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How Can I Tell if My Cat is a Senior? (6 Ways to Tell)

How Can I Tell if My Cat is a Senior? (6 Ways to Tell)

Aging is a natural process that leads to senescence, “a decline of biological functions and of the organism’s ability to adapt to metabolic stress.” It is normal for your beloved cats grow older through the passing of time. However, the good news is that more and more cats are living longer due to advancements in nutrition, medical care, as well as home care. If you’ve ever wondered, “Is my cat already a senior?” You’ve come to the right place! This Waldo’s Friends post will answer the questions:

How old is a senior cat?

So just how old should a cat be to be considered a senior? Technically speaking, cats fall under the senior category when they are between 11 to 14 years old. (In case you didn’t know, there’s another category for even older cats called geriatric or super senior.) However, some doctors already consider cats as seniors once they are past the age of seven, or depending on their species, breed, and the state of their organs. 

How can I tell if my cat is aging?

A cat’s body undergoes many physiological changes as she gets older. Her senses weaken, reducing her ability to smell and taste food. At the same time, her hearing and vision may diminish, making her feel vulnerable. Digestion, immunity, skin elasticity, and stress tolerance are also greatly affected as she transitions into seniorhood.

Cats are well-known for hiding their illnesses and discomforts, so you’ll need a sharp eye to spot any changes related to getting older. (Side note: Senior dogs are a different matter though, since they are more vocal when dealing with discomfort.) Once your cat has started aging, she may manifest the following:

1 Vision problems

Common ocular diseases such as glaucoma, cancer, and trauma can make it difficult for your cat to see what’s right in front of her. These eye problems may be linked to a more pressing health issue such as elevated blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, and/or kidney disease. Observe your cat and take her to the vet if she shows any of these signs:

  • Bumping into furniture, people, or walls
  • Cloudy eyes or noticeable debris in the front area of the eyes
  • Different sized pupils 
  • Engorged blood vessels in the white areas of the eyes
  • Excessive blinking
  • Pawing at the eyes
  • Pupils stay dilated in bright light

2 Weight changes

One pound may not seem a lot to us humans, but it instantly represents a 10% weight change in a 10-pound cat (the average weight of most domestic cats). The metabolism of some cats slows down as they age, so they won’t need to consume as much calories as they used to. On the other hand, other aging cats lose weight because of their inability to digest their food properly, so they need to increase their caloric intake to maintain a healthy weight. 

Unexpected weight loss or gain can be an early sign of a more significant disease, ranging from diabetes and kidney disease to cancer and hyperthyroidism. It is recommended that you bring your cat to the vet if her weight suddenly changes, so that you can determine if there is an underlying illness at play or if she simply needs to make the switch to senior-formulated cat food.  

Has your cat been avoiding the stairs to get to the second floor of your home? Has she been having a hard time jumping on her favourite couch or getting in and out of her litter box? If you answered yes to both questions, there’s a possibility that your cat may have osteoarthritis. Symptoms include a stiff-legged gait, decreased range of motion, favouring one leg, limping, and a reluctance to jump. Decrease in appetite, lethargy, poor grooming (matted or oily fur are two common signs), and even increased irritability could also be signs that your cat has joint issues. 

4 Dental diseases

Dr. Heidi Lobprise, DVM, spokesperson for the International Veterinary Senior Care Society, states that dental disease is “a very common and preventable disease that is prevalent in senior pets.” Gingivitis (irritation, redness, and swelling of the gingiva), periodontitis (gum infection that damages the soft tissue), and tooth resorption (breaking down and absorbing the structures that form the tooth) are examples of painful dental diseases that may affect your cat’s body, her organs, as well as her demeanor.

Regularly check your cat’s gums for inflammation, redness, and/or tartar. Better yet, have her teeth regularly cleaned to maintain periodontal health. Have your old cat examined if she appears reluctant to eat, has difficulty chewing her food, or is constantly drooling. 

5 Changes in toilet habits

Senior cats may also encounter modifications in their peeing habits. They may pee less because it takes them longer to process what they consume. They may also have difficulty releasing urine because of certain illnesses. These ailments include feline lower urinary tract disease, idiopathic cystitis, and cancer. Meanwhile, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or kidney-related diseases can make your cat urinate frequently. Certain cat medications that are given to lower inflammation or treat allergies may also cause your cat to pee more often. 

If your older cat is pooping or peeing everywhere, this could also point to cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Senior cats may forget where their litter boxes are placed, or simply be unable to hold it in until they reach their litter box. Monitor your cat’s toilet habits and take note of anything out of the ordinary. If she does not pee for more than 24 hours and/or holds her poop in longer than 48 hours, contact your veterinarian immediately. 

6 Behavioural changes

Marked changes in your cat behaviour can also indicate aging. Examples include:

  • Changes in sleep-wake cycles (such as sleeping longer or staying up all night)
  • Decrease or increase in appetite (or becoming more fussy about what she eats)
  • Increase in aggression
  • Increase in wanting attention
  • Inappropriate vocalisation (meowing as if she’s lost or being vocal at night)
  • Lack of interest in playing or interacting with humans
  • Lack of self-grooming
  • Spending less time outdoors

How can I care for a senior cat?

It is essential for aging cats to have more visits to the veterinary clinic, so schedule vet appointments at least twice a year. Blood test, urine analysis, dental cleaning, and full body examination should be administered at each visit. 

Aside from regular medical checkups, you can keep your senior cat healthy and happy in many ways! Provide nutritionally balanced meals. Keep her groomed and check for unusual lumps and bumps as you brush her hair. Give her enough attention and space, and make her feel as comfortable as possible. Also, turn your home into a senior cat-friendly area! Modify the paths she usually takes (carpets and slippery surfaces may discourage her to walk). Find horizontal scratching surfaces or easy access lookouts. And finally, provide more litter boxes throughout your home.  

Read up on more cat-related articles in our blog! Discover which human food cats can safely eat, or find out how to deal with cat eye problems.

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