The Benefits of Older
Older cats are generally quieter
and more sensible than kittens or young cats and generally
need less supervision. They are already used to household life
and know the ground rules of living with people. Instead of
becoming bored and needing to let off steam in your absence
they are more likely to doze, leaving your furnishings intact.
An older cat will already be housetrained and adult cats adopted
from shelters will probably already be neutered and possibly
Older cats have less energy
and are more placid than kittens and are content to spend much
of their time watching the world go by. As they slow down,
their play becomes less energetic and less alarmingly acrobatic.
Cats are at their most companionable in these later years.
They enjoy attention and companionship, but will not pester
you continually for games. Most owners find caring for such
cats a very rewarding experience and in turn, an older cat
will enjoy the love and security that a caring cat owner can
As a cat gets older, its digestive
system becomes less efficient and it requires several smaller,
easily digested meals a day rather than two main meals. Waltham
Nutrition Centre researchers have determined that changes to
the digestive system begin to take place around 7 years of
age so that older cats need food containing easily digested
Most cats enjoy a variety of
tinned food, semi-moist pellets, dry food (kibble) and occasional
treats of cooked meat/fish. "Complete" cat food provides
a balanced diet for your cat while "complementary" food
should be fed as a treat only. If you use tinned food, always
clear away or refrigerate uneaten food otherwise it will become
stale or fly-blown and may cause digestive upsets if eaten
There are also "life-stage" foods
available, which are aimed specifically at Older Cats and Less
Active Cats. These are formulated to suit an older cat's digestive
system and to reduce the risk of obesity in less active cats.
They provide easily digested protein, but they are often expensive
and not all cats like them. Unless your cat has problems digesting
ordinary cat food, is becoming overweight or is on prescription
food, ordinary complete formulation cat food accompanied by
fresh drinking water is adequate. Before being fooled by slick
advertising for life-stage formulations ask your vet if your
cat really needs it. Personally, I give an occasional treat
of kitten formulation food to older cats.
Any cat which is experiencing
difficulty in eating or has lost its appetite should be examined
by a vet in case there is an underlying problem. Likewise,
a suddenly increased appetite, especially if it is coupled
with weight loss or poor condition, needs to be investigated.
Signs of poor diet include thin, dull coat, excessive shedding
or dandruff, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, yellow teeth
and mouth odour. A cat that wobbles as he walks is probably
receiving too many calories for his level of activity.
GENERAL CARE OF
Older cats may be less supple
than when younger and may require more help with grooming.
Brushing a cat can be very relaxing and is usually enjoyable
to both cat and owner. Daily grooming ensures quality time
set aside exclusively for your cat that may otherwise be forgotten
if you have a busy schedule. Extremely old cats may pay little
attention to their hygiene, but they will appreciate it if
you help keep them clean, comfortable and sweet smelling. If
you have two companionable cats they may help to groom each
Brushing removes dead hair from
the coat and helps prevent matted fur and also prevent furballs
since the cat will swallow less hair when it grooms itself.
A fine-toothed comb will help remove parasites from the skin.
The area under the tail may sometimes need a gentle wipe with
damp tissue or a pet wipe. Not many cats like having their
belly combed and there is no need to press the point unless
the belly fur becomes matted. As well as keeping the coat in
good condition, grooming helps to establish a strong bond between
cats and between cat and owner.
Most cats are happy to sleep
in a blanket-lined box or on chairs or beds if allowed. If
you want to buy your elderly cat its own cat bed or basket
choose one, which is large enough that the cat does not have
to curl up tightly; older cats are less supple and less able
to fit themselves into small cat beds. Most elderly cats find
beanbag beds comfortable as the polystyrene beans keep in the
warmth and provide support for a rickety body or stiff limbs.
Make sure your cat's bed is situated
away from draughts. No cat likes to sleep in a draught, but
this is particularly important with older cats, as they cannot
withstand extremes of temperature as easily as youngsters.
They have less insulating fat than young cats and need a cosy,
draught-free bed. Most will automatically seek out the warmest
spot in the house.
Placing your cat's bed beside
a warm radiator at night ensures that Puss stays warm, especially
in winter. A covered hot-water bottle or a heated pad, designed
especially for pets and available from larger pet-shops, is
useful if your cat feels the cold or is recovering from illness.
A Less Active
Although older cats often remain
active well into their teens or twenties and should be encouraged
to take moderate exercise, they will lack the athleticism of
youth. They still require some exercise to keep them healthy,
but are unlikely to participate in high-impact aerobics as
they did when younger.
High surfaces, such as favourite
windowsills or ledges, become inaccessible to them unless you
provide a stool or ramp as a stepping stone. An advantage of
this is that shelves and counters may well become cat-free
zones. Ornaments and cookery ingredients are less likely to
be overturned by older cats; their curiosity is unabated, but
they no longer want to exert themselves by jumping up onto
An adult cat adopted from a
rescue shelter may already have been neutered (castrated or
spayed). If not, neutering will probably is included in the
adoption contract. If you have adopted an unneutered adult
cat (or one has adopted you), I strongly recommend that it
is neutered. Neutering prevents unnecessary litters of kittens
and helps eliminate antisocial habits, such as spraying, singing
and fighting in tomcats. Neutered cats are at less risk from
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
(FIV), which can be contracted through fighting with other
cats. A neutered cat is a contented cat with a longer life
expectancy and it will be more home-oriented and a much nicer
pet. Unspayed females are more prone to infections of the womb
and also mammary tumours than are spayed females.
