Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: July 7, 2023 by Crystal Uys

woman owner holding little white cat while sleeping.

Cats are living longer and healthier lives, thanks to improved veterinary care, better nutrition, and the fact that most pet cats are indoor cats. 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. Aging is a slow and gradual process, and there are things you can do to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy well into her golden years.

The 9 Tips to Care For Your Senior Cat

1. Regular veterinary care

Regular veterinary care is important at any age, but becomes especially important once your cats becomes a senior. Most veterinarians recommend annual visits for cats up to 6 or 7 years of age, and bi-annual visits for older cats. Depending on their health status, senior cats may need even more frequent visits.

2. Help your cat maintain a healthy weight

Due to their reduced levels of activity, senior cats may gain weight. Obesity can lead to numerous health problems, including diabetes. Increased weight will also aggravate arthritis. On the flip side, some cats, especially once they reach the geriatric years, may start to lose weight and will need to have their food intake monitored closely.

white cat laying on the animal scale while the vet measure weight
Image Credit: Odua Images, Shutterstock

3. Weigh your cat regularly

Your cat’s weight can be a good indicator of her health – but only if you keep track of it. Gradual weight loss or gain can be difficult to recognize in cats. Consider that the average cat weighs 10 pounds. Weight loss of only 6% of a cat’s body weight is considered a clinical sign – that’s less than ten ounces. Depending on the size of your cat, visible changes to her weight may be too subtle to notice without actually weighing her. While you can weigh your cat by weighing yourself on a human scale, then weighing yourself while holding your cat, and subtracting the difference, your results will not be accurate enough. Your best bet is to purchase an inexpensive digital scale designed for babies. These scales measure pounds and ounces accurately.

4. Watch for signs of arthritis

Recognizing and treating arthritis, a condition that affects as many as 1 in 3 adults in the early stages will considerably improve your senior cat’s quality of life. Arthritis develops when the cartilage within joints wears down, leading to inflammation and pain. As the condition progresses, the friction can wear down to the point where it damages the bones themselves. This kind of arthritis is most common and causes the most pain in the weight-bearing joints like the shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, and ankles.

5. Modify your senior cat’s environment

If your cat can no longer jump up on beds or other favorite sleeping spots, consider getting a ramp or steps to make it easier for her. Make sure that your cat has easy access to the litter box. Some litter boxes may be too high for older cats to get in and out of comfortably.

Old cat inside a litter box
Image Credit: Danielle Masucci, Shutterstock

6. Watch for behavior changes

Any deviation from your cat’s regular routine, no matter how subtle, can be an indicator of a health problem. Changes such as increased vocalization, problems with elimination, different sleeping patterns, or increased thirst or urination can all be indicators of medical problems and will require veterinary attention.

7. Feed a species-appropriate diet

The nutritional requirements of senior cats are unique when compared to those of humans and dogs. Elderly cats require more energy to maintain their body weight, in part because their fat and protein digestion is impaired. To compensate for impaired nutrient absorption, senior cats need to eat more food relative to their body weight than younger cats. While there are plenty of “senior diets” on the market, often advertised as “light” and lower in calories, they are high in carbohydrates and too low in protein. Feed a healthy raw or grain-free canned diet, and make adjustments in the quantity you feed as needed.

8. Maintain good oral health

Your senior cat’s 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.

Veterinarian examining teeth of Persian Cat
Image Credit: dididesign021, Shutterstock

9. Keep vaccinations to a minimum

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.

Featured Image Credit: mojo cp, Shutterstock

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13 Comments on 9 Health Tips for Senior Cats: Diet, Exercise & Vet Care

  1. And yes! I’ve found the carriers — mine are soft sided — which open at the top are the best for all cats’ trips to the vet. Easier to pop the cat into it, then at the vet’s he/she can walk out the end if so inclined. … I bought a baby scale to weigh the cats. It’s nearly flat so they can easily walk onto it. I put a little cat throw onto it, then set to zero (it’s designed to work that way), put a few treats onto it and the cat can just walk onto it. Assuming he / she is in the mood, of course. Did not cost a lot and is well worth having.

  2. I rescued a 12 year old cat with arthritis (and hyperthyroidism), and she has been helped by Duralactin (she would not accept any of the glucosamine & chondroitin products I offered, in food) + hyaluronic acid liquid. She loves baby food stage 2 chicken, so every morning she gets her supplements in “chicky.” Inside a month of taking these I could see the difference in the increased ease and fluidity of her movements. She only needs one step now, instead of two, to get on and off the bed. But I noticed, this winter, she was sitting up against the radiator sometimes, so I bought a heated bed for cats, just a pad really (uses as many watts as a nightlight), and put it in the “cradle” of her favorite cat tree. She spends a lot of time there now!

  3. I have a senior cat of nineteen, like your suggestions. Here are some more for senior cats;

    If possible invest in a cat carrier that opens at the top, easier to put in and remove a senior cat, whose joints may be arthritic and won’t like being pulled out of a cage at the Vet’s.

    Groom and clean your cat regularly, they often cannot reach certain areas of their bodies as they age, especially their haunches and back legs.

    Clip their claws, they are less active as they age, and can’t wear them down as much by stretching to dull them on a scratching post.

    Place a cat bed in a warm area on the floor, without sides, so they don’t have to climb but can walk in.

    Same with a litter box, cut out one of the plastic ends of a litter box, so they can walk into it, messy but helpful.

  4. Don’t tell Abby I rushed right over to make sure I didn’t miss this post.
    We don’t tell her that she’s now considered… a “Senior”. *ouch*
    Thanks for another great, informative post!

  5. Thank you for your informative advice. As a pet parent of three felines, (and two pups) I relish any information which can help me keep them happy & healthy.

  6. Thanks for the tips. I have a senior in my house so I am always looking for more tips to keep him happy and healthy.

  7. Thanks for sharing the importance of monitoring your cat’s weight- it’s so important for its health!
    Another idea is to use a digital hand held luggage scale which measures to the tenth of a pound (or kilogram), for example 18.4 lbs. Weigh your cat with and without the carrier and the difference is what your cat weighs. This helps get your kitty used to going in the carrier without associating it with a car ride! Just be sure to reward with healthy low calorie treats or even better, a nice combing or brushing before or after!

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