When is a cat officially classed as a senior?

bfe53889-bb29-4907-82b2-a9c480fcfe33

We look at elderly cats, and when does a cat officially become a senior cat.

The senior years for our cats can be some of the best. While our cats will change, with the right care they can still enjoy their old age. Senior kitties still have a lot of good experiences ahead of them and a lot of love to give to owners. 

Tweaking your cat’s diet, environment, and routine can all give an OAP cat a better quality of life and that is what this series is all about. We’ll be looking at how you can adapt things to suit an ageing cat. To kick the series off though, we look at how we recognise old age in our feline friends and what we need to consider…

Key changes:

Here are some key changes that can occur in senior cats:

● Hearing and vision loss: deteriorating hearing and vision may result in your cat becoming more anxious and less adaptable to change.

Mouth: dental health can decline leading to pain and a reluctance to eat. Remember, if your cat is losing weight at a rapid speed, it is important to get them checked out immediately for any underlying conditions.

Sense of smell: your cat’s sense of smell will deteriorate as he ages, which may result in a loss of appetite. 

Dull coat: a senior cat’s coat will often lose its condition and shine as it becomes more difficult for your cat to groom himself.

Joints: arthritis and general wear and tear can make a feline’s joints stiffer and painful.

Hairballs: older cats can be more prone to hairballs as their digestion becomes more sluggish.

Immune system: a cat’s immune system becomes less efficient as they age, meaning they are more susceptible to illness.

Muscle deterioration: this is common in older cats and may result in a reluctance to jump, run, and play, and can lead to joint stiffness and arthritis.

Sleep pattern: many senior cats will sleep more, but some may become more restless at night.

Interaction: your cat may become irritable and less tolerant to physical contact or, on the other end of the spectrum, more needy. 

Behaviour: older cats can be less active, often meaning they will spend less time hunting, playing, or outside. 

Cats go through many changes as they enter their senior years.

When does a cat reach old age? 

The average lifespan of cats in the UK is 14 years old, according to the Royal Veterinary College. However, thanks to better nutrition, veterinary care, and home life, our feline friends are ageing better than ever and can live well beyond these 14 years.

According to International Cat Care, a cat is considered elderly at 11 years old, with 11 to 14 years being classed as ‘senior’, and 15 years-plus ‘super senior’.

As with humans, there are many changes a cat goes through as he ages; he will go through physiological changes, as well as physical and behavioral, and become more vulnerable to illness. These changes can be very subtle at first, meaning it is often difficult to spot when problems are arising, as they are confused with ‘just getting old’.

There are important things to consider in your elderly cat’s care to ensure he lives his golden years in comfort.

Their dietary needs will change. 

Medical conditions

As you will have noticed, many of these key changes that occur with age can also be symptoms of health problems. This is one of the tricky things about managing a senior cat — determining what is normal for their age and what is the result of a health condition that will need treatment? 

There are some medical conditions a cat becomes more susceptible to as he ages, including:

● Diabetes

● Arthritis

● Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) 

● Kidney disease

● Tooth and gum issues; first signs of these are bad breath

● Skin conditions 

● Bowel issues, including constipation and diarrhoea

It is important to remember many of these conditions can be managed successfully if picked up early. It is recommended senior cats have regular check-ups to spot any changes that may signify a health problem. This is an important part of recognising your cat has reached older age — when you as an owner decide that your cat needs to be booked in for a regular check-up at the vet’s. 

Cats are notorious for being good at hiding their problems so having your vet regularly cast your eye over your pet will help pick up on any health problems earlier and also help you understand what is now more normal for your pet but is nothing to worry about. Inbetween check-ups, you’ll need to keep an eye on your pet and if any problems arise, don’t wait for the check-up, see your vet promptly. 

A useful tool for owners to monitor their cats is to take your own notes. Gather some pictures or videos of your cat playing, and make a few notes on their behaviour, such as how much they sleep, if they’re able to jump up, and how much they go out. Reviewing these notes every so often will help you be able to spot if your cat has changed. 

Regular vet checks are recommended to monitor your oldie’s health.

When to say goodbye

Cats can enjoy old age but sadly, there will come a point when your elderly cat is no longer getting an acceptable quality of life, despite your best efforts.

Cats don’t necessarily show pain the way you would expect and even cats in extreme pain will purr.

A marked loss of interest in their surroundings, food, play, grooming, and abnormal sitting or laying positions, or reluctance to move in general can all be signs your cat is in pain. More obvious signs include breathing difficulties and persistent vomiting.

No pet owner wants to see their cat struggling with hardly any positive experiences in their life. Considering your feline friend’s level of happiness and comfort will help you decide on when it is the right time to say goodbye. Euthanasia is never a decision taken lightly but is one that is made with your cat’s best interests at heart. 

Do not be afraid to ask your vet or vet nurse questions, or seek further advice. Experts and friends will help you make the right decision for your beloved companion.

● For more information and guidance about end of life care and euthanasia, visit www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/time-say-goodbye-your-cat

Managing a senior cat

Many cats enjoy their lives well into old age. There are plenty of ways we can help senior cats have positive experiences, ease discomfort due to old age, and make life in general easier for them. These include:

● Changing a cat’s diet — this can help by providing a better balance of the nutrients a cat needs as he gets older. It can improve physiological functions, ease health problems, and maintain a healthy body weight. 

● Giving supplements — these can help top up the essential minerals and nutrients your cat needs, and help some health problems. 

● Adapting the home environment — making subtle tweaks to your home can help cats feel comfortable and give them easier access to all the resources they need. 

● Changing their routine — cats crave control and knowing their own routine. Adapting to how your cat wants to live can really improve their life. 

We’ll be delving in depth into these topics in next month’s feature so you will find lots of simple ways you can help an elderly cat. Often, the most important thing is understanding your cat is reaching old age. It doesn’t happen overnight so it’s better to be proactive, rather than a problem becoming so severe that you can’t ignore it. Accepting that your cat is reaching old age means you can care for them in a way that is not too taxing but will benefit your pet.

So now you know what to look for and when your cat is approaching their golden years, you can be ready to help make them some of the best times you ever have together. 

Top tip!

If your cat is reaching old age, discuss this with your vet. He or she will likely have lots of experience helping elderly cats and will be an important part of how you care for your cat in their golden years. 

More info:
For more information on senior cat care, visit icatcare.org/advice/elderly-cats-special-considerations