Thanks in part to better nutrition and access to regular veterinary care, our cats are living longer than ever. If you’re the parent of a senior cat (cats are considered “senior” if they’re over 11 years old) you’ll want to keep an eye out for the following signs of aging in cats:
Litter Box Issues
One of the first indicators that something is off is your cat not using the litter box. If you haven’t had any major changes or additions to the house that would cause stress in your cat and you’ve been keeping the litter box clean, it may be a sign of aging in your cat.
Among other things, litter box issues may be a symptom of stress that can cause inflammation, infection or blockage, all of which require a visit to your veterinarian to diagnose and treat.
As cats age, their metabolism and activity levels can slow down and cause weight gain, and you may need to switch to a senior-friendly diet or introduce portion control. You may also want to incorporate more exercise into her daily routine to burn off a few more calories.
If you’ve noticed that your cat is losing weight, it could be a sign of diabetes, hyperthyroidism or renal disease. Non-specific, age-related decline in food digestibility is also a common cause of weight loss in older cats, along with other issues such as tooth loss, mouth ulcers, swallowing difficulties, vomiting and diarrhea. It can be helpful to do more frequent weigh-ins at home to stay on top of your cat’s weight gain or loss trends.
Arthritis is common in older cats, so keep watch for signs of aging by monitoring your cat’s physical activity. If you notice that she isn’t jumping onto the furniture as much, is having trouble on the stairs, or isn’t hopping into and out of the litter box as easily, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
In the meantime, you can make your cat’s life more comfortable by putting food and water bowls, beds and low-sided litter boxes on every floor of the house so she won’t have to go up and down so many stairs and giving her joint supplements under your vet’s direction.
Drinking More or Less Water
If your cat starts drinking more water, it can be a sign of diabetes or renal disease. If she starts drinking less, it could be due to an age-related decrease in thirst or because you’ve recently switched over to wet food. Even if the water in the bowl doesn’t go down over the course of the day, check to make sure your cat hasn’t started drinking from a dripping faucet or the toilet bowl (faucets are fine, but keep the toilet bowl closed).
Changes in Sleep Patterns
Cats sleep a lot, and indoor cats spend a good two-thirds of their lives asleep. Every cat is different, and their sleep needs will vary from day to day and year to year depending on age, activity level, stress or even the weather. Noticeable changes in your cat’s usual sleep habits, like duration, depth or location, can be indicative of hyperthyroidism, cognitive decline, pain or stress.
Changes in Grooming Behavior
Most cats do a fine job of taking care of their own grooming needs. If your cat’s fur has started to become matted, lusterless, stinky or greasy, it could be an indication of mobility issues, thyroid disease or incontinence. You can help her out with gentle brushing to remove loose hair and improve circulation and natural oil distribution.
Bald patches could indicate allergies, thyroid issues or stress, especially if you see that she is licking herself more than usual. Excessive licking can also be a form of self-soothing, which releases endorphins and temporarily makes your cat feel better.
Changes in Social Interactions
Pain, sensory loss, stress or abrupt changes in environment can cause any cat to change their degree and type of social interaction, both with humans and other feline flatmates. As they age, cats can become less mentally and emotionally resilient and noticeably more irritable, aggressive, fearful or withdrawn.
Changes in Vocalization
Some cats are naturally talkative, while others tend to be more quiet. If your normally-stoic kitty starts meowing, whimpering, yowling or growling, it can be a sign of aging. It could be that your cat is trying to tell you about rabbits in the yard or that the litter box needs refreshing. But atypical or excessive vocalization can also be a sign of confusion, pain, stress, metabolic disease or illness.
One of the saddest things we can experience with our senior cats is cognitive decline. As your cat’s vision and hearing decreases and physical aches and pains increase, she might start displaying signs of confusion, like forgetting where the litter box or bed is. Be gentle with your cat, and try to keep her as comfortable, safe and healthy as possible.
It’s normal for your cat to slow down with age, but if you’ve noticed marked behavioral changes, it’s a good idea to take her to the veterinarian for a comprehensive exam to get to the bottom of things. The sooner your cat gets a diagnosis, the sooner you can begin an appropriate support and wellness protocol to help her stay active and comfortable throughout her golden years.
Jamie Damato Migdal, CPDT-KA and CEO/Founder of FetchFind, has been innovating within the pet industry for over 25 years. A sought-after consultant and public speaker, Jamie has built four national pet service companies and has wide-ranging industry expertise in education, technology, business development, sales, marketing and management. Her fourth and current company, FetchFind, provides staff training and engagement, as well as digital marketing and other business solutions, to pet care service and pet-friendly companies around the globe.