If you are reading this, then this means you are either preparing to care for a senior cat, or are already doing so and need some helpful tips. No matter the reason, you are taking the extra steps to learn for the sake of your cat, and that is important in itself.
Senior cats are not much of a different horse to tackle than a regular adult cat, but it can vary on the cat’s needs. Some cats are born with inherently better genetics than others, and you can’t avoid some problems.
However, if you start now, taking care of an older cat will become easier as time goes on. Plus, getting your cat into good habits will make your life easier and less expensive in the long run! Everyone loves to save money, right?
The idea is that your cat will be ready to go into their geriatric stage nice and easily, and comfortably live out the rest of their life. We all want to retire comfortably with someone taking care of us, and your cat feels the same way. Even better when it’s a lifelong friend!
Whether you’ve had your little old friend for almost your entire life (like mine) or are adopting a senior cat, these tips will tell you how to care for your senior cat and what you need to know about them!
What is considered a senior or geriatric cat?
A senior cat is considered to be in between the ages of 7 to 12. By the time they are 12, most cats will already have exhibited some physical changes that comes with growing older. Anything beyond that is geriatric, and your cat is in its golden years.
Some of those physical changes can include:
- Change of eye appearance. This can be a hazy or cloudy color of their eyes, and also changes in the iris. Speckles can form. This is common with all cats and doesn’t really seem to affect their eyesight too much, surprisingly.
- Thinner fur in certain areas. Your cat may get bald patches around the ears. They may also get gray hairs, which will be more noticeable in black cats. Their fur may lose its sheen.
- The skin will become thinner and less elastic.
- Claws can become thick and brittle.
An increase in weight loss may happen in geriatric cats. It is natural, but you must monitor weight loss because it can also be related to an underlying illness. Vomiting and diarrhea is often paired with this and must be taken care of. Cats are already have a very low thirst drive and diarrhea can be deadly for them.
Common health problems and difficulties can all be traced to a cat’s immune system naturally weakening around this age. Chronic diseases can make matters even worse for your cat as they also help to weaken your cat’s immune system- it’s not a good combination.
Hyperthyroidism, hypertension, and diabetes can also become quite magnified in an older cat, and the symptoms will become much more prevalent as they get older.
Some other common problems are:
- Dental problems. A lowered immune system can least to more gum disease.
- Arthritis. It is very common in every aging animal, and there is not much you can do to avoid it. If you feed your cat the right diet, your cat’s bones will be stronger, but it will still happen naturally. It’s up to you to determine how much of a problem it will become.
- Senility in the brain. This can include excessive meowing, disorientation, and increased social interaction. Your cat may not be able to tell you, but they can experience loss of memory too.
- Their kidneys go through a lot of changes around this time. Kidney failure is a very common cause of renal failure and happens to many aging cats. The severity can vary from cat to cat, and it’s not a death sentence if your cat has it. It can be controlled through medication and care.
- Congestive heart failure is another common problem in aging cats. The lungs will start to fill up liquid, making breathing difficult. The cause is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which in short is a condition of the walls of the heart thickening and enlarges the heart. Thyroid problems can also cause this.
Not all cats age the same, and some have better genes than others. Look for the signs of any illness as early as you can!
Start early- A Lifetime of good feeding leads to good health
Think of it this way. Feeding your cat well throughout their entire lifetime (or at the earliest point possible in their life) is sort of like preventative maintenance. The same holds true for human health and almost any other system. Generally, the idea is that the better you take care of your cat in its early stages, the better they will age.
Of course, genetics and environmental factors will play a part, but you should do your best to support your cat anyways.
One of the best things you could do for your cat is to have them eat a species appropriate diet from the get go. That is, feeding them high protein, wet cat food. You’ve heard it many times, but it is the truth, because that is what all cats are made to eat.
If you haven’t been feeding your cat the quality they deserve, it’s never too late to start. I guarantee you’ll see a difference in your cat’s behavior almost immediately (in a good way.) I have a list of my top rated wet cat food here if you need a point in the right direction of what to look for.
It shouldn’t be hard to comprehend, but a lot of people do not think of animals in the same way as a human does towards other humans. It’s why humans stress the importance of eating healthy!
Feed your senior cat HIGH QUALITY protein- not less
This also leads to the discussion of “I heard that high protein cat food can destroy an older cat’s kidneys.” This is ENTIRELY WRONG and an all too common misconception that has spiraled out of control. I have talked about it before, but I’ll go more in depth here as to why this is false.
