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.
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.
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.
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.
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.