle wasting is usually associated with poor diet, nonexistence exercise, severe kidney disease or cancer.
- Dental / Oral care – dental disease can be very painful and will reduce appetite while periodontal disease will cause gingivitis and stomatitis. Oral cavity neoplasia can take place in this age group – consistent dental examinations will encourage prompt treatment and reduction in pain and ongoing treatment.
- Behavioural – changes in behavioural patterns are very common; cognitive decline and dysfunction is typically on the rise in geriatric cats. Many cats will exhibit altered toileting habits, will be fussier, will want to spend more time inside (less outdoors), may display night-time or inappropriate vocalisation, will not play as much and may experience senility. Dementia and similar human diseases such as Alzheimer may also be unveiled by some geriatric cats. Management techniques such as environmental adjustments to reduce stress and pain is beneficial including avoiding changes to routine and feeding/water stations. Managing concurrent illnesses, mental and physical inducement through gentle playtime, social contact and use of Feliway will be advantageous. Remember an older cat’s world gets smaller, so ensure food, water, bedding and litter are easily accessible, but not too close.
- Monitoring and management of diseases – frequent monitoring of weight, urine and blood pressure by the veterinary team are extremely important when monitoring and dealing with chronic diseases especially in cases where regular pain management or the need for subcutaneous fluids is needed.
- Enrichment / play time – owners should not stop playing with geriatric cats – movement improves muscle tone and can help avoid obesity.
- Home nursing – its vital to make a geriatric cat feel more comfortable, warm, dry and stress free especially if they experience reduction in hearing and sight or can’t regulate their body temperature. Avoiding exposure to loud noises, other pets and piercing environments are very important. Grooming and claw care is also of high importance to eliminate claws catching in blankets or the couch.
- Veterinary visits – regular veterinary visits and repeat examinations (3-6 monthly) are highly recommended as part of a screening program of clinical to non-clinical selection.
- Worming / Vaccination – geriatric cats are more vulnerable to infectious diseases and should be wormed and vaccinated annually.
- Going away / Holidays – consider hiring an experienced cat sitter to stay at your home rather than sending your feline companion to a cattery as your cat will be less stressed in their own environment.
When you adopt a senior cat from a cattery or shelter you will be saving a life – Enjoy it!
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Amy Hoyumpa Vogt, I. R. (2010). Feline Life Stage Guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 12, 43-54. Retrieved February 04, 2019
CWVET. (2016, December 05). Life Stages In Cats. Retrieved February 08, 2019, from Cat’s Whiskers Veterinary Clinic: https://www.cwvet.co.uk/blog/2016/12/05/life-stages-cats/
Jeanne Pittari, I. R.-M. (2009). Senior Care Guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 11, 763-778. Retrieved February 06, 2019
Practitioners, A. A. (n.d.). Senior Care Brochure. (P. P. Plan, Compiler) USA. Retrieved July 15, 2019
Tottey, H. (2015, September 25). Geriatric Clinics: can you afford not to offer them? Tisbury, Wiltshire, UK: International Cat Care. Retrieved February 11, 2019
Individual blogs are based upon the opinions of the specific author, who retains full copyright. The material is not intended as medical advice, it’s intended as a sharing of knowledge and information.
We are not veterinarians and do not diagnose any conditions, perform surgery or prescribe medications. We encourage you to make your own pet health care choices in collaboration with a certified pet health care professional.