Changes in Senior Cats

Cats are living longer lives these days due to better living conditions and a higher awareness of their needs.  It used to be that an eight-year-old cat was considered a senior.  Now cats are living into their twenties and beyond, so most consider the senior years to be age 12 and up.  But what happens as our cats age?  That's what Beverly B. would like to know.  She writes:

I adopted Cami in April 1999. They told me she was about 8 months old. Cami already had kittens. I do not think she has too many problems. She is on a special KD diet and of course she eats when she wants. She seems pretty content but what can I expect? The Vet said overall she is pretty good. A little thin at seven pounds, but she does have a small frame. Thank you for your time.

Beverly, you've obviously provided Cami with very good care over her lifetime.  Thank you for that.  If only every cat had such a caring friend!  As Cami continues to age, the number one consideration will be veterinary visits.  At her age, you should plan at least two checkups for her each year.  That way, if a problem occurs, you can catch it and begin treating it before it spirals out of control.

There's really no reason to assume that Cami won't live beyond the age of twenty.  Many cats do these days.  But as she continues in her elder years, there will continue to be changes for her.  The most obvious will be her disposition.  She may become more cranky and desire less contact from you.  Please don't take this as anything more than her own discomfort.  She'll be dealing with more aches and pains so it's important that she be treated with understanding.  Her energy levels will likely wane and she'll probably sleep more each day than she used to.  This is all normal.

 
 

To help her feel better, you should make sure she has several private places to sleep that are very warm and quiet.  There are some really great cat beds that reflect the heat of the cat very efficiently.  These will be great for her as long as you put them within reach.  Most cats jump less as they grow older because they have joint and muscle pain.  You may want to consider adding ramps or little steps to help Cami get onto the bed.  A new litter box that has a lower lip on one side to allow for easier access will also be appreciated.  Many older cats miss the litter box from time to time.  It's imperative that you react with love and understanding.  A cat's twilight years are hard enough without being blamed for something she can hardly control.  Take a look at Cami's world from her point of view and you'll see what needs improvement.  

 
 

You mentioned that Cami is very thin.  As with people, this can be a problem as Cami ages.  Your best bet is to make sure you keep up with the vet visits.  Diseases and infections can quickly become life-threatening if a cat doesn't have the bodily resources to fight them off.  Some cats eat less due to dental pain, so be sure to have your vet check Cami's teeth and gums.  This is especially important if you notice Cami's breath becoming noticeably worse or you see her react in pain when eating.  She should only be eating wet foods as there is a greater risk of dehydration in older cats.  If she has dental issues, pâté style foods will be the best thing for her.

You can certainly help Cami keep up her girlish good looks by brushing her and tending to her nails more frequently.  Senior cats often groom themselves less as they become less flexible and movement becomes more painful.  She's also less likely to use her scratching post.  Nails can become more brittle as she ages so you'll want to keep a close eye on them.

Many senior kitties develop sensory issues as they age.  Cami's eyesight and hearing are likely to go first, so you may find her less responsive to your voice.  Rest assured, she still needs attention even though she may seem more distant.  Dementia may also set in, reinforcing the idea that Cami would rather be left alone.  That probably won't be the case as long as you allow her to set the terms and conditions of the interactions.  Pay attention to her body language and she'll tell you all you need to know.

Speaking of which, many seniors chat more vociferously than they did as youngsters.  Some attribute this to dementia and think these are cries for help in locating their humans.  Some elderly cats get confused about their sleep/wake cycles and will roam about the house yowling at night.  If this happens, your best bet is to help them reestablish their cycle by keeping them awake until their normal bedtime.

It will help Cami if you minimize big changes in your household.  Young cats dislike change.  Old cats loathe it.  At the very least, you'll want to make sure that Cami's favorite spots remain undisturbed.  And under no circumstances should you introduce a new family pet or allow children access to her.  They will certainly become a thorn in Cami's side very quickly.  Like most of us, the less stress she has to deal with each day, the happier she will be.

Beverly, we hope you and Cami have many more happy years together.  She sure is lucky to have you in her life!