It is important to keep Cat
Flu and Feline Infectious Enteritis (Distemper) vaccinations
up to date as a cat grows older. Though it's tempting to let
these lapse, an older cat has a less efficient immune system
so vaccinations are more important with age. Some cats will
have been vaccinated by the previous owner and only require
annual booster shots. If the cat hasn't had any vaccinations,
or you aren't sure about this, you can start vaccinations at
Depending on where you live,
vaccinations are available for Cat Flu, Enteritis (Distemper),
FeLV, Chlamydia, FIP and Rabies. Your vet will be able to advise
on which ones are required or advisable in your area.
The most common skin parasite
of cats are fleas. Many cats develop an itchy reaction to flea
bites and we recommend regular use of a flea spray or flea
powder formulated specifically for use on cats and used in
accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Flea collars
are convenient, but less effective, and must have an elasticated
section for the cat's safety. Tapeworms, roundworms and other
internal parasites afflict older cats as well as young cats,
particularly cats that go outdoors. It is recommended that
a cat be treated for worms, especially roundworms, every 3
to 6 months. This may be modified for indoor-only cats. Further
information about fleas, worms and other parasites specific
to your locality can be found in most cat care publications.
Teeth and Gums
Older cats are more prone to
dental problems such as loose teeth, build-up of tartar on
teeth and sore gums (gingivitis). Difficulty in eating and
trouble grooming indicates mouth-problems. After de-scaling
(tartar removal) of teeth or extraction of bad teeth, the cat's
appetite and normal grooming soon return. Many cats appear "rejuvenated" after
dental problems have been treated.
If possible, check your cat's
teeth and gums regularly, looking for yellow or brown scale,
inflamed gums and mouth ulcers. An annual dental check up at
vaccination time is advisable. Dried food, fed as part of the
cat's diet, has an abrasive action on teeth and helps to keep
them clean. If you feed dried food regularly, ensure there
is plenty of fresh drinking water available.
As well as checking teeth and
gums, check claws regularly and trim them if they become overgrown.
An older cat may no longer wear down its claws as quickly as
it once did and more frequent trimming may be needed. Overgrown
claws can snag, sometimes causing injury as the cat tries to
pull the claw free. Badly overgrown claws will cause discomfort
and problems with walking.
Waterworks and Bowels
Keep an eye on the cat's water
bowl. Although older cats tend to drink more water anyway,
dramatically increased thirst can indicate kidney problems,
which are more common in cats as they grow older and their
kidneys work less efficiently, or cystitis. Cats with cystitis
pass tiny amounts of urine, sometimes bloodstained, more frequently.
Cystitis causes discomfort and must be treated by a vet. Cats
with kidney disease can be put on prescription diets if the
problem is caught early. There are other reasons a cat might
start to drink more so any unexplained increased thirst should
be investigated and diagnosed by a vet.
Cats sometimes regurgitate their
food, especially if they have bolted it or have scavenged something
unsuitable. Some will eat grass to promote vomiting. Cats,
particularly longhairs, tend to bring up hairballs unless groomed
regularly. Cases of unexplained vomiting which last for more
than 24 hours or are accompanied by diarrhoea or other symptoms
should be referred to your vet. If untreated, vomiting can
lead to dehydration. It may also be a symptom of poisoning.
Both vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to dehydration if not
Older Cat Clinics
As cats grow older, they become
less resilient when it comes to illness or injury and recover
more slowly. They may develop stiffer joints, but their more
relaxed pace of life usually means that this does not worry
them unduly. Many vets now run "Older Cat Clinics" and
recommend that cats over 5 years old have a veterinary check-up
every 6-12 months so that any problems can be caught and treated
early. Another benefit of "Older Cat Clinics" is
that you will meet other owners of older cats and have a chance
to compare notes. Annual vaccination time is another ideal
opportunity for an annual check-up.
WHEN TO CALL THE
Cats are generally healthy creatures
and fairly maintenance free. However, when they are unwell
they are adept at disguising symptoms of illness. Most good
cat care books contain information about ailments which can
affect cats of all ages. The following symptoms in an older
cat should be investigated by your vet.
- evidence of poisoning
- constipation or diarrhoea
despite a balanced diet
- frequent urination or
- unexplained or frequent
- excessive thirst
- loss of appetite or
- sudden loss of weight
- change of activity
level - suddenly hyperactive or lethargic
- lumps and bumps on
the cat's skin
- panting when at rest
- rapid heartbeat
- dental problems
- looking off-colour,
withdrawn or not interested in things
- unusual behaviour,
- staggering or sudden
- mobility problems,
stiffness, limping, pain when touched
Don't delay in taking your
cat to the vet if you are concerned about its health. Although
the cause may turn out to be trivial, your vet would much
rather declare your cat fit and healthy than have to tell
you that an illness has progressed too far to be treatable.
It is more effective to treat problems early on, ensuring
a healthier, longer life.
This article is part
of Sarah Hartwell’s article “A Guide for People
Owning or Adopting Older Cats”. If you want to read
the full article click
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