When a cat reaches 11 years of age they are classed as elderly, and it is around this age that they can start to suffer with the various conditions that are associated with older cats. The effects of ageing can be seen through physical changes as well as behavioural changes, and there are certain home care routines that can help improve your cat’s quality of life. Regular checks with your vet are important to identify early disease processes, but what can you do at home to provide that extra bit of comfort?
Here are some tips to provide your elderly feline friends with that bit of extra TLC they deserve. Minor changes can make a big difference to their quality of life.
Arthritis – This is a common condition seen in older felines and can result in chronic pain, often owners will notice that their cat is less reluctant to jump or looks a little stiff when they walk. Most of the time owners just associate this with their pet getting older and do not actually act on it. It is important to remember that when you see your cat is looking stiff or struggling this means that they are in pain. There are pain relief and joint care medications that the vet can prescribe to make your cat more comfortable. There are also things you can do at home to make your cat more comfortable:
- Ensure that your cat’s resources (food, water and litter trays) are close by and easily accessible, and provide multiple resources around the house.
- Make sure that the resources and safe places are on ground level to prevent your cat having to jump. You could provide steps up to the resources, beds or cat flap.
- Make sure that litter trays have low sides for easy climbing in and out and provide a litter that is soft on the feet pads. Even if your cat usually goes outside to the toilet it is a good idea to provide litter trays in the house for times when they do not feel up to going out. It is important to monitor faecal and urine output and consistency to identify underlying disease processes.
- Pay close attention to your cats claws. We advise that you check these weekly as elderly cats are less able to retract their claws, this often results in them getting stuck on soft furnishings. They are also at risk of them overgrowing and cutting into their pads as they will be less active.
- Carpet and mats can provide more comfort for elderly cats walking around, wooden and laminate flooring can be slippery for elderly cats that are less stable on their legs.
- Cat flaps – If your cat usually uses a cat flap to access outdoors ensure that they can get up to the cat flap ok, providing steps may aid them climbing in and out.
- Scratching posts – If your cat is suffering from arthritis they may be reluctant to use a vertical scratching post as stretching up high may cause them pain. Horizontal scratching posts can be more comfortable for them.
Grooming – Elderly cats will find it more difficult to maintain their own cleanliness due to arthritis, dental disease and being less active, it is important that you provide extra care for your cat.
- Spend time grooming your cat, ideally weekly to prevent matts forming. It is important to be gentle and use a soft brush as they may be stiff and arthritic.
- Keep their face clean using damp cotton wool and make sure that their anogenital region is clean, you may need to do this a couple of times per day. If they are prone to getting a dirty bottom it is a good idea to shave the area around the bottom and tail to prevent them from becoming soiled.
- Older cats are more prone to hairballs due to their sluggish digestive system, this makes regular grooming even more important to remove a build-up of dead hair. You can also purchase a paste from your vets to assist with hairballs.
Reduced Appetite – Cats rely heavily on their ability to taste and smell food and these are both reduced in elderly cats. If your cat has a reduction in appetite it is always advised to get them checked with your vet, however sometimes it can be due to their decreased senses. There are ways that you can encourage food intake at home, this includes the following: Warming foods to 30˚c – A cat’s taste receptors are most receptive when food is at body temperature as this mimics the temperature of live prey.
- Strong smelling foods such as fish can help encourage them to eat as a cats sense of smell may be reduced due to age.
- Offering foods that you know they have enjoyed in the past as familiarity is important to cats.
- Offer a different variety and consistency of foods. Often a cat that has always enjoyed biscuits may develop a preference for wet food due to dental disease causing pain. Adding water to the diet and mashing it up may encourage your cat to eat.
- Shallow bowls that do not restrict your cat’s whisker movements are important. In the wild your cat would use their whiskers to wrap around their prey to help them bite in the appropriate location. Whiskers are also important to help cats locate food and objects that are close to their face.
- It is also important to offer fresh, high protein diets. Cats possess taste receptors that are able to detect the amino acids produced by meat and this can help them to distinguish the nutritional quality and protein content of the food. Offering a variety of foods, including wet and dry as well as a variety of food shapes will give your cat the opportunity to choose their preference.
- Offer food little and often, do not leave uneaten food down for long periods or lots of different food choices at once as this can be overwhelming for them. Place the food in a quiet, easily accessible part of the house.
- Raise food bowls up on stands or boxes as this may provide more comfort for cats suffering with osteoarthritis affecting the neck.
- Providing your cat with attention whilst they are eating can help increase appetite.
Water intake – Elderly cats are at more risk of becoming dehydrated, so it is important to provide multiple water sources around the home. Providing moving water sources (such as fountains) and a variety of different cups and bowls can help encourage water intake. Cats are able to taste water and usually avoid stagnant water, so always ensure that water is fresh. You could try a variety of different waters including spring water, filtered water and tap water. If your cat is reluctant to drink then extra water can be added to their food to prevent dehydration from occurring.
A few other helpful tips….
- Provide a variety of private safe places around the house, it is important that your cat gets uninterrupted, quiet resting periods.
- Elderly cats are more commonly being diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (similar to dementia in humans), it is important to try and keep resources in the same, easy to reach places to avoid confusion.
- Provide more padded bedding in areas where your cat spends the majority of the time resting. Thermal blankets will also be beneficial as they will not be able to regulate their body temperature as well.
- The older your cat gets the more vulnerable they will become, if your cat spends a lot of time in the garden they may feel more threatened by neighbouring cats as they are less able to defend themselves. There are ways to secure your garden to exclude other cats from entering, this will provide a safe place for your cat so that they are still able to spend time in their favourite spots.
- Provide a quiet, stress free environment at home by avoiding parties, building work and the introduction of new animals where possible. The use of pheromones can help reduce stress in these situations. It may also be beneficial to get a house sitter when you go away to avoid the stress of a cattery.