Guest Post by Amy Shojai

Older cats that become ill typically try to hide how they feel. They also tend to become more seriously ill more quickly, and take longer to recover. “The earlier we see these animals, the more we can do something for them,” says Sheila McCullough, DVM, an internist at the University of Illinois. It is vital to pay attention to your cat as she ages, to catch problems before they turn serious.

A good way to keep in mind the special needs of your aging cat is simply to use the acronym L.O.V.E.  That stands for Listen With Your Heart; Observe for Changes; Visit the Veterinarian; and Enrich the Environment.

Listen With Your Heart

Never discount that odd “feeling” that something’s different, not right. Listen with your heart and your cat will shout louder than words how she feels. That’s when you make the extra visit to the veterinarian and explain your concerns. “It’s more of an intuitive thing,” says Susan G. Wynn, DVM, a holistic veterinarian in private practice in Atlanta. Because of the love and close relationship you share, you have an advantage when it comes to “knowing” when something’s wrong.

A change in behavior is the number one way your cat tells you she’s feeling bad from either a physical problem or an emotional upset. Changes in behavior may be sudden and obvious, or may develop slowly and subtly over time.

Think of these changes as a feline cry for help. You need to have a good grasp of what’s normal for your cat in order to be able to recognize this shift in the status quo. That includes regularly observing your cat for changes.

Regular veterinary visits are a must. Any time you have an intuitive feeling or a more concrete observation that something’s not quite right, validate your concerns with a veterinary visit.

Finally, the environment your cat lives in impacts everything about her. When she begins to age, you have to make appropriate enrichments to her nutrition, exercise, grooming needs, and home life. Don’t forget to enrich her mind as well as her body. Follow the L.O.V.E. plan to keep her healthy and happy throughout her golden years.

Observe for Changes: Home Health Alerts

 Healthy aging cats see the veterinarian only a couple of times a year. You live with her every day, and you know your cat best. In almost all cases, you will be the first to notice when something is wrong.

Close proximity to your pet allows you to immediately notice any changes that can point to a potential health problem. The major disadvantage to this closeness is that you may overlook subtle changes, or those that have a slow, gradual onset. Veterinarians call sudden problems “acute” and those are the easiest for owners to spot. But conditions that develop slowly over a long period of time, called chronic problems, are more insidious. Changes of a chronic nature creep up on you, day by day, in such small increments that you aren’t likely to notice anything’s wrong. By the time a problem becomes obvious, the disease may have been simmering for months or even years, and the damage may be permanent.

The classic emergency I see is the 12-year-old cat that is feeling badly, and deteriorated over the last 24-48 hours,” says Steven L. Marks, BVSc, an internist and surgeon at North Carolina State University. “The assumption is that the pet has become sick in the last two days when in fact, chronic renal failure has been going on for months and maybe years. Now the body can’t compensate anymore and the pet’s suddenly sick and it’s an emergency.”

One of the best ways to stay on top of things is to create a log of your cat’s normal behaviors. A home health report card provides you with baseline measures against which to compare even the subtle changes in your cat’s health. For example, monitor how much your cat weighs. “Even a small amount of weight loss, an ounce or two, will really catch my attention in an elderly cat,” says Susan Little, DVM, a feline specialist in Ottawa, Canada. Should your cat at some point in the future be diagnosed with a particular condition, a home health report card also can help you measure how well the treatment works. That in turn helps the veterinarian make informed decisions if adjustments to the therapy are needed.

Once you have your list and a benchmark description of “normal,” review the home health report card on a monthly basis to check for any behavior or physical changes. If your cat has been diagnosed with a disease for which she’s receiving treatment, a weekly or even daily check to monitor changes may be better. 

Behavior Cues

Generate a list of as many of your cat’s normal behaviors as possible. The categories will vary somewhat from cat to cat. Be as specific as possible. Examples of categories follow, but don’t limit yourself to my suggestions. If your cat gets in the sink every day, for example, or enjoys chasing the dog, include that as a category and describe her routine. Any changes to routine might indicate a health concern that needs attention. For instance, if she wakes you every single day at five and then suddenly lets you oversleep, perhaps her joints hurt too much from arthritis to jump onto the bed.

  • Favorite Activity (games, how often, duration)
  • Vocabulary (reaction to known words)
  • Vocalization (increase/decrease)
  • Interactions/Personality
  • Sleep Cycles
  • Habits/Routines

Body Warnings

Generate a list of your cat’s normal body functions. Be as specific as possible. Examples of categories follow, but don’t limit yourself to my suggestions. “I’d rather see a case that doesn’t need to be seen as an emergency than not see one that needed to be,” says Dr. Marks.

