How to Care for Your Older Cat

Peaches and Peonies by B.E. Kazmarski

In honor of Peaches, animal artist Bernadette Kazmarski’s cat who is turning 20 years old on May 1, a number of blogs are participating in the birthday celebration by posting articles about living with and caring for older cats.

Cats are living longer and healthier lives, thanks to improved veterinary care, better nutrition, and the fact that most pet cats are indoor cats; but even at that, not many live to the ripe old age of 20.   The definition of an older cat is usually preceded by the term “senior” or “geriatric.”  Cats are considered senior between the ages of 11 and 14, and geriatric over the age of 15.  The following provides some pointers to help you keep your older cat happy and healthy.

Regular veterinary care

This is important at any age, but becomes particularly important as cats age.   Typically, veterinarians recommend annual visits for healthy cats up to age 6 or 7, and bi-annual visits after that.  I explained in a previous post  what a senior cat wellness visit entails and why it’s so important.

Behavior and environment

Environmental needs may change as cats age.  Cats often loose some mobility as osteoarthritis, a common ailment in older cats, begins to set in.  It becomes important to make sure that they have easy access to the litter box.  Some litter boxes may be too high for older cats to get in and out of comfortably.  Make sure that beds are easy to access – if kitty can no longer jump up on beds or other favorite sleeping spots, consider getting a ramp or steps to make it easier for her.

Watch for subtle behavior changes such as increased vocalization, problems with elimination, or changes in routine.  They may be indicators of medical problems and may require veterinary attention.

Diet

As cats become older, they’re typically less playful and less mobile, and weight gain can become a problem.   Don’t turn to senior diets – while they are marketed as “light” and lower in calories, they are high in carbohydrates and contraindicated for cats, who are obligate carnivores.   I previously wrote about weight management for senior cats.  There is no reason to change a cat’s diet as she gets older.  If you feed a healthy raw or grain-free canned diet, only minor adjustments in quantity should be required to keep your cat healthy through her senior and geriatric years.

Oral health

Bi-annual vet exams should include a thorough examination of your cat’s teeth and mouth.  Good dental health is one of the most important health issues for cats, especially as they get older.  Dental disease not only causes pain and decreases quality of life, but it can result in damage to other organs such as kidneys and heart.

Parasites

Depending on your cat’s lifestyle (indoor vs. outdoor), regular fecal examinations are recommended.  Discuss parasite control with your veterinarian, but be aware that many of the leading flea and tick control products are pesticides.  Look for natural alternatives instead.

Vaccinations

Work in partnership with your veterinarian to evaluate risk, and determine whether there is a need for continued vaccinations.   Consider blood tests in lieu of vaccinations to determine protection levels.  For a comprehensive overview of feline vaccinations, click here.

Life with an older cat is a joy that is to be savored, and following these guidelines should help you keep your feline companion happy and healthy well into her golden years.

Happy Birthday, Peaches!

16 Comments on How to Care for Your Older Cat

  1. Nicole
    September 4, 2012 at 9:11 am (5 years ago)

    What do you mean by bi-annual? This is, I believe, an area where American and English differ. I understand it to mean every two years. Do you mean twice a year?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 4, 2012 at 10:23 am (5 years ago)

      I mean twice a year, Nicole.

      Reply
  2. Ingrid
    April 27, 2010 at 4:01 pm (7 years ago)

    Leslie, I think the nice thing about adopting an older cat is that you generally know exactly what type of personality you get. And there are so many rewards that come with living with an older cat.

    I’m so sorry about your loss, Vivien. I hope Mischa will be with you for a good long time yet!

    Marian, how wonderful that your Allie lived to be 22 – that’s amazing!

    Reply
  3. Marian Gordon
    April 27, 2010 at 3:26 pm (7 years ago)

    My cat, Allie, lived to 22. I fed her Friskies 9 lives or Fancy Feast, rarely took her to the Vet, was usually gone on the weekends (we did have a cat sitter who came in once a day) fed her Chinese food, she loved the noodles and massaged her body at least 3 times a day and loved her up. We were grateful for all of the years she lived and the joy she gave us.

    Reply
  4. Vivian
    April 27, 2010 at 1:36 pm (7 years ago)

    happy bday 2 peaches. my mischa (looks like peaches twin)will be17 and we just lost her younger 16 yr old sister to rapid oral cancer. please take your older kitties for oral exams always

    Reply
  5. Leslie Kaufman
    April 27, 2010 at 7:58 am (7 years ago)

    Happy Birthday, Peaches! Beautiful post, Ingrid.

    I have adopted senior cats quite often, and I just adore them. And you know that generally speaking, when people look to adopt, they are attracted to the younger ones. Let’s give the seniors a chance to live out their lives with love and much needed care and spoiling!

    Reply
  6. Ingrid
    April 26, 2010 at 5:19 pm (7 years ago)

    Marg, I agree, the rewards of living with an older cat are so amazing.

    Peaches! Thanks for stopping in, birthday girl!

    Mason, I’m glad you found the information helpful for Little One and Gum Drop (I just love that name!)

    Layla, Coco sounds like Amber – she only reluctantly gives up any bodily fluids. I hope the vet was able to get a sample this afternoon, and that it all comes back normal!

    Reply
  7. Layla Morgan Wilde
    April 26, 2010 at 1:59 pm (7 years ago)

    Happy birthday Peaches! It’s good to know cats are living longer.
    Ingrid, lovely and pertinent post today. As the mom of two geriatric kitties, everything can change so suddenly. The vet came today to get a urine sample from Coco but she didn’t have enough, so she’s sequestered away from the kitty litter and I’m keeping my fingers crossed until the vet returns later this afternoon. Kidney issues are one of the biggest concerns for the older cats.

    Reply
  8. Mason Canyon
    April 26, 2010 at 11:47 am (7 years ago)

    Happy Birthday Peaches. Always looking for information to help improve and maintain longer lives for Little One and Gum Drop. Thanks for the helpful tips.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

    Reply
  9. Bernadette
    April 26, 2010 at 11:26 am (7 years ago)

    If everyone did this for their older cats, we’d all be in heaven and live much longer!~Peaches

    Reply
  10. Marg
    April 26, 2010 at 7:30 am (7 years ago)

    That was terrific information about older cats and is a great tribute to Peaches. Life with an older cat is terrific and they take a lot of care, but it is all very worth while. It is so rewarding to give them a good life as they get older.

    Reply

5Pingbacks & Trackbacks on How to Care for Your Older Cat

  1. […] 3, 2010 How to Care for Your Older Cat “Aunt Ingrid” posted an article about caring for older cats on her blog, The Conscious […]

  2. […] and caring for senior cats, to Ingrid King of the Conscious Cat for writing an article about health care for senior cats in honor of Peaches’ birthday, to Linda Mohr for congratulating Peaches and telling us about […]

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