I have been truly blessed to have both my cats live to seventeen years of age. Sadly in the last 3 months both of them have died, our boy Felix, pictured above, we euthanized due to illness, and our girl, Amber, was tragically run over. Caring for senior cats can require a change in thinking and routine, but it is not hard to do.
Both cats slowed down as one would expect, but with their mature age came a new era in their lives. I loved them as much, if not more during their senior years. It may be because they become more demanding, more affectionate, more sociable and yes more needy.
Caring for senior cats is different to the care and attention they needed as kittens and adolescents, and understanding their needs and behavior changes is essential to give our mature friends the best possible old age care.
Understanding That Old Age Is Not An Illness
When you note that your older cat habits have changed, or that it has “slowed down”, understanding that this is not necessarily old age, but is more than likely as a result of a medical condition, or conditions associated with old age, will help you to assess the care needed.
As noted in the book “Complete Cat Care” by the world’s best-selling vet, Bruce Fogle, these medical conditions include senility, cancers, kidney disease, heart disease, and perhaps the hardest one to spot, arthritis.
As my aim is to cover general care of senior cats, I will touch lightly on these illnesses in this blog, however, I will do future blogs covering these medical conditions in greater detail.
Unfortunately Arthritis is extremely common in cats and can be under-diagnosed. Certain breeds, and larger cats, tend to be more prone to Arthritis. Most cats over the age of 12 have signs of degenerative arthritis. Cats are incredibly good at hiding their pain or discomfort, and this is one of the reasons Arthritis can be hard to spot. They will tend to reduce their physical behavior and this misleads us into thinking it is just old age, when in fact they are in pain. My cat, Amber, pictured here, was very good at hiding the pain she was starting to feel in her right paw.
Here are some signs to look out for:–
1. Hesitation, or unwillingness to jump up or down from furniture.
2. Reduced physical activity, including going outside less and reducing their play. Their hunting and exploring will become less frequent.
3. Less grooming activity, and this can also lead to matted hair in areas that are difficult or painful to reach.
4. Excessively licking a specific joint.
5. Having difficulty using the litter tray, especially if it has high sides that need to be stepped over.
6. Reluctance to use the cat flap.
7. Show signs of irritability, especially when being petted, stroked or touched.
8. Looking for new sleeping places that are easier to access.
If you note any of these signs in your aging cat, take him to the vet to be assessed and find out how to manage his diet and the medication options available. We had Felix on medication for arthritis for the last few years of his life and it made an incredible improvement to the quality of his life. Your vet will do a full assessment and make a recommendation as to which medication is suitable.
Change your cats diet to include a good-quality nutritional joint supplement specifically formulated for cats, they help to reduce inflammation and improve cartilage quality.
If you would prefer a more holistic approach, I recommend a quality CBD Oil designed for pets, these help to reduce inflammation. Chat to your vet about using a CBD oil that is designed for pets. You can read my article on using CBD products for pets here. I recommend a quality, THC free, product that is made by a reputable company and has quality ingredients. Always consult your vet first.
You may also want to consider gentle massage for your senior cat. Gentle massage can bring pain relief from arthritis and it is also a great way to keep the bond alive and strong with your older cat.
Caring For Your Senior Cat At Home
There are a number of changes you can make to your cats environment to help ease its discomfort and make its life so much easier and less painful.
Here is a list of home care adjustments you that are simple to set up and are an easy way to improve your cats quality of life.
While I have listed these under senior care, they will help your arthritic cat, and may help ease pain and stress, regardless of any medical conditions they may or may not have.
1. Provide your cat with a soft, warm and comfortable bed that is easy to get in and out of. You may consider giving your cat a sleeping place that feels secure and cosy, igloo style beds tend to be popular with cats.
2. If you live in a cold climate, or even in winter in a warmer climate, microwaveable warmers are available to make beds cozier. Electrical heating pads must only be used if you can carefully monitor them.
3. If your cat prefers to sleep in a higher space, such as your bed or sofa, provide either carpeted steps or a carpeted ramp for your cat to easily reach these areas.
4. Provide an indoor litter tray, and make sure it has low sides. Even if your cat has always used the outdoors, an indoor litter tray will be easier and less stressful for your cat. Older cats may not want to go outside due to the weather, or they may not want to face younger cats.
Use litter that is soft underfoot, as this will feel more comfortable.
5. While this is not normally advised, you may want to put your cats litter tray, food bowl and water all on the same floor, but do not place the water and food bowls near the litter tray.
6. You cat will need help with grooming. This needs to be done gently and in areas that you notice are becoming difficult for it to reach, such as around the bum. Your cats claws will need to be checked regularly. As their activity has slowed down their claws may become overgrown and sometimes this can lead to their pads being punctured, which leads to even more pain. Groom your senior cat with a soft brush as their skin will have thinned and if they are thin, brushing over their bones could be uncomfortable.
7. This is my personal tip and one we did for both our cats. We left a night light on for them in the passage, as I believe, as with humans, age can cause their eyesight to deteriorate, something which we tend to not think about with cats.
Keeping Your Cats Brain Active
How your cat behaves in old age may be genetically determined, however, keeping her brain active is essential to how she will age mentally. Cats are born to hunt, kittens are taught from day one how to be efficient hunters, and all your cats playing has only one goal, to improve her hunting skills. Feral cats have to be master hunters to succeed, and this helps to keep their joints and brains active. Domestic cats no longer need to hunt and may end up preferring to spend the day curled up on a comfy sofa. To help keep them in good health both mentally and physically it is important to play with your cat.