In the wild, a cat will eat a high protein, all meat for their whole life regardless of age, but that is not my point. It is true that a cats protein needs do change as they age. Older cats are definitely more prone to kidney disease and that is something to always keep in mind.
Senior cats actually need MORE high quality protein as they age. They need it to prevent muscle mass loss common in aging, which is why you see so many skinny old cats. Cats do indeed process and metabolize protein less efficiently as they age, which is why they need more, not less. If calorie intake is not increased, muscle mass loss will happen.
The fact that older cats need less protein as they age is actually an outdated concept from studies of years ago.
The studies conducted were on cats aged 7 or older being fed on a commercially prepared, high protein diet. It showed that their organs were not strong enough to handle the protein being ingested.
Nowadays, even veterinarians are aware of the fact that a cat’s kidney and livers CAN perfectly process high amounts protein. The problem is that it needs to be HIGH QUALITY protein.
The quality of protein in these commercial cat foods was what was causing the problem in the cats ages 7 or older in the first place.
Cats that are fed a good quality, high protein wet food will indeed have less kidney issues, or perhaps non at all in the future.
Remember, there are two types of protein used in cat food: plant protein and animal protein. Plant protein (soy, corn, any plant really) has no place in a cat’s food, and is the source of low quality protein, aside from unnamed meat by-products.
This will vary between cats, because some may need more support than others. If your cat has arthritis or other joint/physical problems, it’s in your best interest to accommodate them.
Some ways you can do this are:
- Move your cat’s litter box to where it is easiest for them to access. If it is already in a good spot, leave it. But if the litter box is upstairs or downstairs, perhaps it is time to move it for your cat’s sake.
- Make sure your cat’s food bowl and water bowl is easily accessible. It should all be on the same floor for your senior kitty.
- Place more beds or bedding around your home if your cat likes them.
There should be a fine balance of having your cat being active, and making sure your cat is living comfortably. If your cat wants to jump up somewhere, that’s their decision. Otherwise, don’t make your cat work harder to be comfortable!
Give your senior cat supplements for additional support
While not necessary for the health of your senior cat, supplements will improve the overall health of your cat, and will increase their quality of life. I’d say it’s worth it!
In the guide, I cover specific supplements by brand. You may find something you like!
Otherwise, here is a few supplement types that I think are worth it:
1. Omega fatty acids
Particularly, Omega-3s, which are the most common. These are good for keeping your cats fur coat nice and shiny, and more importantly it boosts your senior cats immune system, which they are in dire need of at this point in life.
Omega-3s will also support your cats joints for arthritis,increase your cat’s energy, support the heart, brain and eyes. What more could you need?
You must be careful of the source of the fish used, that is my only concern about Omega fatty acids, since it is mainly derived from fish. Look for brands that specify the source comes from small fish. Anchovies and sardines are a good choice because they are small.
This is important because large fish basically “die” at a slower rate and live longer, which means they hold onto toxins longer. Small fish do not live enough for toxins to get into their system.
I highly recommend Nordic Naturals Omega-3 softgels. They use small fish as a source and know what they’re doing.
A strange but otherwise well-known word, what exactly is an antioxidant? It is basically a substance that inhibits or fights “oxidation” and destruction of the cells. They energize cells and provide
them with the strength to ward off sickness and illness.
Cats can also use antioxidants to their benefit. They will help a weakening immune system and will prepare your cat to fight against illness. There are some antioxidants that are better than others at doing certain things.
For heart health, I recommend Dr. Harvey’s Coenzyme Q10 for dogs and cats. I have been giving this to my cat and it has been working wonders, since he has Congestive Heart Failure. Overall, his breathing has been less labored and has had more energy.
For general support, I recommend a wholefood, antioxidant blend. This will support a healthy aging process, and supports the immune system.
3. CBD Hemp Oil
This is becoming a popular alternative choice for many cat owners. CBD Hemp oil is made from a strain where the plant does NOT create a high. It will usually contain less than 0.3% THC, which is the psychoactive component that creates the high.
CBD oil reduces anxiety, has anti-inflammatory properties, reduces and can completely eliminate seizure activity, and can improve the overall well-being of your cat.
So for your senior kitty, this can improve their arthritis, respiratory infections, inflammatory bowel disease, and can improve the quality of life if your cat has cancer.
