Some essential dvice and top tips on how to care for your cat as he ventures into the golden years of his life.
Feeding senior cats
Once a cat gets beyond around eight years, it is advisable to feed a diet designed with the needs of an elderly cat in mind. The nutritional requirements of a cat changes at he gets older. Greater care has to be taken to restrict levels of good quality protein, but cats require a higher calorie content to prevent them becoming too thin.
Higher levels of antioxidants help to slow down some of the ageing changes within the body and certain nutrients, such as some of the B vitamins, should be boosted as elderly cats often lose them as kidneys become less efficient. Your vet can advise you on the optimum diet.
Caring for elderly cats' teeth
Tooth or gum problems become common as a cat gets older, so they may not be able to chew harder foods which is why senior dry foods often have smaller, softer pellets.
It is almost inevitable that as a cat reaches old age, his oral health will deteriorate to the point where intervention is required. Giving an anaesthetic to an elderly cat concerns many owners, but with modern anaesthetics age itself is no barrier. Dental care under anaesthetic is now commonly carried out on older cats once they have been checked out for any underlying disease.
Lifestyle changes in older cats
There are many little steps that can be taken to make life easier for a senior feline. As they become less able to defend their outdoor territory from other cats, provision of an indoor litter tray can make a great difference. Many cats also enjoy the roughage they obtain from eating grass, so growing some indoors can provide this for them.
Older cats love their creature comforts, and will spend a lot of time sleeping in a warm and comfy spot. Beds that can be hung off radiators are often popular, and if they are used to using a particular sleeping area such as a sofa, they may appreciate some sort of step to enable them to climb up easily.
Grooming and claw care for older cats
Difficulty in grooming may be indicative of an underlying problem such as dental disease or neck pain, but sometimes it is due to senility. In hot weather, a soiled and matted coat can lead to fly strike: an infestation with maggots that can be life-threatening. Elderly cats that have coped with their own coat care throughout their lives may start to need regular grooming.
Claws should also be checked regularly too, because if a cat stops using a scratch post to pull off the dead outer claw they can grow around and into the pad, causing a lot of pain.
Keep an eye on water intake
This can be sign of several common diseases that may develop in older cats, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism and kidney disease, so an increase in thirst is a really important sign to look out for. With an indoor cat it is usually pretty easy to spot changes in water intake. Whether the cat lives predominately indoors or not, it is often changes in drinking pattern that are most noticeable - such as seeing a cat drinking more frequently, or from water sources that he did not previously use.
Weight loss in senior cats
This is another key sign that can be difficult to spot. Longhaired cats may also lose a significant amount of body weight without anyone noticing. Many owners instinctively think of worms as the most likely cause, but this is very rare in older cats - there are many more significant problems, such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes or cancer, which can be the cause. Weighing a cat regularly throughout his life and keeping a record of how he changes can be a simple method of picking up problems early on.
Changes in appetite
Cats tend to absorb their food less effectively as they age, so an increase in appetite without any gain in weight can be fairly normal. However, either a marked increase or decrease in food intake can be a warning sign.
The problems that can cause weight loss may also cause the appetite to increase as the cat's body tries to compensate, but a wide range of problems may cause a cat to go off his food. This should be obvious in homes where there is just one cat, but in multi-cat households it is vital to observe individuals at feeding time so you notice any changes in food intake.
Lumps and bumps
The chances of most types of cancer developing in cats increases with age, although not all tumours are cancerous - and even those that are can often be treated successfully. Get into the habit of checking your cat regularly for any abnormal swellings, and if you notice any, get them checked out promptly.
Bad breath in ageing mouths
Some degree of tartar and calculus accumulation on the teeth of an elderly cat is inevitable, but dental disease is a common cause of bad breath. Sometimes it can be due to a more serious oral problem, such as a tumour within the oral cavity, or it can be symptomatic of more generalized ill health such as kidney or liver disease. Regular senior pet health checks will include a check of dental health, but veterinary attention should be sought if a cat suddenly develops bad breath.
Changes in behaviour in elderly cats
Caring owners will often take their cat to the vet just because 'something does not quite seem right' - and quite often on examination a problem is found. One example is in the case of mobility, since cats with arthritis often do not show obvious lameness but become less active and stop doing things they used to do, such as jumping up onto furniture.