Caring for your older cat

As pet owners and animal lovers we are all focused on doing the best for our furry friends. With excellent owner education, nutrition and health care, pets are living longer lives. But as animals age, we may begin to notice subtle changes in their behaviour and physiology. Charter Vet Becky Horner BVM BVS (Hons) MRCVS offers some helpful advice on senior cat care, including simple ways you can help. Minor alterations in appetite, thirst, weight, appearance and general demeanour can give us early warning signs of ill health in your cat.

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There are several main health conditions common in older cats: hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis. All of these conditions when diagnosed early can be treated with a combination of environmental changes, diet and/or medications to help make your cat feel better. Therefore, some signs to look out for each of these conditions are listed below.

  • Hyperthyroidism – Increased appetite, weight loss, erratic behaviour, increased thirst
  • Chronic Kidney Disease – Excessive drinking/urination, weight loss, reduced appetite
  • Diabetes – Excessive drinking/urination, weight loss, increase appetite

Osteoarthritis is common and under-diagnosed in cats. Signs associated with this include:

  • Reduced mobility eg. struggling with stairs, reduced jumping, difficulty in accessing the litter tray/cat flap
  • Altered grooming eg. matted coat, scurfy appearance, reduced or excessive grooming
  • Altered temperament eg. Increasingly irritable when handled, more time spent alone
  • Reduced activity eg. less time spent playing, more time spent resting, reduced hunting

Another important condition to consider in older cats is dental disease. If you are noticing bad breath (halitosis), increased drooling, loss of appetite (struggling with biscuits) or rubbing/pawing at the mouth, then a dental check will be advised.

Other ageing changes

As a result of ageing changes to the brain, some cats may suffer from senility/dementia now termed cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). The most common signs of this include: disorientation, changes in sleeping patterns, toileting accidents in the house and increased vocalisation. Managing the cat’s environment can be of huge help to these patients alongside medications. In the early stages, simple changes at home can make life easier however in later stages try to avoid changes in routine if these are a source of stress to you cat.

When vision begins to diminish, you may notice changes in the appearance of your cats’ eyes; a haze or cloudy appearance may be a warning sign of cataracts or underlying health conditions. Other than the more obvious signs such as bumping into furniture you may notice that these cats seem disorientated around the house, especially if the layout of your home is altered. As soon as these changes are noted, it is important to consider whether your cat is safe venturing outside and to try to keep consistency at home.

Home care tips for the elderly cat

With reduced mobility and age, your cat may struggle to maintain the same level of grooming. This may in turn lead to increase eye/nasal discharge, hairballs and longer nails. Always be patient and take things slowly and stage grooming care over several days. Try swapping vertical scratching posts for horizontal scratching boxes to allow wearing of nails whilst being joint-friendly.

Ensure that litter trays are easily accessible downstairs in private places and there are always more litter trays than the number of cats living in your home. Ideally use large litter trays with low sides and a soft sandy type litter substrate.

Use soft bedding and if your cat has a favourite look-out spot then consider adding in a series of shallow steps to this point to reduce the need for jumping. If your cat is no longer able to manage stairs then ensure that all their needs (food, water, bed, litter tray) are met on one level of the household.

Changes in routine can be a source of stress to older cats, and therefore consistency is key. It may be necessary to make alterations to the house to allow for reduced mobility or vision as discussed previously, however we would advise that any changes are made gradually.

Your Veterinarian will always perform a thorough health check at routine vaccinations but these early warning signs are key pieces of information for your vet. Early detection of health conditions and ageing changes will enable your cat to live a long, happy and full life. If this article has raised any questions then please contact Charter Vets and our team will be willing to help.