One of my cats is 16 now, and the other two are 12. As such, I have been researching the topic of senior cat care quite a bit in recent years. I love my cats like family, and I want to do everything in my power to keep them healthy and happy for many more years. Though there may be some things outside of my control, there are steps I can take now and in the future that will positively impact the longevity of my beloved fur babies. I’ll cover some of them briefly in this post.
When Does a Cat Reach “Senior” Age?
The funny thing about this question is that the answer depends upon who you ask. Some cat experts put the senior age as low at 7, while others say it’s more like 10 or 11. There is no “absolute” age that classifies a cat as senior. This is due in part because, like humans, some cats age faster than others. If your cat is 10 years or older – about the equivalent of a 56-60 year old human – you can safely assume they are a senior.
As a cat ages, health issues are bound to arise. The best way to help ensure longevity is to catch problems as early as possible. Early detection of age-related conditions and illnesses will enable you and your veterinarian treat them more successfully. Many health issues can be delayed and/or managed provided they are caught in the beginning stages. Since cats are quite good at hiding illness and may not appear unwell to you even when there is an underlying issue, a wellness check every six months is recommended. For a senior cat, six months is about the same as you seeing your doctor every two years, which is certainly long enough for health changes to occur.
Aging is an inevitable fact of life that can sometimes cause us to long for the days of our youth. But with age comes – hopefully – wisdom and an appreciation for what’s good in our lives. Our pets don’t have our level of knowledge about what lies ahead, and they can’t tell us what they are going through as they grow older. Some changes can indicate a medical issue, and some are just normal changes that can alter your pet’s behavior.
The average lifespan of dogs is around 7 to 14 years, but many canines live well past the average. Cats have a lifespan around 14 to 16 years, with many felines living into their 20s. Proper vet care, a premium quality diet like CANIDAE natural pet food, daily exercise, and mental stimulation can add years to a dog and cat’s life.
As responsible pet owners, we need to recognize when our four legged friends have reached their twilight years and understand that there will be changes which can affect their behavior.
Growing older begins the minute we are born, and how we deal with the aging process depends on our perception of age, which is just a number. Eventually, though, the time comes when we begrudgingly admit we aren’t as young as we used to be. Like us, our pets can experience vision and hearing impairments. Changes in vision can be a normal part of aging for our dogs and cats, but could also be an early sign of something more serious. It’s important to understand what you see when gazing into your older pet’s eyes. There are two reasons why their eyes can look cloudy.
Also called lenticular sclerosis or lenticular nuclear sclerosis, this is a normal part of the aging process. Tissue fibers are constantly forming on the lens during a dog or cat’s lifetime, but as they age these fibers push toward the center of the lens and become more concentrated. They form layers around the center of the lens sort of like the layers of an onion, and are transparent when dogs and cats are younger. The lens also loses moisture as pets grow older. Because the cells get denser as pets age, the lenses are less transparent and takes on a hazy blueish look.
I met a cat in her early twenties last week. I couldn’t believe it. Even more impressive, Buttercup looked healthy and was completely aware of what was going on. She had that curious feline gleam in her eye; it was apparent that Buttercup was still mentally sharp.
Thanks to modern veterinarian care, cats have a longer lifespan than they used to. In fact, more and more cats are reaching the ages of middle teens all the way through to the early twenties, like Buttercup. When I look into our eight-year-old cat’s eyes, my heart melts. Like most responsible pet owners, we would do anything to keep this little guy healthy and happy, and hope that we have at least ten more good years with him.
But there’s more to it than just keeping your pet physically well. Older cats run the risk of developing feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD) — the feline equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease — if their brains aren’t stimulated enough. The best advice is to start at a young age; it’s essential to keep your cat’s brain active and sharp well before feline cognitive dysfunction has a chance to take hold. The best thing you can do is begin training your cat’s brain early. Studies show that you can slow the advancement of mental deterioration by ensuring your feline friend is physically active and mentally stimulated throughout her life, starting in kittenhood.
With this in mind, here are a few easy tips for keeping your cat’s brain mentally sharp well into her twilight years.
The age a cat is considered “senior” varies depending upon who you ask. Even the so-called “cat experts” disagree. Some think an 8-10 year old cat is a senior, others put the age between 10-12 or 12-14, and some say as young as 7 years old. In their Senior Care Guidelines, the American Association of Feline Practitioners puts it this way: “There is no specific age at which a cat ‘becomes senior.’ Individual animals and body systems age at different rates.”
My cat Mickey is almost 15; Rocky and Annabelle will be 11 in July. So they’re all seniors, but still alert, active, playful and at times (overly) rambunctious. They may not always act like youngsters, but they do have moments where their inner kitten comes out to play. That’s a good thing, even though at 5 a.m. it might seem otherwise.
Play is very important to all cats, perhaps even more so to senior cats because it can keep them “young in spirit” which helps combat the effects of aging. We see this in older people all the time – those who are active not only live longer but have more vitality. I let my inner child come out to play as often as possible, and try to help my senior cats find their inner kitten, too.
I wrote an article a short time ago about living with an older dog. Our Bear is definitely showing her age, and many times her irritability makes it hard to do anything that helps her feel better. If you have an older dog, you may want to start making some changes around your home that will make life easier for them. I like to think of it like dealing with an elderly person who doesn’t want to admit there are things bothering them. Changes are made gradually and are designed to give them a choice without any attention drawn to the easier choices when they begin making them.
While your dog may have always flopped down for a nap wherever he felt like it, you can make it more comfy by placing therapeutic “egg carton foam mattress” dog beds in their favorite places. Bear has a hidey hole in the bathroom where she likes to lay away from the hustle and bustle of the house. She also has her spot next to our bed when she’s too stiff to go underneath it, and a spot beside the couch where she lays when she’s feeling sociable. Her cushioned beds in those places are new additions that make her favorite napping spots more comfortable, easier on her joints and warmer.
If your dog has trouble with the stairs, there are a few things you can do. Non-slip mats on the stairs will help your dog balance out unsteady steps without fear of slipping and falling. Moving food and water to a place where your dog spends most of her time can help cut down on the trips up and down the stairs. We have a terrible set of spiral stairs that are difficult for humans to navigate. Bear has always flown up and down them much faster than me, but now she tends to stumble and stops midway to rest. I worry constantly about her falling down the steps. My better half has declared that when Bear is unable to manage the steps he will build her a slide. My job is to make sure that does not happen – I don’t want her sliding to the basement, so I am making it more comfortable for her on the main level of the house. If everything she needs is upstairs, she won’t need to go down the steps.
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