Age is just a number, right? Well, despite having nine lives, cats can start showing their age once they reach double digits. From cat years to human years, you can think of a 10-year-old cat as though they’re in their 50s—meaning the aches, pains, and health risks are creeping up.
That’s why we’ve put together the 6 signs your cat is getting old.
From mobility to mental cognition, every cat ages differently and we aim to help you understand and assist with your cat’s elder status. Every cat owner wants to do the best they can for their feline friend, and with proper care and plenty of love, you can ensure that these signs of aging don’t impact your cat’s overall happiness. Caring for an older cat can be a challenging undertaking so let's get into the signs your cat is getting old.
#1 Weight Fluctuations
Shedding a pound or two is a common and not necessarily concerning aspect of aging. For some cats, this can mean slimming down to their weight of early adulthood.
Senior cat weight loss can be attributed to a few different factors, including:
- Muscle loss – Many elderly cats, especially those dealing with arthritis are prone to muscle loss. A cat that has lost muscle mass may feel more boney to the touch. This is typically an unavoidable aspect of aging, and so long as you keep providing them with a nutritious diet, this muscle loss should not cause your cat any severe problems.
- Increased caloric needs – Often, when a cat enters their senior years, their body will require more calories to function daily. It could become necessary to add an extra scoop of food to their bowl to keep up with their body’s needs.
- Side effects of illness – Diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease are all common problems in aging cats. The side effects of any of these ailments include weight loss.
Because weight loss can be associated with both high-risk health problems and natural aging, it can be difficult to know when to seek professional help. Ultimately, it’s usually best to see your vet whenever you notice significant changes in your cat’s behavior. A quick trip can make a world of difference. Learn more about how to maintain a healthy cat weight.
On the other hand, if your cat begins to gain weight as they approach their golden years, it may be a result of their slowing metabolism. Frequently, cat-owners switch to a cat food designed specifically for senior cats. These foods are typically lower in calories and protein, providing enough for an older cat without causing excessive weight gain.
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#2 Fur Problems
Cats are well known for their grooming habits, but as they age, you may begin to notice their fur looking slightly less than perfect. Some cats lose a bit of luster as they age or find their hair getting a little thinner.
You should also consider the following causes for fur problems in older kitties:
- Decreased grooming – Some older cats are simply less interested in grooming. Whether it’s from physical or cognitive issues, it’s not uncommon to notice your cat spending a little bit less time giving themselves a tongue bath. Sometimes the opposite can indicate health issues too which is why it’s important to learn the signs of cat overgrooming.
- Dental problems – If your cat’s fur is looking a bit oily or greasy, it could be related to several dental issues, causing their saliva to be less effective at cleaning their fur. They may be taking adequate time to clean, but like mopping a floor with dirty water, it might not be getting the job done.
- Mobility issues – Discomfort could be interfering with your cat’s grooming routine. If it’s painful for your cat to bend and flex, they may avoid cleaning certain areas. This can be from arthritis or osteoporosis—common issues in older felines.
Unkempt fur can be linked to other diseases, including obesity and diabetes, so it’s best to consult with your veterinarian if you notice a lack of shine in your senior cat’s coat.
#3 Diminished Energy and Mobility
While elderly cats are full of surprises, they’re not known to run around like kittens. As cats age (much like their human companions) they typically have a little less energy and decreased mobility. That means you may notice your senior cat exhibiting behavior like:
- Increase napping
- Less interest in toys
- Avoiding jumping or stairs
Additionally, the best way to mitigate your cat’s age-related energy loss is to provide an environment that prioritizes their aging body in mind. Additionally, since they are not getting as much stimulation as they used to, they might have increased anxiety. Learn about natural remedies for feline stress. You may wish to help out your elder cat with any of the following:
- Cat stairs and ramps – Give your cat a boost by providing a way for them to get to the elevations they’re used to, without putting extra strain on their joints. A set of cat stairs leading to your bed can make evening snuggles much easier for a geriatric cat.
- Extra comfort – Those old bones could use a little extra padding. Consider investing in a quality cat bed and extra blankets for your aging cat. This simple addition could be exactly what they need for a restful night’s sleep.
