Caring for an Older Cat
As cats age they need a bit of extra care and attention to ensure they remain happy and healthy. Cats are considered elderly when they reach around eleven years old but many will go on until they are in their late teens and early twenties. In fact the oldest reported cat reached the grand old age of 28[i].
As cats age you will notice their activity levels drop and they sleep more. This can lead to decreased muscle tone and appetite. Their coat may also change and as older cats can’t groom themselves as effectively as they once did they may experience hair matting and inflammation.
Their vision and hearing may also decline and bowel and urinary system functions may change. Older cats can also get age-related illnesses such as diabetes and arthritis, plus their behaviour may alter. They may become more grumpy or vocal than usual.
However for many older cats you will just notice them slowing down a little and spending more time at home and less time roaming outside. This can be a great time for cat and owner and as long as you keep an eye on any changes or signs they may be in pain then they will continue living a happy life.
Sometimes older cats may just need a little extra help around the house. For instance, a cat that finds it can’t jump up to some of the places it once did could be built a little ladder or have some boxes put close to act as steps up to their favourite spot. This means they can continue enjoying looking out the window or hiding on top of a cupboard watching over everyone.
If you find your cat spends more time upstairs ensure you put fresh water in several locations, upstairs and downstairs so they always have easy access to a drink. Smaller meals fed little and often may also suit an older cat better than one big meal.
Sometimes if a cat appears to go off their favourite food it could be their sense of smell has declined. Heating the food up a little can increase the smell, encouraging the cat to eat. However always get them checked out by a vet if they lose their appetite for more than a few days.
Below are some tips for caring for an older cat that are useful for both pet owners and homesitters looking after other people’s cats:
Monitor appetite changes and water intake
Know what is normal for your cat and note any changes. Cats absorb food less effectively when they age so they will often eat a bit more but not show any weight gain. However if they appear to not be eating very much or too much it may be a sign something is wrong. Getting them checked out by a vet is recommended.
The same with water – look out for any changes. For instance increased drinking or drinking from places such as ponds and dripping taps when they never used to before could be a sign something is wrong and a trip to the vet is needed.
Be careful grooming
Most cats are pretty good groomers but as they age they may not be as thorough as they once were. Longer haired cats especially may need a bit of extra help grooming, but make sure you are gentle as they may be more sensitive than they once were. Keep an eye on their claws too. As cats get older they may not wear these down by scratching as they once did so may need to be cut occasionally.
Look out for lumps and bumps
It’s important to keep an eye out for any new lumps and bumps. Regular stroking and grooming is the best way to do this. Become familiar with what is normal and what’s not so that you will notice any changes that a vet may need to take a look at. For people using homesitters to look after their cats and homes when they go away, make sure you brief your homesitter on what’s normal too so they can keep a check while you are away.
Provide a couple of litter trays, upstairs and downstairs, so your cat doesn’t have to travel too far. Even cats that are still toileting outside may sometimes like the option, especially when it’s cold and wet to use a litter tray instead. Make sure these are big enough for them to move around easily and easy for them to get in and out of.
Playing with an older cat
Remember just because the cat is getting older doesn’t mean they won’t still like to play, albeit for a shorter time than when they were younger. Play with them with their favourite toy or introduce some new ones and see which capture their attention. Playtime is good for their mental stimulation and should be continued regularly for as long as the cat enjoys it.
Stick to a routine
Cats like to stick to a familiar routine so as far as possible don’t make any big changes such as moving house or introducing another pet when they are elderly. Keeping the home familiar with furniture in the same place is also reassuring, especially if a cat is losing its sight. Be mindful too that going out and leaving them alone for long periods could also become more distressing as a cat gets older.
Consider using a Homesitter
It may be worth using a home and pet sitter when you go on holiday. Even if your cat is used to going to a cattery, the experience of being away from home is still stressful. For an older cat this can be even more so. It may be kinder to your cat to employ a homesitter to come and look after them in their own home.
Cats like a familiar environment and routine which is even more important if the cat has reduced sight and hearing. Older cats may also be on medication or need regular injections – which many homesitters are happy to do.
If you have an elderly cat you need looking after when you go away and you’d like to find out more about employing a homesitter visit www.homesitters.co.uk
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