My Cat is Getting Old…What Should I Expect?Last updated: August 2, 2016
A cat's average life span is around 15 to 17 years, but it can be more or less depending on his lifestyle. And just like humans, there are a variety of bodily changes that he will encounter. Regular veterinary checkups are important to monitor these changes and to make sure your cat is comfortable throughout his life.
Feline NutritionUnlike dogs, a cat's energy needs stay relatively the same as they age, so there's no need to change their calorie intake unless their health requires it. Obesity tends to affect middle-aged cats more than senior cats, but weight control is important throughout a cat's life to ensure quality of life. If your cat has weight problems, diseases affected by nutrition, or a deficiency in certain nutrients, their diet may need to change. Talk to your veterinarian to find the ideal diet for your senior cat.
Dental Disease in CatsDental disease is one of the most common problems in older cats. Over 70 percent of senior cats have signs of gum disease. This makes good oral hygiene extremely important in your cat's younger years, and especially as they get older. Plaque will start to form tartar if it is not removed, leading to gingivitis and other periodontal diseases. This can also affect their eating habits – your cat may have pain or discomfort while eating dry food, so you may need to transition to canned food.
Arthritis and Joint CareOver time, your cat's regular activity and movement will cause gradual degeneration in his joints and cartilage. Those stiff, aching joints can cause a lot of pain and slow your cat down if not treated regularly. Joint supplements have the necessary ingredients to help replenish lost cartilage and synovial fluids, while heated or orthopedic beds can warm up stiff joints or give him the support he needs as he sleeps. Do NOT give your cat anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, unless directed by a veterinarian. Cats are very sensitive to these drugs, and they can cause a lot of problems, including death, if not given as directed.
Cat ConstipationAs your cat's gastrointestinal tract gets older, the movement of food through the digestive tract slows down, causing constipation. This is especially common when cats have hairballs, or with cats who have pain while defecating. However, feline constipation is also a sign of many other diseases, so check with your veterinarian if your cat has problems. Common solutions include enemas or laxatives.
Activity Levels and BehaviorA decrease in your cat's activity levels may just be a sign of getting old – or it may be an indication of other diseases. Arthritis or joint pain may cause his movements to slow down or change. Dental disease or a loss of smell may change his eating habits. His ability to deal with stress also decreases as he ages, so times of fear or aggression may pop up more often. Cats are experts at hiding disease, so pay close attention to his movements and attitudes – it can give you clues about his health and wellness.
Loss of SensesHearing loss often becomes severe before the owner notices it is happening. Your cat may act surprisingly aggressive from being startled, or he may ignore you even more than usual because he can't hear you. You may notice vision loss when he won't follow the movements of his toys, has trouble finding things, or bumps into furniture more often. Loss of smell may be one reason your cat loses interest in his food – it no longer has an appealing aroma.
Immune FunctionOver time, the immune system will begin to slow down. It won't be able to fight off disease as effectively as it could before, resulting in more severe, longer lasting infections and diseases. Supportive care and medication will be necessary to help your cat's body fight infection and heal completely.
Skin and Hair CoatYour cat's hair will become drier and thinner, and black hair coats have the tendency to turn gray. They will also need your help grooming more often, reaching places where they might have missed and removing hair to prevent hairballs. This extra attention also gives you a good time to check for injuries or abnormal lumps.
Temperature SensitivitiesThe older your cat gets, the harder it is for her to regulate her body temperature in response to the environmental changes. As a result, you'll need to make extra efforts to keep him cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Limit his time outdoors when temperatures are extreme, and make sure he has ways to cool down or warm up.
Your cat may be getting older and dealing with a few more problems, but he's still the same cat. It's important to keep him as comfortable as possible in his last years, adjusting your habits and schedules as needed. In response, your cat will reward you with a lifetime of his love and trust.
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Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.
The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your personal veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.