How to Help a Senior Cat Find His Inner Kitten

January 31, 2014

By Julia Williams

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.

What does that mean? Basically, I look for ways I can encourage them to be more playful and have more enjoyment in life – to feel like exuberant kittens, even for just a few minutes. They don’t need to climb curtains or make a flying leap to a high shelf, to remember the joy of kittenhood.

To promote kitten-like behavior in your senior cat, think about how kittens see their world. Their life is comprised of new discoveries, comfort, food… and play. To a kitten, every object has the potential to be a new toy. Fun knows no bounds. As adults, cats still love to play, but what excites them may change over the years. For example, Mickey’s favorite toy as a kitten was furry mice. He would play with one by himself for hours, or until it got batted under furniture. Now, he prefers more interactive toys – he still plays with furry mice but only when I throw them around for him, yet he goes bonkers for the Da Bird toy (feathers on a wand that swish through the air like a bird).

Experiment with different types of toys to discover which ones bring out your cat’s inner kitten the most. Remember that every cat is an individual, and there really is no “one cat toy fits all.” If I only bought furry mice for Mickey, I might erroneously assume he doesn’t want to play anymore. One only has to watch him chasing his “bird” to see how very much he still loves to play. Rocky gets that same kitten-like delight from bunny kicking and biting his Kickeraroo stuffed toy. Annabelle has an affinity for catnip toys with feather tails. Of course, their favorite toys might change next week; if and when that happens, I’ll find other toys that help my senior cats unleash their inner kitten.

Most kittens also love food and eat voraciously. Many senior cats do as well. If the noise at mealtime in my house is any indication, it seems my three cats live for food. Treat dispensing toys are great because they combine this love of food with the kittenish desire to play. They also provide mental stimulation. Awhile back I received a flimsy free one made out of cardboard. I put in some of Mickey’s favorite noms – the grain free CANIDAE Pure Taste treats – and gave him the toy. He smelled those treats and went to work right away trying to extract them. He was still playing with it when I went to bed, and in the morning I found a chewed up, flattened piece of cardboard. Obviously this toy was a hit, and I promptly bought a more durable one.

Helping a senior cat find his inner kitten doesn’t take a great deal of time, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Older cats who can feel like a kitten, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day, are bound to live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Top photo by Tambako the Jaguar
Middle photo by Jon Ross
Bottom photo by Julia Williams

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