October 12, 2023

Tips for Caring for a Senior Cat

As with all of us, cats slow down as they age. They may want to take less exercise, they may start to put on weight and their personality may change.

Some cats become friendlier and want to spend more time with their owners. Others become grumpier and do not like being touched. 

Many cats sleep more and go out less. However, changes in personality can be a sign of pain or illness so it is worth checking with your vet. 

Don't forget that older cats still need regular vaccination and flea and worming treatment.

When do cats start to get old?

Middle age for most cats is now generally considered to start at seven years. Picking up early changes in your pet enables early diagnosis and treatment and may considerably improve quality of life.

With the constant improvements in veterinary care, the lifespan of cats is much longer than it used to be. A cat used to be considered elderly at the age of 12 years or more, but it’s not uncommon for your cat to reach the ripe old age of 18!

How does ageing affect cats?

  • Internal organs such as the heart, liver and the kidneys can deteriorate

  • The immune system does not work as well, so your pet becomes less capable of fighting off infection.

  • Hearing and sight deteriorate and your pet’s memory may be affected

  • Sleep patterns often change as many older cats sleep more, although some become wakeful at night.

  • The coat loses its shine, white hairs may appear

Improvements in veterinary medicine mean that there are treatments available to help reduce the worst effects. 

Age is not a reason to accept ill health and even old cats can lead happy, active lives. Keeping your cat mentally active may help to keep them feeling young – try hiding titbits for them to find around the house, but make it easy at first to avoid frustration. Try new toys as even older cats like to play.

Which beds are suitable for an older cat?

Caring for an elderly cat often involves allowing them to rest and relax as needed. It’s well known that older cats sleep more, so your cat will appreciate having a variety of cosy, well-padded beds in places that are easy to reach.

The best cat bed for elderly cats is one that is warm, comfortable, and placed somewhere quiet in your home for optimal snoozing. Hammock-style radiator beds are especially warm, which older cats may appreciate.

Are litter trays helpful for older cats?

As your cat ages, it's kind to provide an indoor litter tray, even if your cat normally toilets outdoors. Because they must be slower on their feet, older cats may feel vulnerable outside and providing an indoor tray will help prevent toileting problems. 

Are scratching posts helpful for older cats?

As with many things, your older cat will still want to scratch and sharpen their claws, but they may find it difficult to use standing or wall-mounted scratch posts. 

You may wish to provide a horizontal scratching surface or one with a softer material, such as carpet, to help them scratch more easily. As part of your grooming routine, make sure to check their claws for any damage.

Should you grooming older cats?

If your cat is looking unkempt or developing matted fur, go to the vet for a check-up. There may be dental disease or joint problems that are affecting the ability to groom. Regular grooming is important for your cat.

Keep a check on the claws. Younger cats often do not need claw trimming, but reduced activity can result in the claws over-growing. They can curl around and even grow into the foot. Get your vet to check if you are not sure.

How should you feed older cats?

Throughout your cat’s life, it is a good idea to weigh them every one to two months. If weight is steadily increasing after 12 months of age, you need to start reducing your cat’s food. Weight loss can be an early sign of illness, so monitoring is particularly important, with your older cat.

It is common for older cats to develop medical conditions that cause them to lose weight, such as kidney and thyroid disease. If your cat is losing weight, it is important to consult your vet as soon as possible. 

Other cats acquire a middle-aged spread and it is essential that this be kept under control. 

Overweight cats are unlikely to live as long and they are prone to serious illnesses such as kidney disease, diabetes and arthritis.

Cats vary in size so weight alone doesn't tell you much. The only way to tell if your pet is overweight is to examine it carefully. Can you see an hourglass waist when viewed from above? Can you feel your pet’s ribs with light finger pressure? If the answer to these questions is “no”, it is time to reduce food intake. And if your pet has a potbelly as well, it is definitely time to go on a diet. But please be aware that crash dieting is dangerous for cats.

It may be better to follow one of the many senior diets, as they are lower in calories and reduce the likelihood of weight gain. Protein restriction has not been proven to be beneficial for healthy cats but is helpful for cats with kidney problems. If your cat has kidney disease ask your vet for advice on a suitable diet.

If your cat is losing weight you should consult your vet in case there is an underlying medical problem and discuss whether following a senior diet is advisable. The vet may suggest special foods.

How can you improve your senior cat’s joint health?

Synoquin Efa Capsules support good joint health in cats. The capsules contain glucosamine, chondroitin and dexahan, ingredients which can aid the easing of stiff joints, help with mobility and support your pet’s joint structure.

When should you see a vet for your elderly cat?

Go to the vet if your cat:

  • is drinking more than normal

  • has become less active

  • is eating less

  • has lost weight

  • is having trouble passing urine or faeces, or is passing water indoors

  • has smelly breath

  • is stiff, limping, or having difficulty in jumping up onto things

  • has become dull, disorientated or is having trouble with balance

  • has any lumps or bumps, especially if they are rapidly getting bigger

Many health conditions affecting older cats are treatable and you should always visit your vet if you have any concerns about your cat's health, as they may be able to recommend treatment to help your cat get more enjoyment from their twilight years.


Medically reviewed by:

Miss Joy Sarah Helen Howell

DipAVN(Surgical) RVN EA SQP