Cats are designated as seniors at 10 years of age and older, according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Life Stage Guidelines. But, the term “senior” is more than a name or a lifetime achievement—the designation signals that your cat’s health needs are about to change. To ensure your cat maintains an appropriate quality of life, you must be prepared to provide extra care to meet those needs.
At Just Cats Clinic, we take an early, proactive approach to feline aging and recommend senior care for cats 8 years and older. Here are six simple ways to support your senior cat.
#1: Bring your cat in for twice-yearly physical exams
Our feline veterinary care philosophy centers on helping cats Live Beyond 9 Lives™. As your cat ages, our approach shifts from preventing disease to detecting and addressing disease as early as possible with more frequent hands-on examinations. Frequent examinations can identify your cat’s body system changes (e.g., oral, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, nervous, musculoskeletal, lymphatic, urinary, and skin), as well as annual blood work and urinalysis to detect hidden changes in your cat’s organ function.
We understand that veterinary visits can be stressful for cats. If you’re concerned about bringing your cat to our clinic, contact our team to learn more about our Cat Friendly Practice care approach and for advice on easing your cat’s anxiety.
#2: Address your cat’s dental health
Your cat may have a small mouth and tiny teeth, but they can be a major contributor to poor overall health. Periodontal disease (i.e., infection and inflammation around the teeth, informally referred to as dental disease) affects 50% to 90% of cats older than 4 years of age. Dental disease can cause chronic pain and tooth loss, and excessive plaque and tartar bacteria can enter the bloodstream and lead to bodywide disease and damage.
Protecting your senior cat’s oral health begins with an oral cavity exam at Just for Cats Clinic. If we find dental disease, we will recommend a dental cleaning under anesthesia with full-mouth X-rays.
#3: Learn how to identify pain signs in cats
Cats are adept at hiding pain and weakness. Unfortunately, therefore, many felines suffer in silence from chronically painful conditions, such as arthritis and periodontal disease. Then, you will likely note your cat’s personality, behavior, and physical activity changing, which expresses their pain rather than vocalizing or limping.
Common pain indicators include:
- Unusual litter box habits
- Reduced appetite
- Disinterest in previously enjoyable activities
- Physical sensitivity
- Decreased movement
- Facial expressions (e.g., squinting, wide-eyed, or vacant stare)
- Unusual postures when standing or resting
- Increased or decreased grooming
Schedule an appointment at Just Cats Clinic if your cat is expressing any of these pain signs or other unexplained behavior change.
#4: Ensure your senior cat has easy access to important resources
Senior cats with arthritis and vision impairment can have difficulty accessing or locating their basic resources, which can contribute to stress and poor health. Consider carefully where your cat’s key resources, including food, water, bedding and preferred sleeping spaces, toys, litter boxes, scratching posts, and perches, are located. If distance or another barrier (e.g., height, other cats’ bullying) prevents your senior cat from safely reaching their resources, relocate them to a central area or add additional stations. Install pet ramps to reduce pain and allow your cat to reach their preferred elevated areas. Also, replace traditional litter boxes with low-entry boxes, so arthritic cats do not have to leap inside.
#5: Encourage new neural pathways with feline enrichment
Regular mental stimulation can help prevent or slow age-related cognitive decline (e.g., cognitive dysfunction syndrome[CDS]), as well as depression and boredom. Sharpen your cat’s critical thinking skills and confidence with fun strategies that capitalize on their instinctive behaviors. Our favorites include:
- Puzzles, foraging toys, and food-dispensing balls — These interactive items promote mobility and problem-solving as cats use their nose or paws to locate or free hidden food rewards.
- Trick training — Simple behaviors, such as coming when called, nose-touching a target stick, and sitting on cue, can be easily taught with positive reinforcement training.
- Positive social interactions — Cats may be solitary by nature, but they still need and crave attention from their human family members. Daily positive interactions can help prevent depression, overeating, and health decline.
#6: Routinely assess your senior cat’s quality of life
Although you do not want to think about your cat’s final years, months, or days, periodically evaluating their quality of life can ensure you optimize their health and happiness and prevent unnecessary suffering for as long as possible. Quality of life assessments (e.g., the HHHHHMM scale and the Lap of Love Pet Quality of Life Scale) are especially important for cats with chronic or terminal diseases such as renal failure or cancer, because they can help inform and guide end-of-life discussions with your Just Cats Clinic veterinarian.
By the time your cat reaches senior status, you are likely coexisting in a comfortable, familiar rhythm that you do not expect to change. But owners who take their senior cat’s physical and emotional health for granted can prevent their pet from receiving the best possible care.