Much as you hate to see it happen, your cat will eventually enter his senior years. Although you can’t hold back the clock, there are many things you can do to help keep your cat healthy and active as long as possible.
Monitor Your Cat’s Health
- Visit your veterinarian frequently. Most vets recommend a check-up once every 6 months when your cat reaches his senior years. Blood tests, X-rays, electrocardiograms, ultrasound, CT scans or MRIs might be necessary. Be prepared to tell your vet about any changes in your pet’s stamina, appetite or behavior, when it began and what might have triggered it.
- Have hearing and eyesight checked. It’s not unusual for an elderly cat’s eyes to look cloudy, and the condition may not signal illness. Like humans, however, they can develop cataracts and glaucoma, and can experience hearing loss. If your pet seems surprised when you come close to him, bumps into things or doesn’t come when you call him, the culprit may be failing faculties.
Groom Your Senior Cat Often
- Brush your cat’s teeth daily. This staves off tooth decay and helps prevent gum disease and tooth loss. Brushing regularly will also allow you to notice mouth and tongue ulcers early on.
- Note any increase in “kitty breath.” Cats have their natural smells and cat food can linger on their breath, but a change in breath to the point that it becomes strong or offensive can signal various illnesses.
- Groom him at least once a week. It’s more important than ever to spare your cat the annoyance of fleas and other parasites. As he ages, he won’t be able to groom himself as easily as he used to. As you brush him, take note of any bumps, skin lesions or unusual hair loss. And remember that his skin is less elastic than it used to be, so be careful not to scrape or pull it. Be sure to clip his nails to prevent overgrowth.
- Massage his joints and limbs. If your cat isn’t able to exercise routinely, improve his flexibility and circulation by gently massaging his muscles and joints. If he objects, just pet him for as long as he allows. Don’t force massage on an unwilling kitty.
Keep Your Senior Cat Active
- Provide moderate exercise. The old adage “use it or lose it” is as true for cats as it is for humans. Exercise helps your cat maintain muscle tone, keeps his heart and digestion healthy and even improves his attitude. Gentle games with toys or catnip not only keep him in shape, but keep him mentally alert and interacting positively with you.
- Give him a clean “bathroom.” His digestion may be irregular and his bladder may lose elasticity and capacity. The litter box may need more frequent cleaning or changing.
- Stick to a regular schedule. Your cat always liked a routine; he’ll appreciate it even more now. Feed him and play with him at the same times each day.
- Minimize stress. As he ages, even the most social cat may not welcome strange animals or people, or even tolerate familiar children. Due to his failing senses, arthritis or forgetfulness, your cat may shy away from previously welcomed social situations.
Help Your Cat Eat and Sleep Comfortably
- Don’t leave him outside alone. Keep your cat indoors and minimize his time outside. As a cat ages, he’ll be sensitive to changes in temperature – aging hearts and lungs don’t adjust as well to extremes of hot and cold. Since his senses, reflexes and thinking aren’t as sharp, your cat is likely to be more prone to accidents, injury from other animals or even getting lost.
- Give him a soft bed. Arthritis and other conditions will make it harder for your cat to sleep soundly. Orthopedic cat beds are available.
- Feed him properly. An aging cat gains weight more easily because his metabolism is slowing. Your vet can recommend food that is high in fiber and lower in fat, so that your cat is eating his accustomed amount of food, but fewer calories. As digestion worsens, he might do better with smaller, more frequent meals. Conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, heart or liver problems also call for special nutritional plans.
- Always provide fresh, cool water. This is a good policy for creatures of all ages, but especially important for an older cat.