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Cat Senior Care - What to Know About Caring For Senior Cats


How will getting older impact the health of my cat?

Most issues in older pets are wear and tear issues. I try not to treat age as a disease, per se, because everybody ages differently, and that's true in our cats as well. But when we think about older cats, the things that we worry about are things like arthritis, kidney disease, and sometimes thyroid issues. Arthritis leads to mobility issues, and pet owners of senior cats could even see some grooming or litter box issues.


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

How do a cat's nutritional needs change as they age?

Again, age is not a disease. There is many senior foods on the market that I don't necessarily think you have to switch to when your cat's considered a senior. It really comes down to, what does their health look like, what's their lifestyle look like, and then we make choices based on that. So if your cat's showing signs of early diabetes or early kidney disease, we might elect to change them to a diet consistent with those diseases' needs. Or if we have a kitty that's having more issues with grooming, we might switch to a hairball diet to support that.

What are some signs and symptoms that my cat might be slowing down?

Signs of slowing down is individual to the cat. Some kitties are active while others are total couch potatoes, just like the rest of us. And so things that can be indicative of slowing down are if all of a sudden our interactions with our kitty change. For example, if you have a kitty that’s usually a lap cat but they're spending more time by themselves, that could be an indication something is going on. For kitties that go outdoors, they may not want to go outdoors as much. You may notice them hesitating to jump on a counter or a table to look for stuff and investigate. But we'd rather know about any behavior changes or really anything that concerns you as your kitty gets older, or really at any age, so we can figure out what's going on sooner rather than later.

What are some health complications or diseases that are commonly experienced by senior cats?

So this is the stuff that we've mentioned a bit already. I would say the biggest one that we see beyond arthritis and mobility issues is kidney disease. We can see kidney disease at any age, but the onset is typically in the senior years. And that's often manifested as either weight loss, vomiting, or changes in urine output. Your cat might start drinking and peeing more. But we also could see issues with the thyroid gland in which it becomes overactive, and that's manifested as a really ravenous appetite. Sometimes they'll start acting almost hyperactive, and we could see vomiting and weight loss associated with that. So those are the big two we watch for. And then arthritis, as I mentioned, is a common problem with any elderly pet. And we may see things like trouble getting around, issues jumping, and that sort of stuff.

What kinds of preventative care can help extend the life and health of my cat?

Preventative care is a multi-pronged thing. There are many things that you can do at home to keep your cat healthy. Things you can do at home are to ensure that they don't have to work too hard to get to their litter box or their food and water. As kitties get older, if they've always had to go downstairs to use the litter box, we may need to consider moving a litter box or adding a litter box to the main floor, or whichever floor they spend the most time on. The same goes for food—if they usually eat on a counter, we may either need to help them up to the counter or consider putting their food on the floor.

Other things are just keeping in mind that even though they're slowing down a little bit, they still need to be stimulated. Exercise and enrichment are still important, so we need to keep the brains active. Just as in people; the more we use it, the less we lose it. And then at the vet, it's our job to help you monitor and detect diseases early. We will do that by doing more frequent exams, so we like to see them every six months as they get older. But we also may recommend yearly blood work as they get older to start screening for things like kidney or thyroid disease before they really become a problem. And then we keep up with age-appropriate and lifestyle-appropriate vaccines as well.

What is the most important thing to know about caring for a senior cat?

The most important thing to remember is that you're their best advocate, and you know them best. Cats can be kind of hard to diagnose at times because they're secretive creatures. And so the better you know them as their pet parent, the better you're going to be able to tell when something's off. I am trained and have been doing this for quite a while, but having that intimate knowledge of your cat's personality and normal activities can make a huge difference. So if you notice any changes in their interactions, in their routines, changes in appetite, or litter box habits, then we want to see them. But I always tell people, "I'd rather hear from ya once a week or once a day if you have concerns, rather than waiting to figure out if it's a huge problem."

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Senior Care - FAQs


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

What are some things I can do to make my aging cat more comfortable?