  • Appetite
  • Weight Loss/Gain
  • Water Intake
  • Urination and Defecation (color, increase/decrease, “accidents”)
  • Skin, Fur And Claws (dandruff, sores, shiny fur, mats, etc.)
  • Eyes (clear, watery, squinting)
  • Ears (clean, smell, scratching)
  • Nose
  • Respiration
  • Gait/Movement 

This post is an excerpt from Amy Shojai’s Complete Cate for Your Aging Cat, winner of the Cat Writers’ Association HARTZ Award (for best entry on aging cats) and MERIAL Human-Animal Bond Award. The updated, revised 2010 edition is now available in paperback, and Amazon Kindle Edition with “hot links” to the experts cited in the book.

Amy Shojai, CABC is the award-winning author of 23 dog and cat care and behavior books, and can be reached at her website

Coming Soon

A chance to win an autographed copy or e-book version of
Complete Care for Your Aging Cat
here on The Conscious Cat!

20 Comments on Caring for your aging cat

  1. I need to know if my female cat, Ginger, will return to her normal self. She had a growth removed and she was doing real well the first 4 or 5 days after the surgery. Then she started hiding, not eating or drinking, would not play and ignored her feeding area totally. She’s Maine Coon and loves to be in the room with us at all times. Now she ignores us and her personality has changed so drastically…….we did go back to our Vet and she was given IV and a Vit B shot but she still wants nothing to do with us. Going back tomorrow to have stitches removed which is healing very well and she has no fever or infections……..we are so worried she will never be the same. If anyone knows about this please let me know. Thanks to all.

    • Clara, from what you’re describing, I’m guessing that her pain medication wore off a few days after the surgery. It’s not unusual for a cat to withdraw a little after surgery, but it’s unusual that she did fine the first few days and then started to hide. Since you’re going back to your vet today, I’d ask him/her to look a little deeper. There may be something else going on.

      If you’re open to using flower essences, I recommend Spirit Essences Intensive Care. It supports healing in the weeks following surgery. Use code CONSCIOUSCAT for a 10% discount. Energy therapies such as Reiki can also help with post-surgical healing, both physically and emotionally.

    • Hi Clara, First of all I’m glad to learn that Ginger’s growth was successfully removed. And secondly, I agree with Ingrid’s assessment that pain may be an issue and that the essences may help. A vet evaluation would definitely be helpful. Something else may have developed coincidentally to her surgery recovery.

      Is she an “only” cat? If so, the presence of other cats/pets and their attitude may affect hers. You may also want to experiment with adding additional water/feeding stations in different locations. Sometimes cats can associate discomfort with a specific area/item so if it hurt to eat, for example, she may decide to shun that area.

      • Thanks Amy, Ginger is our only pet so at least we don’t have that worry. We have put water and food in the area she chose to recover at and a potty close by but she only wants to use her original area in the laundry room.

        Friday we took her in again to see the Vet and they wanted to watch her for a few hours because she did have a slight temp and several hours later we did take her home with no fever. She was given a antibiotic shot also. As of today, Sat, she is still the same…….hiding, won’t eat or drink much, no BM but has peed once since yesterday. I talked to our Vet this am and they will call me back to see if I should bring her back in. I’m so afraid we will loose her…..we love her so much!

        Thanks for your input.

  2. Thanks to everyone–and especially Ingrid, for hosting the “Aging Cat” excerpt on the Senior Pets blog tour. I hope the book and information helps cats and “cat parents” throughout the golden years.


  3. Debbie and Layla,
    Thank you both so much! Your kitties are so fortunate to have “zen” caretakers like you. *s* I know that my cat Seren(dipity) expects me to be all-knowing and read her mind…when she gazes at me with those bluejean color eyes! Usually it means…”where’s the treats!”

  4. That’s a book for me!. Timely advice for my old boy Merlin. Cats are indeed creatures of habit and the subtle changes aren’t so subtle if we observe more keenly. Again , it’s just another reason cats are our teachers; they can help us develop Zen awareness!

  5. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Max.

    My pleasure, Amy – thanks for stopping by.

    Debbie, I’ll be reviewing the book here on The Conscious Cat next week. I agree with you, it’s a must add to any cat lover’s library.

  6. This book looks like it should be a valued resource in every cat person’s library, read thoroughly and referred to often. Amy’s writing style is both educational and entertaining, and her presentation will be a big win for your kitty!

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