While a fifteen-year-old cat may no longer be able to climb trees or leap onto furniture, you can play games that are adaptable to your cats physical capabilities. Even though my Felix was ill with arthritis and going into kidney failure, he still enjoyed chasing a string for a small period of time right until the last few weeks of his life.
You could roll a ball across the ground, or hang a feather on a piece of string just above her head. The important thing is to keep your cat active.
Always play with your senior cat where they are comfortable, and remember to adapt the play to suit the cats physical condition. Even a small ball rolled on the sofa, if that is where they are comfortable, is still playing.
Dealing With Blindness
A common cause of blindness in an older cat is a detached retina as a result of high blood pressure. Whatever the cause of the blindness, cats do have other senses that are well honed and can normally compensate to some degree. Cats will continue to navigate using sound vibrations, and their amazing whiskers which act like a radar. To help your cat if she is blind try sticking to a routine and try, whenever possible, not to move furniture around.
You can continue to play with your blind cat by introducing squeaky toys, which you can place within biting or patting distance. It is advised to introduce new objects or odors gradually, and if you do have other cats try to stop them from chewing on your blind cats whiskers.
Night Time Wandering and Howling
Now this I know all about firsthand, my lovely little girl Amber took to howling during the last month or so of her life. She would wonder into a room sit down and howl until one of her humans came running. However, she did not only do this at night, but any time of the day she could not find a human in the room she was in. Her hearing was diminishing, and, as cats age and their hearing deteriorates, some cats will increase their nighttime yowling and wandering.
This may also be due to senility setting in. We need to remember that older cats tend to be more demanding, howl more, wail more, miaow more and make more demanding noises. Some of this is due to senility and confusion.
Now more than ever your senior cat needs to be treated with a loving and gentle manner.
If you want to reduce the nighttime wandering providing a relatively secure and smaller area for your cat to sleep in is a good start. If you allow your cat to sleep on your bed this will probably help to reduce wandering. Feeding your cat 4 meals a day, the last one just before he goes to sleep is also recommended, I know this definitely worked for my cats.
Some cats will continue to wander at night and howl, and if no treatment works, including discussing sleeping aids for your cat with your vet, you may have to accept that you will not be able to stop your cat doing this.
Cats do suffer from true senility, and this may be all it is.
Medical Costs Associated With Senior Cats
As I have mentioned before, I have recently lost both my 17 year old cats. My one cat Felix, has had many trips to the vet during his life for treatment of various sudden illnesses, fights with other cats and more serious medical conditions. He ended his life with acute arthritis and kidney problems. Having pet insurance for Felix would have been beneficial to put it mildly, however, when he was younger I was not aware of pet insurance. To find out more about covering your cat with pet insurance read this article I wrote, it may be just what you need to save money as your cat ages.
Final Tips on Caring For Your Senior Cat
You can make your senior cats life better by doing the following:-
1. Consult with your vet on your cats health, treatment and the best plan for health check-ups.
2. If your cat is suffering from significant senility, changing their environment, daily routine or their diet, may cause stress. They can show stress by not eating, hiding and not going to the toilet. If they do show stress revert to the way things were, severe stress may need you to contain your cat to a room that he likes and has all his needs in, and feels safe and secure.
3. Provide at least two litter trays in places that are easily accessed by your cat, and the trays must have low sides. Do remember that if you have other cats that use a litter tray, each cat will need his or her own tray, cat do not like sharing a litter tray.
4. Feed your cat smaller, but, more frequent meals, probably 4 meals a day, with the last one before they go to bed.
5. Keep your cats claws cut, they may become ingrown and cause cut pads on the bottom of their paws.
6. If you have slippery floors cover them with non-slip rugs.
7. Help your cat to access their favorite areas by providing carpeted low rise stairs or ramps.
8. Try to provide at least two comfortable beds, in easy to access areas. You can use insulating fleece for bedding, as this helps to retain body heat. Don’t forget to keep their bedding clean and flea free.
9. Cats will always benefit from play time, don’t neglect your senior cats play time, a simple feather on a string is a great toy.
10. Senior cats will probably not respond well to a new pet being added to the house, even if they are distressed by the death of a companion.
11. Our cats can be a lot like us, and as we age we do not always respond well to change, the same applies to your cat, stick to routine and limit change.
12. If you are going on holiday it is better to arrange for your cat to stay at home and be cared for by a professional animal sitter or a reliable friend. Your cat will need to be visited at least twice a day.
13. On a warm and sunny day take your cat outside to lie on your lap or the lawn, and just enjoy these moments together.
Forever In Your Heart
As with people, your relationship with your cat is constantly changing throughout her life. Your cat will become far more dependent on you as she ages, but don’t forget your cat still dreams of being a kitten, climbing trees and chasing mice. Your cat loves you just as much even thought she may lead a quieter life. All your cat asks, especially in their senior years is to be loved in return and to be cared for.
As a side note, cats can and do unfortunately suffer from diarrhea, here is an article, written by Cat Checkup, on this subject and how to treat it.
Please leave me a comment and tell me about your senior cat and any hints you may have. By sharing this blog you may help someone who needs to read this information.
I will leave you with this wonderful quote:-
“I love cats because I enjoy my home, and little by little, they become its visible soul.” – Jean Cocteau
Sending you paw hugs