As your cat ages, they’ll need some extra understanding and help from you. Adaptations to your home and to their diet can have a big impact on their quality of life
Posted: 05 April 2019
When is your cat considered to be a golden oldie? According to feline welfare charity International Cat Care, the current definition is as follows: cats are considered to be elderly once they reach 11 years, with senior cats defined as those aged between 11-14 years and geriatric cats 15 years and upwards. The charity advises that when caring for older cats it sometimes helps to appreciate their age in human terms. The formula for calculating the equivalent age is this: the first two years of a cat’s life equate to 24 human years and every year thereafter is equivalent to 4 human years. For example, a 16-year-old cat would be equivalent to an 80-year-old human.
So, although your older cat may still have some ‘mad’ kitten-like moments, if you think about their age in human terms, it makes complete sense that, just as with elderly people, some home adaptations are required. This is particularly important when you consider that, thanks to improved health care and nutrition, some cats can live to celebrate their 20th birthday (that’s 96 in human terms).
Just like humans, elderly cats suffer from conditions associated with ageing. These may include:
One of the most important things you can do to help your older cat lead a stress-free, comfortable life is to ensure that all their resources are in easy reach. Feline welfare charity Cats Protection has the following advice:
Allow your cat to reach favourite places to rest by strategically placing boxes or items of furniture for them to climb. Make sure they have a variety of cosy, well-padded beds in safe warm places that can be readily accessed. Your cat may enjoy the hammock-style radiator beds as they are very warm.
Older cats can find it difficult to make accurate calculations when jumping and are not as agile as they used to be, especially if they are stiff, in pain or have arthritis. Provide easy ways for cats to access their favourite areas, such as using a ramp or small foot stool to give them access to high surfaces. Make sure it is wide enough and you could also cover it in carpet to give extra grip. It's a good idea to fashion some sort of crash mat underneath the ramp, in case the cat falls. Cushions under windowsills can provide a soft landing for uncoordinated or wobbly cats.
Cats may still want to scratch but can find it difficult as they age. Try providing a horizontal scratching post or one with a lower gradient and softer material such as carpet, which they may find easier.
Provide several litter trays in the house at all times, even if your cat has toileted outside all of their life. There are many occasions when an older cat will need an indoor litter tray, such as when it’s raining outside, if the normal toileting site has frozen over and is hard to dig, or if they feel intimidated by other neighbouring cats. Place the litter trays in quiet, safe areas of your home.
Providing a large tray gives your cat plenty of space to move around inside. Make sure the tray has a low side so they can get in and out more easily. Older cats are less able to defend themselves or their territory and, as a result, may become more anxious or dependant on their human. Some cats will feel reassurance from owners that accompany them outside.
Place water and food bowls in a variety of easily accessible locations around the house, both upstairs and downstairs, so they are easy to find and your cat doesn’t have to walk up and down stairs for food and water.
Cats also experience changes in how they digest their food as they age – specifically, they cannot digest protein or oils as efficiently as before. Senior diets, such as Burgess Mature Cat with Turkey & Cranberry are formulated to be more digestible to help combat these changes, as well as helping to support healthy joints, heart health and protect immunity.
Provide smaller meals little and often and monitor your cat’s appetite closely as this can decrease or increase, depending on a variety of health factors. If your cat’s sense of smell reduces, this can lead to a decrease in appetite – you can try warming the food, which will increase the smell and encourage feeding.
Particular attention should be made to body weight as this can go up initially but may reduce as a cat gets very old and being overweight or underweight at any age can lead to serious health risks. You can use this Cat-Size-O-Meter to see if your cat is a healthy shape. Always consult your vet if you’re worried about changes in your cat’s weight as this can play a vital role in ensuring they remain healthy and can lead as long a life as possible.
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Sources: icc.org.uk, cats.org.uk, pfma.org.uk