Care of the ageing feline

Anyone working with cats will know that they are living longer than they did just a few years ago, and it’s all thanks to improved nutrition and veterinary care. It’s rewarding that we’re able to do so much more in terms of preventing common diseases.

Posted: 16 April 2018

Care of the ageing feline


  • Elderly cats – a cat is considered elderly from 11 years of age
  • Senior cats – this is between 11-14 years
  • Geriatric cats – these animals are over 15 years of age

How do you explain age to your clients?

A popular way to estimate the age of a cat is as follows. The first 2 years of a cat’s life is equivalent to 24 human years. For every year after 2, add 4 human years.

  • 5 year old cat =  36 year old human
  • 8 year old cat =  44 year old human
  • 12 year old cat = 64 year old human
  • 16 year old cat =  80 year old human

Physical and behavioural changes

As cats age their bodies and behaviour start to change. Older cat adapt gradually to these changes, and it may not be obvious unless you are specifically looking for signs of ageing. They tend to be less active, hunt less, spend less time outside and sleep for longer periods throughout the day. Some of these changes can also be a sign of illness, so we need to be aware and on the look out.  

14 age related issues – look out for these problems

  1. Altered sleep-wake cycle – often their sleeping patterns will change, and owners will notice them awake and calling in the house throughout the night.
  2. Changes in thyroid function – many cats develop hyperthyroidism as they age. We all need to be vigilant with older cats that are eating more and losing weight.
  3. Reduced renal function – with age comes progressive renal tubular damage. Many cats are at risk from chronic renal insufficiency.
  4. Changes in vision – older cats develop age related cataracts. Owners often comment that they’ve noticed their pet with cloudy eyes.
  5. Decreased sense of smell – this can have a marked effect on appetite. Older cats often eat less as a result.
  6. Longer nails – as they age, the nails become noticeably more brittle. Dew claws and nails on the front feet can become overlong, causing the nail to get snagged in clothes and furniture.
  7. Cardiovascular disease – senior felines will commonly develop acquired heart disease. Tachycardia, murmurs and arrhythmias are frequently found.
  8. Altered digestion – keep an eye on the litter tray. Faeces may become softer and less formed as they have more difficulty digesting fat and protein.
  9. Stiffness – older cats wont jump and climb as much as they used to. Cats tend to hide pain resulting from arthritis, but owners may have noticed some of the more subtle signs.
  10. Loss of skin elasticity – skin wounds wont heal as well.
  11. Coat dry and scruffy – as they age, felines will need more help looking after their coats. They may be less flexible and no longer able to reach and groom themselves fully.
  12. Hairballs – these are very common. Cats that swallow loose hair when grooming and have reduced gut motility can form balls of fur in the stomach.
  13. Inappropriate toileting – geriatric cats are less keen to go outside to toilet, and unless provided with clean litter trays at all times, are likely to start urinating and defecating inside the house.
  14. Dental disease – advanced periodontal disease, tartar, gingivitis and dental decay are all very common as the animal ages. Most owners are not very good at checking their pets mouths, so it’s imperative that we check them every time they come to the surgery.

The ideal time to look for these changes is during a ‘senior pet health-check’. Most vet practices promote such healthcare services, and they’re potential lifesavers for many of our feline friends.

The main aim in these appointments is to identify illnesses that may be in an early stage and set up a prevention plan for early treatment and management of any symptoms that may be potentially damaging.

Senior health checks – what should you check?

  • Weight and body condition – use your scales, record weights and measure Body Condition Score
  • Dental health – check the teeth, gums and oral cavity
  • Heart and thyroid – palpate the neck, measure the heart rate and check for murmurs and abnormal rhythm. If in doubt take blood samples and check for abnormal thyroid function
  • Abdomen – take some time to feel the abdomen. Cats are generally relaxed and easy to palpate. Abnormal structures are often easily felt, including renal enlargement and small intestinal masses
  • Joints – feel all the joints and check for full movement, abnormal swellings, effusions, crepitus and reluctance to being examined. Many cats wont be obviously lame from osteoarthritis, but subtle changes can be found by careful examination
  • Eyes – check for opacity in the lens, corneal changes and changes within the anterior or posterior chambers. Use an ophthalmoscope and examine the retinal vessels
  • Blood pressure – it’s relatively easy to take a cat’s blood pressure and this should really be a routine procedure. You’ll detect hypertension at an early stage and be able to prevent long term damage
  • Nails – check the nails for abnormal growth and trim if necessary
  • Diet – find out what the animal is being offered and if it’s being eaten. Is the food appropriate?
  • Behaviour – the consultation is the ideal time to ask how the cat is behaving at home. Any changes in activity, appetite, drinking, toileting etc
  • Urine – ask the owner to bring a fresh urine sample. Check for protein, blood and measure the specific gravity. Early renal disease can be detected if present.
  • Blood tests – we all know the benefits of running a full health profile. Do you offer a senior health profile for a reduced fee?

Senior Cat Food

Feline nutrition is extremely important throughout the entirety of a cat's life. A mature, senior or geriatric specific diet can help:

  • Manage Weight
  • Increase Lifespan
  • Reduce or eliminate pain
  • Maintain healthy skin, coat and bodily functions

Do you know we produce a feline senior diet?

Burgess Mature Cat with Turkey