Since you may be unfamiliar with shopping for CBD oil products, especially for your cat, this is a helpful little guide to use as a reference:
- Look for farming practices: You don’t want CBD oil with pesticides in it. Look for organic.
- Concentration: Some products don’t have enough CBD oil to have an effect. It depends on the severity of the issue, and you may need some to do some experimentation.
- Ingredients: Look for only hemp oil in the ACTIVE ingredients. For inactive, look for as little ingredients as possible.
There are still many studies to be done of the effect of CBD hemp oil for cats, but it has been such a success overall, in many species of animals. I would definitely keep an open mind about this, as the potential is definitely there to support your older cat, and to help reduce the amount of medicine you need to give your cat, if any.
I recommend OmegaPet HempGold starting at 250 mg. It is organic, non-GMO and cruelty free!
The key is to boost your senior cat’s immune system. If you can accomplish this, your cat will be able to fight off disease and illness so much better and more efficiently, so that they can keep aging comfortably.
Remember, you don’t have to go overboard with supplements. Get what you need, and don’t be afraid to ask for support or help from your veterinarian.
Exercise, exercise, exercise!
Exercising in your senior years has always been recommended in humans. You are at risk for a more sedentary lifestyle because it is harder to move around as you get older. The same goes for older cats too!
I have already written a guide on weight loss for cats if you’d like to get the full story and I have included some tips on exercise. I’ll reiterate if you don’t want to read the whole thing!
Sedentary senior cats are more at risk for diabetes, heart disease, and osteoarthritis, so this is important to keep in mind! Even if it’s just for five minutes at a time, get your little old friend active.
If your kitty is anything like mine, you’ll find that their old toys and your tricks don’t really work on them anymore. Here’s a few ways to keep them active…
- Grab a bottle cap or a plastic bag and watch the magic happen. You don’t even have to buy anything, and sometimes it’s better this way. My cat is 18 years old and will still get up and play with a plastic bag as I throw it around.
- Throw some treats, or your cat’s dry food if you’re transitioning to wet food, across the room. This is worth it since your cat will be spending more calories like this anyways. Perhaps you can hide the treats and see if your cat will go hunt them.
- Use catnip to your advantage if your cat is into it. I believe most cats are, but some don’t react to it. This is a fun and healthy way to get them more motivated! Even when your cat squirms around on the floor, they’re being active. Combine that with some treat throwing and you’ve got something.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s appropriate for your cat. If your cat has arthritis and has a hard time going up stairs, don’t make them go up and down the stairs. In this case, keep it on the same floor.
See a vet often and use your common sense
Depending on the case, seeing your veterinarian often could be a wise decision. If your senior cat has a lot of health problems, it wouldn’t hurt to get them checked up on a little more often. That is, if you can afford it.
This is why preventative care is so important! You can’t help some things, but it is important to try as early as you can.
I treat my veterinarian more as a “tool” for my cat’s health. That is, I get the best explanations of what is going on with my cat behind the scenes, and I can get recommendations from them.
I wouldn’t say the internet is a replacement, but you can learn SO much from online sources. You can get second opinions easily online, and find out what other cat owners think of certain medications or treatments.
I’d like to stress though to always do what’s right for your cat. Do not deny helpful medication to your cat just because you think it has harmful “chemicals.” It’s usually not the case, and most medications don’t use harmful ingredients anyways. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
If a medication your vet is prescribing is one of the few ways to help your cat, go for it. If you’re thinking of trying to find an alternative, do a lot of research.
Remember, your cat doesn’t have a voice to object, and it’s up to you to act in their best interests!
In conclusion: You’ve come this far!
Your cat is your friend. They’ve been with you for a while (or if you have just adopted a senior kitty, that is great news!) and deserve all of your love and support in their golden, senior years.
They’re not as active as they used to be, and maybe their personalities have changed. However, it’s important to remember they’re still your same old friend from long ago. Pay attention to your cat’s needs and keep an open mind!
Caring for a senior cat can still be fun, and definitely not as tiresome as caring for a kitten. Senior cats are much more chill and relaxed, and they tend to sleep and lay down on your lap a lot more, which is a plus for me! I have definitely felt much more connected to Shadow now more than ever- there are definitely perks when it comes down to it.
What did you think of my guide? Let me know what you think and make sure to leave a comment below. Are there any other supplements you can recommend? Any successes in playing with your older kitty and can pass down some tips?
I want to hear all of it. I love talking and responding to my readers!