Cats go through physical changes as they age. Their immune systems don’t work as well as they once did and make them more susceptible to disease. The skin grows thinner and less elastic and is more prone to infection. Sometimes, their claws become thick and difficult to trim. Hearing loss is common, and eyes develop a cloudy appearance. Dental disease is another age-related problem for cats and can cause great difficulty at meal time. Older cats don’t groom themselves as well as when they were younger, and this can cause matting of the fur and skin odors. Arthritis is common. Kidneys undergo changes that may lead to major health problems if left untreated. In short, there are many reasons to have your senior cat on a consistent routine with your veterinarian.
You may also notice behavior changes in your aging cat. Litterbox “issues” are common. Anytime you see changes in litter box behavior, eating and drinking habits, or major personality changes, talk to your veterinarian. There are many diseases or conditions that could cause such changes, or they could be a sign of mental deterioration. Our Abby showed increasing symptoms of dementia as she grew older. A rescue from the streets of a small Florida town, Abby came to us at age 14 – as a foster – and never left. I just couldn’t put the old girl through yet another change in her life. She adjusted well and bonded with me and had 3 really good years before starting to wander at night, yowling for no reason we could determine. Once I picked her up and spoke quietly to her, she was happy to return to the foot of our bed. I suspect she left the bed for whatever reason and didn’t know where she was. Sometimes I would walk up to her and with reach out to touch her. She could be looking straight at me but when I touched her, she would jump straight up in the air. Those are not normal behaviors for a cat. Our veterinarian told us it was probably early-onset dementia.
To help keep your senior cat healthy, watch for changes in behavior and personality. Examine your cat’s mouth frequently to look for changes in dental health. Daily brushing helps remove loose hair and stimulates blood flow to the skin. Most cats enjoy being brushed. Keep your cat’s nails trimmed regularly and be sure she is eating an age-appropriate, nutritious dient.
Cats are very good at hiding illness, so it is up to you to ferret out any problems and address them promptly. Old age brings added sensitivity to cats, so be very gentle in handling her. Getting old is not a disease. We all hope to get there, eventually. The senior years mean a lot of changes and not all of them are pleasant, for humans or cats. But seniors of any species have value and should be treated with love and respect.