Most indoor cats live to be 12 to 14 years of age, even though some cats have gone beyond 20 years old. By at the age of eight, they are considered seniors and, as they enter into a golden age, they may have special needs.
Older cats are generally quieter and need a more peaceful environment, preferably one surrounded by heaps of affection.
If you have lived together with your cat since he or she was young, then you have a decent understanding of what is ‘normal’ in the way they behave. Any deviation or changes in a cat’s behaviour or habits are often an indication of health issues.
Signs Of Ageing In Cats
Generally, signs of ageing include the appearance of white hairs on the muzzle and shoulder, a decrease in the effectiveness of the cat’s senses – particularly hearing and vision. Besides this, there is a decline in activity and, the possible onset of arthritis, causing less agility and mobility.
Signs to look out for include:
• Social withdrawal
• Changes in vision
• Change in the sleep-wake cycle
• Decreased sense of smell
• Fragile nails
• Decreased digestion and absorption of nutrient
• Reduced ability to handle stress
• Changes in behaviour
• Reduced physical activity
• Slowed gait speed
• Increased vulnerability to physiological stresses
• Mild cognitive dysfunction
As The Caretaker Of An Elderly Cat
While your older cat may not show any obvious visible signs of ageing, providing her with correct care at this advanced stage of life can go a long way toward prolonging her life and making her senior years comfortable.
As prevention is better than cure, caring for the geriatric cat should focus on preventative measures.
As a cat gets older, its digestive system becomes less efficient and it requires several smaller, easily digestible meals every day. There are “life-stage” foods available that are aimed specifically for Older Cats and Less Active Cats.
These are developed to suit an older cat’s digestive system and to reduce the risk of obesity in less active cats. They provide easily digested protein. Like us, cats sometimes need extra roughage in their diet to prevent constipation and weight gain.
Any cat experiencing difficulty in eating or has lost its appetite should be examined by a vet. As your cat ages, its kidney and liver functions slow down and become compromised.
Grooming plays a vital part in a cat, and as senior felines are less nimble, they may require assistance with grooming.
Brushing a cat can be very relaxing and is usually pleasurable for both the cat and the owner. As seniors may pay little attention to their hygiene, they will appreciate your assistance in keeping clean and comfortable.
If you’ve got two companionable cats, they’ll help to groom one another.
• The Great Outdoors
Many cats enjoy spending some of their time outdoors, and a little daily exercise helps keep a cat’s body and mind healthy.
In addition to a stimulating environment, owners of aged cats will have to adjust physically challenging areas, as well as eating and sleeping quarters, to allow for easy access. Also, senior cats should have easy access to clean water as their kidney function generally declines with age.
• More Vet Trips
All cats should receive their routine vaccinations. Discuss with your veterinarian as to what is required and appropriate for your more matured cat.
Worms and other internal parasites often cause trouble in both young and old cats – especially those that roam outdoors. As a matter of routine, it is recommended that a cat get treated for worms, especially roundworms, every three to six months.
The most common skin parasite for cats is fleas, and this usually produces an itchy reaction. The use of a flea spray or powder formulated specifically for use on cats is recommended.
• Dental Care
Older cats are more prone to dental issues such as gingivitis, loose teeth and, tartar on teeth.
As your cat ages, she should also be taken for regular dental cleaning and check-up. You can help prevent tooth problems early by setting up a home dental hygiene routine and regularly brushing your cat’s teeth. If possible, talk to your veterinarian about using an oral hygiene spray.
• Other Issues
Nightlights can help senior felines navigate in the dark. If your cat is already vision impaired, try not to move his environment too much, especially litter boxes and furniture.
Cats like to rest in warm places so, it would be good to make sure his resting area is not situated in a cold spot in the house.
At The Vet’s…
Semi-annual physical exams are essential along with observation of your cat’s behaviour and routine.
To assess your cat’s health and to maintain a healthy condition, your veterinarian may do the following:
• A review of his medical history, noting changes in behaviour and physical abilities.
• A physical examination
• A complete blood count (CBC)
• A biochemical profile
• A fecal examination for parasites
• Urine analysis check
• Thyroid level check
Euthanasia is a heartbreaking thing to go through with your cat, but it’s a peaceful and loving way to let him go if your cat is suffering.
Your veterinarian can help you decide when the proper time is to think about euthanasia for your cat. Things like comfort levels, the prognosis of disease, and quality of life (whether your cat is still able to enjoy interactions with the family) should all be taken into consideration and discussed.
By Dr Varun Asediya & Dr Pranav Anjaria
College of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry
Anand Agricultural University
Anand, Gujarat, India