- Closer litter boxes – A lack of mobility can lead to unfortunate accidents. You can make things a little easier on your aging cat by providing litter boxes on every floor of your home. That way your kitty can avoid some pesky stairs when it’s time to do their business.
#4 Vision Decline
Senses dull over time, and one of the most notable sensory declines for many aging cats is their vision. As cute as it would be to see your cat in a pair of stylish glasses, it’s unfortunately not a plausible treatment for their vision issues.
Frequently elderly kitties deal with issues such as:
- Cataracts – If your kitty has difficulties navigating by sight, it may be because they’ve developed a cataract in one or both eyes. Cataracts form when the transparent lens of the eye becomes clouded and light is unable to pass through. Eventually, cataracts may cause complete blindness, but the condition can be reversed through surgery.
- Retinal detachment – A physical trauma may lead to a retinal detachment, but it’s more commonly the result of various illnesses. Diabetes, high blood pressure, or glaucoma may result in a retinal detachment causing permanent vision loss.
Feline immunodeficiency virus, the feline leukemia virus, and the feline infectious peritonitis virus can also result in serious blindness for cats of any age. With regular veterinary appointments, your cat can receive the necessary eye care they need to keep their vision sharp well into old age.
#5 Behavioral Changes
Cats are frequently moody, skittish, or just plain (wonderfully) weird. That said, by the time your cat has reached their golden years, you should have a good idea of their normal behavior.
Still, behavior changes are common in elderly cats, including:
- Excessive sleeping
- Hiding in strange places
In addition, your cat’s regular patterns may switch. They may change where they take their afternoon nap or the frequency of their grooming as they age.
Frequently, behavioral changes in older cats may be the result of issues such as:
- Cognitive decline – As we age, so do our brains. The same is true for our feline friends. You can expect some cognitive issues to develop in older cats and confusion or anxiety may be a result of this condition.
- Underlying health issues – Cats often look to hide or avoid human interactions if they are suffering from an untreated illness. Kidney failure or chronic pain may have your cat acting out of the ordinary.
If your cat’s behavior is causing them overall problems (anxiety, food issues, etc.), it may be possible to medicate their behavior. A simple oral medicine could have your cat acting and feeling like their old self again in no time.
#6 Digestion Issues
The occasional hairball is nothing new for most cat owners, but for those dealing with senior cats, general digestion becomes a hairier topic.
As cats age, it becomes more work for their body to digest proteins and fats, frequently requiring a dietary change to avoid severe weight loss. Common health problems in older cats can lead to more serious issues. Older cats may deal with increased vomiting or diarrhea, likely the result of any of the following problems:
- Kidney disease – If your cat is dealing with chronic kidney disease, their blood is not being properly filtered of phosphates and waste products. This can cause nausea and digestion problems when left untreated.
- Chronic small intestinal disease – Caused from chronic inflammation or even cancer, the chronic small intestinal disease may result in your cat regularly vomiting and losing weight. Additionally, cats suffering from this illness will often maintain a healthy appetite, making it more difficult to diagnose or notice for pet owners.
- Hyperthyroidism – An overactive thyroid can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and several other serious side effects. This condition is common among senior cats and can be identified through routine veterinary screenings. Once diagnosed it’s highly treatable through medication, diet, or surgery.
Statistically, your older cat will likely develop one of these common maladies. Older cats can also develop incontinence issues, which is why it’s important to know how to litter train an older cat. Fortunately, they can still live comfortable and enjoyable lives. Keep an eye on your cat’s appetite and pay attention to what you clean up in their litter, and you’ll play an active role in monitoring their digestive health.
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Almanac. Cat Age Chart: Cat Years to Human Years. https://www.almanac.com/cat-age-chart-cat-years-human-years
Pet MD. 5 Signs Your Cat is Getting Older. https://www.petmd.com/cat/centers/nutrition/evr_ct_visible-signs-of-aging-in-cats
VCA Hospitals. Feeding Mature, Senior, and Geriatric Cats. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feeding-mature-senior-and-geriatric-cats