Watching our cats grow from kittens into adults and beyond is full of challenges, laughs, and lots of love. But as your cat ages and enters their senior years is when you need to really start paying attention to their health. After all, you want to keep your cat with you for as long as possible.
In most cases, cats are considered seniors by the time they are about 11 to 14 years of age and geriatric when they are 14 years and older.
We’ll go through the aging process that cats go through and the ways you can keep them healthy throughout their golden years.
Cats Age in Human Years
Sometimes it’s a little easier to understand your cat’s life stages when you think of it in human years.
The general rule is that the first two years of your cat are equivalent to 25 years for us, and following this, you add four cat years for each human year. For example, a four-year-old cat would be about 33 human years old.
|Life Stage||Age of Cat||Equivalent Human Years|
Birth – 6 months
|0 – 1 month||0 – 1 year|
|2 months||2 years|
|3 months||4 years|
|4 months||6 years|
|5 months||8 years|
|6 months||10 years|
7 months – 2 years
|7 months||12 years|
|12 months||15 years|
|18 months||21 years|
|2 years||24 years|
3 years – 6 years
|3 years||28 years|
|4 years||32 years|
|5 years||36 years|
|6 years||40 years|
7 years – 10 years
|7 years||44 years|
|8 years||48 years|
|9 years||52 years|
|10 years||56 years|
11 years – 14 years
|11 years||60 years|
|12 years||64 years|
|13 years||68 years|
|14 years||72 years|
|15 years||76 years|
|16 years||80 years|
|17 years||84 years|
|18 years||88 years|
|19 years||92 years|
|20 years||96 years|
|21 years||100 years|
|22 years||104 years|
|23 years||108 years|
|24 years||112 years|
|25 years||116 years|
Signs of An Aging Cat
While 11 to 14 years of age are considered the senior years, many cats start to show signs of aging by about seven years old. And keep in mind that the cat’s weight, breed, and health will greatly impact how they age.
Many of the signs of an aging cat are relatively equivalent to the signs of aging in humans. There are initial signs that can be harder to spot, but they can be as follows:
- Sleeping longer
- Less energy
- Weight loss or gain
- Changes in appetite
- Less interest in playing
- Change in vocalization
- Decreased hearing and/or vision
- Changes in coat – excess matting, dandruff, hair loss, and oil
- Changes in behavior
- Increased urination
- Increase in water intake
- Signs of anxiety or aggression
- Issues with the litter box – defecating and urinating outside of the box.
Common Health Conditions of Senior Cats
There are also symptoms of underlying illnesses that might present as your cat ages. Some of the more common conditions senior cats might experience are:
Osteoarthritis will cause pain and stiffness in the joints, so they will slow down and might have some trouble jumping onto surfaces and walking stiffer than usual. This can also lead to more mats in the coat as they have trouble grooming themselves.
Changes in Behavior
As cats age, some might start acting quite differently than they did before. This might include vocalizing with much more frequency but for no apparent reason or inappropriate elimination outside the litter box.
You should have a talk with your vet regarding these behaviors, as they could indicate an underlying health problem.
Many senior cats experience hyperthyroidism, which is typically caused by a benign tumor developing in the thyroid gland. It affects the cat’s metabolic rate, which causes weight loss despite a voracious appetite.
- Increased thirst
- Increase in urination
Without treatment, it can lead to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and high blood pressure.
Senior cats are also prone to kidney problems, like kidney disease.
- Increased thirst and urination
- Bad breath
- Sporadic vomiting
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Sores in the mouth
- Lower back pain
- Urinary issues – incontinence or unable to urinate
- Edema – swelling in the limbs from fluid
Again, cats will need immediate treatment. Some of these signs could also indicate hormonal problems or diabetes.
Sometimes older cats might develop growths or lumps, which should be checked by your vet. Chances are they are harmless, but you will want your vet to rule out any potential serious diseases, like cancer.
Cataracts cause a cloudy appearance on the eye and can lead to vision loss and, eventually, blindness if not treated. Most cataracts are inherited and are more prone in specific breeds like Himalayans and Persians. But they can also occur if a cat has diabetes and if they are 10 years or older.
Respiratory and Heart Issues
Heart disease can also cause respiratory issues, so if you see your cat panting, this could be potentially serious. This is even more important if your cat is lethargic and struggling to breathe.
- Increased effort to breathe
- Increased breathing rate
- Rapid heart rate
- Loss of appetite
Needless to say, if you see any of these signs, particularly if your cat is struggling to breathe, see your vet immediately.
Some senior cats could encounter dental issues, which can be helped at home unless it turns into gum disease. If you routinely check your cat’s mouth, it should be easier to spot problems before they occur.
Look for tartar and plaque buildup and any lumps or bleeding gums. This is where your cat will need an appointment with the vet.
How Should I Take Care of My Senior Cat?
The most important part of taking care of a senior cat is being more aware of how your cat will be slowing down and watching out for any health problems is a start. But you’ll need to readjust your cat’s diet and watch out for any pain your cat might be handling.
You’ll need to start by replacing your cat’s adult cat food with senior food. Senior food is formulated with the right nutrients to support your cat’s aging body. You’ll likely be able to use the same brand you’ve been feeding your cat all along, making the transition easier.
Some older cats will need help with their weight, as well as some of the issues we’ve discussed, including dental, kidney, and joint support. Speak with your vet about the best food that will benefit your cat at this point in time.
Since older cats tend to slow down both physically and mentally, it’s important to continue encouraging your cat to play. This is also vital if your cat is additionally arthritic or has gained too much weight.
Use toys your cat responds to – if their favorite is a feather wand, then ensure you use one every day for a few minutes at the very least. You can also try puzzle feeders, which will make your cat work a little harder for treats and food. This can help with both physical and mental exercise.
Work With Your Veterinarian
You’ll need to work closely with your vet as your cat ages. You’ll want to make an annual checkup every year – sometimes, twice a year might be necessary. This will include bloodwork, urinalysis, and other lab work to rule out any potential conditions that might be cropping up.
And if your cat develops a health condition, it might be necessary to see the vet multiple times over the course of the year. They will also want to stay on top of your cat’s dental health since their teeth can go downhill rapidly as they age.
Respect Your Cat
As we mentioned earlier, their behavior starts to change as they age. This could be due in part to pain from things like arthritis, or they might not be as cuddly as they once were.
You’ll need to respect your cat’s boundaries – if they don’t want to play or be held, let them be. In many cases, they just want to sleep. But see your vet if you suspect the behavior changes might be caused by pain.
Keep Things Calm
As they get older, most cats will want a calmer environment. This could partly be because they spend a lot of their time sleeping, but they also just need more privacy, peace, and quiet.
Find your cat a space in your home where they can be away from where most of the noisy activity takes place. It should be easy to access and comfortable.
Caring for any pet means going through all the life stages with them – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And owning a senior cat does entail more frequent vet visits and preparing yourself for the possibility of some health issues cropping up.
The most important thing is for you to stay on top of your cat’s needs and give them all the space, care, and love they need.
Featured Image Credit: Kristi Blokhin, Shutterstock
- Cats Age in Human Years
- Signs of An Aging Cat
- Common Health Conditions of Senior Cats
- How Should I Take Care of My Senior Cat?