I love my older patients. Thankfully with the advances in veterinary medicine and client education, I get to see more and more of my patients reach this stage in their lives. Cats are now routinely living until their late teens, and even early twenties.
However, owning a geriatric cat comes with its own set of problems, and I thought it would be a good idea to write about some of things you should be thinking about if your cat falls into this category.
I would define a senior cat as one over 9 or 10, and a geriatric cat as one over 15.
hydration, hydration, hydration.
The one organ that seems to decline fastest as cats get older is their kidneys. The kidneys are responsible for fluid balance in the body. One way to help geriatric cats is to ensure they are taking in enough water. Cats in general don't drink a lot, and this can get worse as they get older. One of the best ways to combat this is to feed canned food. This will not effect their teeth. Feed at least 50% of their diet as canned food, if they will eat it.
Make sure they have access to water all the time, and that it's where they can get to easily. As they age, cats may start to have joint pain and declining muscle strength so they might not be able to jump up if you have the water bowl higher than on the ground. Make sure the water is replaced daily. A lot of cats will prefer flowing water, and you can use a specialized water fountain that is designed for cats . Below is a water fountain that's perfect for senior cats.
Please ask your vet about what food is right for your geriatric cat. As I mentioned above, in general canned food is best, but other factors need to be taken into consideration. Some cats gain weight as they age, some loose weight. This affects what they should eat. They may need a specialized diet to help kidney function, or one to help with joint pain. You should measure their daily food intake, and not just fill a bowl with food without knowing how much is in it.
Just like with humans, a cats vision can decline with advanced age. This can become especially problematic at night. To help your cat, try using night lights in outlets close to the ground. This can help your cat navigate the house at night. I have found this to help with older cats that have started to vocalize and wander at night, keeping owners awake.
4. Litter box.
This ties in to joint pain. Make sure the litter box is easily accessible, i.e. the cat doesn't have to jump in to it. Also make sure it is big enough, so that your cat can get in and turn around easily and squat to urinate and.defecate without being uncomfortable. If the litter box is painful to get into or uncomfortable to use, your cat may start urinating and defecating elsewhere in your house.
5. Joint pain.
Senior and geriatric cats have old joints, that can become painful. Cats with osteoarthritis don't tend to limp like dogs do, so it can be difficult for an owner to be aware of this. What you may notice is a decline in activity, a reluctance or hesitation when jumping up, or a decrease in muscle mass particularly around the pelvis and back legs. Ask your vet at a wellness check up what solution is best for your cat.
Make sure food and water are kept on the ground, or provide a ramp for the cat to get to them if they are up high. Make sure the litter box is on the same floor of the house where the cat spends most of its time, so that your cat doesn't have to up and down a flight of stairs.
Know what your cats 'normal' is with regard to thirst, urination amount, appetite and weight. If any of these things change, it could be the first indication of a medical problem, and not just 'old age'. Contact your vet, remember the sooner we can diagnose a problem the better we can treat it. With routine wellness check ups, your cat has the best chance of living well into their teens.