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What to Expect as Your Cat Ages

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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You aren't getting older, you're getting better – at least, that's what a lot of people tell themselves. The same goes for our cats, but we can't ignore some of the changes that occur as the years advance. Every cat ages differently but there are some common changes that occur as the body gets older. Here is a list of the 20 most common things that develop in elderly pets.

  • Loss of hearing. As cats age, the nerve cells and hearing apparatus degenerates, resulting in a slow loss of hearing.

  • Loss of vision. The lens of the eye becomes cloudy with age. Natural changes result in lenticular sclerosis, which typically does not cause significant vision loss. However, cataracts may develop, which do interfere with vision.

  • Decreased activity. As cats age, their metabolic rate slows. This results in a decreased activity level.

  • Weight gain. Elderly cats require 30 to 40 percent fewer calories. By eating a normal maintenance diet, obesity often develops.

  • Infections. As the body ages, the immune system weakens, making it harder for the cat to ward off infections.

  • Skin changes. The skin often thickens and darkens with age.

  • Loss of hair or whitening. The advance of years causes hair to lose its normal pigment, turning white. The ability of the hair cells to regenerate also deteriorates and hair loss is common, often seen as patches of hair loss.

  • Loss of skin elasticity. Old skin not only thickens but also loses elasticity. The most visible sign of this is in the male cat. The prepuce slowly becomes more pendulous as the cat ages.

  • Change in feet and nails. Footpads begin to thicken and the nails become brittle, making it harder to trim the nails properly.

  • Arthritis. Muscle, bone and cartilage decrease with age. With less cartilage, the bones begin to scrape against one another, causing the pain of arthritis.

  • Tooth loss. Dental calculus that develops over time eventually causes tooth loss. The teeth also begin to lose minerals, contributing to the tooth loss.

  • Gastrointestinal upset. Over time, the stomach lining begins to deteriorate, and the level of digestive enzymes from the pancreas falls. The result can be more nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite and/or diarrhea.

  • Constipation. With age, the colon has more trouble moving fecal matter, which causes more frequent constipation.

  • Less energy. As the lungs lose elasticity, the volume of the lung decreases. With less lung capacity, the cat becomes tired more easily. In addition, the bone marrow becomes fatty and is not as functional as younger marrow. This results in a slow onset of anemia, which causes weakness and less ability to exercise.

  • Incontinence. The kidney function and control over the urinary bladder sphincter slowly lessens, resulting in an increased incidence of urine leakage.

  • Straining to urinate. In males that are not neutered, the prostate often enlarges with age. This causes some constriction of the urethra, resulting in some difficulty in passing urine.

  • Mammary cysts and tumors. Elderly female cats have a higher incidence of lumps, cysts and tumors within the mammary glands. This is more common in cats that are not spayed.

  • Loss of litter box training. Over time, the cells within the brain slowly decrease. As the cells die, senility develops. A common occurrence with senility is a loss of litter box training.

  • Heart murmurs. Heart valves scar and lose function as they age. This often results in heart murmurs, but usually does not cause a medical problem.

  • Hair coat changes. In the senior cat, the skin becomes dry and scaly. It loses luster and looks dull.

    Thanks to better nutrition, better veterinary care and excellent care on the part of the owner, cats are living longer. Learning what to expect as your cat ages, you can give your cat the best quality of life possible in his golden years.

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