The best thing that we can do is treat the aging cat as an individual. We must remember what they like and what their lifestyle's like, and work around that to maintain that healthy lifestyle. When you’re with them at home, remember that although they're getting older and slowing down a little bit, we still need to keep them active and mentally stimulated. Use puzzle toys or puzzle feeders and other interactive toys like wands to get some interactive play or play that they actually need to think about. That can be important for keeping that brain healthy and keeping those muscles healthy. Go ahead and modify these as needed for what your cat's abilities are.

Other things for making your cat comfortable are maintaining good nutrition, which sometimes means switching to more of a canned food diet as kitties get older. A canned food diet can help because it's a higher moisture content, which is more helpful for the kidneys if there's some early kidney decline. Then probably the most significant thing is letting us take a look at them more frequently, and we like to see senior kitties at least twice a year. Things change more quickly as pets get older. And as we all know, they live a shorter period, so they age more quickly. And so by seeing them more frequently, we can often pick things up before they become a problem.

How will I know if my senior cat is in pain?

That could be a tough one with cats. They're very secretive. They're both a predator species and a prey species, so they are kind of hardwired to hide pain or weakness. Many times pain will be manifested more subtly—you're not often going to find a cat yowling or crying in pain. Most of the time, what you'll find is that they're not as interactive, and they tend to hide more. Sometimes you'll notice that they are limping, but a lot of times, that is a later sign. So things to watch for would be hiding more, but also hesitance to jump. If they're not getting on the couch or the counter or being a general nuisance as my kit so often is, then that could be an indication that the kitty's not feeling well.

Another thing that we can see is abnormal grooming patterns. Sometimes kitties with chronic bladder issues will start to groom their belly, or cats with arthritis will begin to groom their rump or not want to be touched on their rump. So always check in with us if there are any behavior changes because we may be able to help you figure out what's going on.

Does my senior cat still need to be vaccinated?

Yes and no, as that really depends on lifestyle. The number one vaccine that I recommend for any age in any lifestyle would be the rabies vaccine. Here in Maine, we're in a rabies-endemic area, meaning rabies is always around. In our particular area, we have had an uptick in rabies cases in the last few years, so we need to be extra cautious. The rabies vaccine's super safe, and we give it every three years. And it's just an excellent way to keep not only your pet safe but your family as well, as rabies is a fatal disease, and it's not always apparent when your cat has had an interaction with a rabid animal like a bat, even if they're indoors. So, that's my soapbox issue—rabies vaccines are for all cats and pets.

In terms of distemper for kitties that are indoors and have a really low risk, I usually stop doing that between nine and 10 years of age. You may see some variation among vets about how comfortable they are with that, but that's my general opinion. I don't think indoor kitties need leukemia vaccines. For kitties going outside but are pretty much sticking close to the house, I believe that we can stop vaccines as they get older. For those kitties that are scrappy and kind of the bully of the neighborhood, it's worth continuing them.

How do I know if my senior cat has a good quality of life?

You're the best judge of that. Unless I'm coming over to dinner every night and able to see what Fluffy's doing, I'm not going to be a great judge of your cat's quality of life. That's where you come into the relationship of veterinary care, and you are telling us what's happening. Has behavior changed, or has appetite changed? Is your kitty a class A clinger all of a sudden when they've always been aloof? Any kind of behavior changes or routine changes can indicate the quality of life is declining.

But I also think it's important to note that as we get to the end of life and more of what we would call hospice care, it can be hard to be objective about the quality of life. What I often recommend in those situations is keeping a really simple journal or even marking on a calendar marking the quality of each day. Was this a good day, was this an okay day? Was this a bad day? Maybe with minimal notes or none at all, but the journal just allows you to look back over the last week or two when you're in those really tough times, and you get a more objective look at trends upward or downward, or just how the pet's doing overall.

Why does my senior cat sometimes yowl at night?

They don't have to be a senior to do that. I can tell you my young kitty likes to just sing the song of his people at night. I think he wants to keep me awake, and he's bored, but we certainly see this happen a lot more as cats get older. And this can be an indication of some cognitive decline, basically kitty dementia. They can get confused at night, and the night's more common for this to happen. We can also see it as associated with overactivity or hyperactivity with hyperthyroidism. So if this is a behavior you’ve seen, then we should certainly take a look at the kitty and make sure there's nothing else going on. And we can talk about things that we can do for cognitive decline as well.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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