Contributor: Samantha Bell, Cat Expert for Best Friends Animal Society
Samantha Bell has been working with shelter cats and cat behavior for over 20 years. She spent many years as the Cat Behavior & Enrichment Lead for Best Friends Animal Society and as a national trainer for Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Pawsitive program. Currently, Samantha is the Cat Content Strategist for Best Friends and runs her own cat business at samanthabell.org.
Champion Petfoods is a corporate sponsor of Best Friends Animal Society
Just like any cat, senior cats need love too! Here are some special considerations, tips and advice for living comfortably with your senior cat so you can help them be their best.
- How does a cat’s behavior change as they age?
Let me start by saying that senior cats have my heart. I love them so much and want to do everything I can to help them live as comfortably as possible.
As they age, cats go through many physical changes, which may also cause behavioral changes.
Please note that any slight behavior change can indicate a medical issue, especially with senior cats. So, if you do notice a behavior change, please take your cat to the vet as soon as possible.
Since hearing loss is common as cats age, you may notice them sleeping more or becoming startled more easily. Dental disease and loss of sense of smell could cause them not to want to eat as much. Arthritis may prevent them from grooming themselves as much as they need to, while joint pain may lead to litter box avoidance. And an aging brain may cause them to wander, seem disoriented, vocalize more often, or avoid social interaction.
- Mobility can become more limited as cats age; what can people do to make their home easier to navigate for a senior cat?
There are many ways to make your home more accessible for your aging cat to navigate. Low-sided litter boxes help ease the strain on your cat’s joints, therefore removing a potential barrier to using the box. Pet stairs will help them reach the bed, sofa, or other high places they may have trouble jumping up to. Nightlights can help with vision loss. Raised food and water bowls help ease the strain on their joints. And soft rugs can help them not slip on hardwood floors.
While your cat may have enjoyed outdoor adventure when they were younger, please keep senior cats indoors or carefully supervise any of their outdoor activities. Senior cats’ senses are not as finely tuned as they once were, and they could easily fall prey to predators or traffic.
- The litterbox can become a struggle for senior cats. Are there modifications that can make it easier for a senior cat to maintain their litter box habits?
There are many options for low-sided litter boxes that put less strain on your cat’s joints when getting in and out. If your cat makes a big mess and kicks out a lot of litter, you can find high-sided boxes with low entry. There are also litter box ramps to help cats get in and out easily.
You want to provide large, open-top litter boxes, so your cat doesn’t have to duck and crouch when using them. This also allows you to easily check on their elimination to see if there are any issues.
You should have at least one litter box on each level if you have more than one story in your home. Senior cats don’t have as much control of their bladder, so they should have one close by at all times.
- Eating and drinking habits can change for senior cats; what should you watch out for?
It can be tricky to get senior cats to eat enough food to maintain their weight. So, it’s critical to weigh your cat every couple of weeks. Medical issues, declining senses, and a decreased ability to digest food all play a part in their decreased appetite. If your cat is losing weight, the first step is always to get them to a vet.
As cats age, their senses of smell and taste begin to deteriorate, so their appetite may not be as strong as it once was. If a cat can’t smell their food, they won’t be as inclined to eat it. To help your cat smell the food, you can warm it up a little. Many cats prefer slightly warmer food since it resembles the temperature of freshly killed prey.
Senior cats can also become quite thirsty due to medical reasons like hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and diabetes. So, it’s crucial that they get enough water. Adding a little water to their wet food helps, as does provide a pet fountain. Many cats prefer running water to a stagnant bowl because their wild cat instincts tell them that stagnant water could be lethal.
- Do older cats still play? What does senior cat-friendly play look like?
It’s so important to play with your senior cat! They still have a prey drive, and helping them satisfy it with a wand toy session can improve their overall wellbeing. You don’t want to whip the wand toy around as fast and high as you would do for a younger cat, but they’ll still enjoy some light chasing. Just be sure to let them catch that toy at the end, so they feel satisfied. It’s a great time to feed them a high-protein wet food after this, so they feel like they did hunt, catch, kill, and eat their prey.
Positive reinforcement training (like clicker training) is wonderful enrichment for senior cats. Yes, you can teach an old cat a new trick! It keeps their brains sharp and gives them something to look forward to each day. You can reward them for sitting, coming to you, or any behavior you enjoy.
- As cats age, their health needs will evolve. What are some health checks that would be advised for a senior cat?
Some common diseases in older cats are kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It’s a good idea to have a thorough vet checkup every year so you and your vet can get ahead of medical issues and help your cat live a longer, healthier life.