Caring for the Older Cat
Does Your Older Cat Enjoy Life to The Max?
Three decades ago the average life expectancy of a cat was 12 years. Happily, improvements in nutrition and veterinary treatment mean that today’s cats can expect to live around 15 – 17 years. This means we can expect our fur-friends to live into a ripe old age and keep us company for longer.
But there’s more to life than quantity, and whilst a cricket-score of years is great, cat-guardians want their wards to enjoy a fantastic quality of life. The older cat that sleeps all day may well be content, but what if we could make things that bit better?
If we could improve her enjoyment of each day, wouldn’t that be worth doing? And the thing is by helping kitty to be active in old age everybody wins because it reduces problems such as yowling at night or soiling outside the litter box. Key to cat contentment is understanding the older feline’s problems and putting provision in place to make life easier.
Healthy Old Age
Certain health problems can cause undesirable behaviors. For example, the cat with over active thyroid glands is more prone to tummy upsets. Identifying and treating the hyperthyroidism can prevent the diarrhea that causes her to have an accident outside the tray. [See also: Should Your Older Cat see the Vet?]
Healthy older cats should be monitored for early signs of a problem, because early treatment leads to longer life.
Work with your vet towards the following regular checks:
- Weight checks: Weigh the cat regularly, say once monthly. You can do this at home and keep a record. Weight loss or gain should flag up a visit to the vet
- Blood pressure monitoring: High blood pressure is common in older cats, who often don’t show symptoms until something catastrophic happens such as a sudden blindness or a stroke. Ideally, have your vet check kitty’s blood pressure at least twice a year.
- Urine tests: Screening older cats’ urine for infection and to see how concentrated it is, gives a wealth of health information. Low grade bladder infections can hasten kidney damage, whilst weak urine is an early warning sign of kidney disease or overactive thyroids.
Cats are good at hiding discomfort so how do you know if your feline friend is in pain?
For a start she may sleep more, since hiding away is a protective instinct. Or it might be a nagging ache disturbs her at night so she wakes and cries. Likewise if she no longer jumps up onto a favorite sunny window ledge, then she might have stiff joints. Some cats in pain change character, and the previously placid puss becomes unaccountably aggressive when disturbed.
In short, if your cat is acting out of character then it might be there’s a medical problem or she’s in pain. The good news is there are now licensed medications that are safe for long term use and could ease your cat’s discomfort. By taking away the dull ache that was dragging down your cat’s mood, you may regain something of the playful cat she was in her youth.
Is arthritis common in cats?
One study estimates the 90% of cats aged over 12 years, have radiographic evidence of joint disease. This means your older cat is highly likely to have at least one stiff, sore joint. Now imagine that to get to the litter box the cat has to leave a warm comfy bed, walk down a flight of steep stairs, cross a corridor, and enter the laundry room. Quite a kerfuffle when you’re stiff and not wanting to put in the effort can lead to ‘accidents’ outside the tray.
Make your stiff senior happy by providing a litter box closer to their bed so it’s less of a trial to visit the toilet. Also, for the real oldie, provide a box with low sides or create a ramp or a set of steps up into the tray so that access is easier. Stiff joints make it difficult to squat, so provide the biggest tray you can to avoid targeting troubles.
On a similar theme, it helps keep kidneys healthy if the cat drinks regularly. Make sure there are food and water bowls never far from the cat, so she can snack without the trek downstairs.
Sensory Slow Down
Older cats with failing eyesight or hearing loss are more easily confused and cause loss of confidence. The consequence is the cat becomes more withdrawn and sleeps more. Help your cat to orientate themselves by providing other sensory clues to help the cat find her way around.
Try putting a few drops of a different essential oil in each room. This acts as a scent signpost for the blind cat, to know where she is. Similarly, put different textured rugs on the threshold of each room, so that she gets messages from her paws about her location.
Some older cats get confused at night if their senses are failing. So leave on a nightlight to help her see and a radio on low to reassure her.
Mental and Physical Agility
“Use it or lose it” when it comes to mental and physical agility. Keeping an older cat playful helps control her weight and her mind sharp. Don’t give up buying cat toys just because you don’t have a kitten, and look for options such as activity balls that make her work for food and hanging cat toy feeders.
Playing with your cat during the day, keeps her mind active and helps her sleep at night, which is a bonus as older cats are prone to night time yowling. Another explanation for the latter is the cat equivalent of dementia, which is another common problem in oldies. Read more about it here: Could your Cat Have Alzheimer’s disease?
And finally, stiff older cats can have difficulty grooming those hard-to-get-to places such as tummy, trousers, and tail. Give her pur-sonal hygiene a helping paw with regular brushings and that daily pampering will also show how much you still love her.