When your cat is around 11 to 14 years old, you may find their behavior changes, their movements become slower, and caring for their needs becomes a more nuanced task.
For example, while an adult cat is perfectly fine lying on your keyboard or in-between couch cushions, a senior cat might need a soft place to sleep on the ground level.
With the proper attention and proper care, a cat's elderly years can be just as rewarding as their younger years — check out our seven tips on how best to care for your senior cat below.
1. Use Raised Feeding Bowls
Raised feeding bowls are typically used for dogs with bloating or issues with sharing their eating space. However, a raised bowl can also help your senior cat's digestion and posture.
When eating from a bowl placed on the floor, a cat's neck and head bend downwards toward its chest in an uncomfortable crunching position. Gravity works against your cat's digestive system, making it harder for food to go down correctly, and routinely bending for a bowl on the floor can be difficult for senior cats with joint issues.
Instead, using a raised feeding bowl allows your elderly cat to stay in a comfortable, standing pose while eating.
Don't waste time on feeding bowls that won't be beneficial for your cat — make sure to note the approximate height of your cat's mouth when it is standing.
Look for raised feeding bowls that are angled, as this allows your senior cat to look straight ahead with no bending of the neck whatsoever. Typically, the angle of these bowls is a slight 15°, enough to prevent spillage while your cat dines.
2. Provide More Water Bowls
Senior cats are less mobile and less agile than younger cats — one consequence being they might not have the same ease of access to their water bowls. A senior cat might not leave the room for hours at a time, and it is important to have water close by to reduce the distance your cat has to travel for a drink.
Aim to have a water bowl in each room of the house your cat spends a lot of time in, and show your cat where these new bowls are located.
Ensuring your cat has plenty of access to water will let it take care of itself while you're away for extended periods of time, too. While you are out or at work you can rest assured your cat will not go thirsty without your constant supervision.
Similar to food bowls, consider getting a raised water bowl for your cat too. They have all the benefits of a raised food bowl and are often conveniently paired together.
3. Build a Senior Cat-Friendly Home
The number one most important thing when it comes to caring for senior cats is to keep them inside — a difficult thing for cats who are used to being outside their whole lives. Elderly cats are more likely to fall ill, suffer injuries, or not be fully aware of their surroundings than younger cats.
For your cat's safety, it's best to keep it inside.
But that doesn't mean your home has to be restrictive. Consider changing your home's layout to make it easier for your cat to get around and be mobile.
A cat that doesn't move at all will develop weight and muscular issues, especially in old age, but you have to make sure they are comfortable moving around your home.
Keep the floor clear of debris and things that will get in the way of your cat, and provide paths throughout the house that require little climbing.
That means, unfortunately, your cat's climbing pole may have to come down — but you can keep the scratching post up.
Block off stairs and ramps, especially if your senior cat has joint issues. You should avoid placing feeding bowls above the floor and consider buying a soft bed for your cat to comfortably lay on.
4. Pay Attention to Their Diet
In 2018, 59.5% of cats were overweight in the United States, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. For senior cats, obesity can be a huge health problem that can lead to other, more serious issues such as heart failure.
Your cat's diet is one of the main contributors to its health, but because of their lack of movement senior cats sometimes need special diets to combat obesity, in addition to more nuanced issues.
Weigh your cat, and check your cat food brand to make sure you are following the correct food-to-weight ratio as described on the packaging. You may be surprised to see how little dry food cats need, especially in older age.
Consider buying a bowl designed to slow your cat's eating, which will allow your cat to digest properly and reduce bloating.
Be ready to hand-feed your cat in it's later years, after about the 15-year mark cats are considered to be "super-senior", and may have problems eating from a bowl at all.
Consult your veterinarian for diet changes that can help other issues your senior cat may be facing.
5. Schedule Regular Vet Visits
On the subject of consulting your veterinarian for your cat's diet, it is vital to schedule routine visits to the vet for general checkups as your cat gets older. It is recommended to take your elderly cat to the vet at least twice a year — every six months — and more often as your cat ages.
Pay attention to any sudden changes in your cat's behavior or appearance and make detailed notes so your vet knows exactly what symptoms may be showing. The following are some common changes that might necessitate a visit to the vet:
- Rapid weight loss
- Respiratory problems
- Extreme difficulty moving
- Clouding of the eyes
- Matted or unkempt fur
- Rotten teeth/oral issues
While this is just a short list of common issues, paying close attention to your senior cat's daily behavioral patterns is the best way to keep on top of their health. It is common for cats to subdue showing any signs of stress or pain, so if your cat starts behaving differently in any way not listed, consult your veterinarian for advice.
6. Groom and Clean Regularly
Keeping your cat happy and healthy through a better environment and close attention to their medical health aren't the only things you can do to keep them comfortable. Your cat will find it harder and harder to keep itself clean and groomed without your help as it gets older. But at a certain point, it may be necessary.
Older cats have older skin and fur, which means you must be more careful and gentle with the brush when grooming. Brush your senior cat's coat daily at the very least to keep the fur from matting — knotted and thick fur gets harder to smooth the longer your cat goes without being groomed.
Your cat may be more anxious being groomed when it is in its elderly years, as many animals develop a fear response as they get older. Keep your cat on a soft surface (like a thick blanket or a thin pillow) to keep it comfortable while you brush its fur.
Additionally, your cat may have issues keeping itself clean in general. If you keep your cat indoors, you can reduce the dirt and grime your cat might accumulate in its coat.
Cats notoriously hate baths, and there are other ways to keep your cat clean without filling up the tub. A combination of a brush and a damp rag will clean bits stuck in your cat's fur, for example.
7. Additional Considerations
Ultimately, the key to keeping your senior cat comfortable in its elderly years is to keep them stress-free.
While taking care of your cat's physical and dietary needs alleviates much of the stress that comes with senior age, there are a few more minor things to keep in mind that will help maintain a stress-free environment.
Avoid loud noises around your cat, especially if they are visually impaired. If your cat's senses are dulling with age, be sure to keep a close eye on them at all times and consider installing a baby monitor for when you are away.
Make sure you follow your veterinarian's guidelines on handling your cat if physical issues are impairing its movement — and keep your cat's usual pathways clear of obstacles.
Comfort in Senior Years
Your cat has led a wonderful, fulfilling life, but the toll aging takes can be painful, both for you and them. Helping to alleviate the discomforts your senior cat endures is the best reward for their years of friendship.
With loving attention, some small changes, and help from your veterinarian, you and your cat can enjoy their elderly years in comfort and companionship.
Check out our variety of feeding and water bowls and our cat accessories in our store, and read more advice on how to keep your cat properly cared for on our blog.