Just like us humans, cats get old and while they may feel young at heart, problems can come along that as their owners, we are responsible for being aware of. By understanding when a cat is counted as a senior and what this means to them, we are then in a better position to spot anything abnormal happening and prevent a small issue becoming a major problem.
When is a cat senior?
While there is no retirement age for cats, they are generally classified as being a senior cat when they reach between seven and ten years of age. Some people believe in the equation of one human year equals seven cat years but this is more a concept than a scientific fact. In fact, the breed can have an effect on when they are classified as a senior, as can existing health conditions. Also with cats, geriatric is not the same as senior – geriatric cats are at the top end of the lifespan and usually have many health issues.
Signs of being senior
Just like in humans, there are many signs that a cat is a senior and not all of them will be experienced by every cat. Some of them are the obvious ones – less mobility, less interest in exercise – while others can be more subtle such as a change in eating patterns or weight. A cat that becomes too thin may be having trouble with their teeth or even thyroid problems while weight gain may be a sign of diabetes. Their sleeping patterns are another good indicator, as are their cognitive behaviour – they suddenly aren’t aware of their surroundings or don’t recognise people may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Also, coat condition is a key indicator of problems.
One of the more subtle signs to watch for is the amount they drink and urinate. These can be signs of anything from endocrine problems to kidney disease and can be tricky to watch for, especially if there is more than one cat in the household.
Common health problems
One of the most common, yet preventable, health issues for senior cats is dental problems. If left untreated, it can even change your cat’s personality so need attention. Periodontal disease can be spotted by checking the gums for signs of bacterial infection such as inflammation, red gums or tartar. If untreated, this can lead to issues with the heart, kidney and the whole of the body.
Cats can get kidney, heart and liver disease along with endocrine issues such as thyroid problems. Again, like humans, these often come as they get older and can lead to changes in weight.
Getting a check up
As cats fall into the senior category, a regular check up with your vet is a good idea to try to head off some of these problems before they worsen. An annual check up can lengthen a cat’s lifespan as well as getting in touch with your vet when you notice changes in their behaviour or activities.
Vets can also give advice about dietary needs and what they may need to eat differently as they get older. Their weight may be the same but they may retain fluids and lose muscle due to a problem so noticed body changes can be a great way to prevent a worsening condition.
Finally, cats can suffer from depression and anxiety, as they get older, so watching for behaviour related problems can be trickier. Medication can be prescribed to alleviate these conditions and give them back a full and complete life.