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General Practice Services

Your Senior Cat

Old Age is not a Disease

As a result of advances in veterinary medicine, more knowledgeable care and improved nutrition, cats are now living much longer, healthier lives. But, just as for humans, the passage of time has its effects, and you may begin to notice that your once-frisky feline seems to have slowed down a bit. Being aware of the natural changes that can occur as your cat becomes older can help you keep your pet as healthy, active and comfortable as possible.


How and when will I know that my cat is getting "old"?

As cats move into the senior phase of their lives, they experience gradual changes that are like those of ageing humans: their hair may lose its colour and lustre, their bodies are not as supple and reflexes not as sharp as they once were. Hearing, eyesight and the sense of smell may deteriorate and energy levels seem to diminish. In fact, because cats are naturally adaptive in their behaviour the first signs of ageing are often a subtle general decrease in activity, combined with a tendency to sleep longer and more soundly. Such signs may begin to manifest themselves anywhere between the ages of 7 and 11. Furthermore, a healthy cat that lives the majority of his/her life indoors, especially one that has been neutered, will most likely age later than one which has been affected by disease or environmental problems early in life. Thus, while wild or feral tomcats have an average life span of only 3 years, a castrated male house cat that is well cared for can live happily and healthily into late teens or exceptionally early twenties. Again, as with humans, the ageing process will vary with the individual. Our vets will be able to judge when it's time to consider your pet a "senior".

Checkup time now comes twice a year

As your cat ages regular checkups with us become more important than ever. In fact, at this stage of your pet's life, it is recommended that they receive a thorough examination every 6 months. Adult cats can age as much as 4 years (in human terms) within the period of one calendar year. Besides the usual complete physical examination, our vets may conduct a urine and faecal analysis and a full blood screen. If your cat goes outdoors, or is part of a multi-cat household, we may also recommend that your cat be tested for the presence of feline leukemia or immunodeficiency virus. 

Keep us informed

Most importantly, you should tell us about any noticeable change in your cat's physical condition or behaviour. A problem that you may assume is simply related to your cat's advanced age may actually be the result of a treatable medical condition. For example, a lack of interest in exercise or play may not stem from the normal decrease in energy that comes with age, but be due to the stiffness and pain that results from arthritis - a condition that can be managed with the proper treatment. Regular checkups can thus help us formulate a suitable preventative health programme for your cat and catch any disorders sufficiently early to provide effective treatment. Working together we can both ensure that your cat's senior years will be healthy and happy ones.

Put a healthy diet on the menu

With increasing age your cat's nutritional needs may also change. You may find that, although your catt is eating less, he/she still puts on weight. This could be due to a slowdown of metabolism or a decrease in activity. Excess weight can aggravate many feline medical conditions, including heart, respiratory, skin and joint problems. To help a portly puss reduce, try feeding smaller quantities of food or gradually switch to a diet that is lower in calories. Other cats have entirely the opposite problem-they lose weight as they age, sometimes as the result of heart, periodontal disease, diabetes or sometimes an overactive thyroid gland. Appetite can be reduced or sometimes increased in these conditions. In either case, ask our vets and nurses for advice about your pet's individual nutritional requirements.

The top 10 health tips for senior cats

  1. Take your cat to their veterinary surgeon for regular checkups.

  2. Become informed about conditions and diseases common to senior cats and be on the lookout for their signs.

  3. Consider feeding a 'senior' pet diet, nutritionally appropriate for the older cat.

  4. Don't overfeed-obesity causes many health problems and may shorten your cat's life. 

  5. Make sure your cat has opportunities to exercise to preserve muscle tone, preserve bone and joint strength and fight obesity. 

  6. Look after your cat's dental health. Brush teeth daily and have your cat’s teeth cleaned professionally when necessary.

  7. Ensure vaccinations are kept up-to-date.

  8. Do your utmost to control fleas and make sure your cat and the environment (bed, play area, etc.) are always spotlessly clean. 

  9. Check your cat's nails weekly and trim them as often as necessary, as senior cats may not use their scratching posts as often as they did when younger. 

  10. Give your cat lots of love and attention and do all you can to keep them interested, active, happy and comfortable.

How old is your cat?


If your cat is...

In human terms, that's

1 month

5-6 months

2 months

9-10 months

3 months

2-3 years

4 months

5-6 years

5 months

8-9 years

6 months

14 years

7 months

15 years

8 months

16 years

1 year

18 years

2 years

25 years

3 years

30 years

4 years

35 years

5 years

38-40 years

6 years

42-44 years

7 years

45 years

8 years

48 years

9 years

55 years

10 years

60 years

11 years

62 years

12 years

65 years

13 years

68 years

14 years

72 years

15 years

74 years

16 years

76 years

17 years

78 years

Common Problems

Obesity is as big a health risk to pets as it is to humans. An older cat is a less active cat, so adjustments to your pet's diet to reduce caloric intake are imperative. This will relieve pressure on the joints as well as manage the risks of a range of diseases. Weight loss diets have modified ingredients, for example: increased fibre, fatty acids and vitamins, and decreased sodium, protein and fat.

Diabetes is common especially in middle-aged or older cats. It is a disease in which your cat's pancreas can no longer produce enough of the hormone insulin or where the body becomes insensitive to the cats own insulin. More information can be found by clicking on the Diabetes section link.

Arthritis severity can range from slight stiffness and lameness or difficulty in rising to inability to exercise without pain and ultimately debilitation. Keeping your cat as comfortable as possible is vital. You may detect this problem when he/she becomes less attentive about grooming and litter box habits. These signs may also indicate the slowing down of cognitive functions. Anti-inflammatory medication can help relieve the pain. We can help with medication and/or diet change.

Intolerance to cold temperatures is more likely as cats age. There can be a range of explanations. Providing an additional heat source near where the cat sleeps and adequate shelter outdoors in inclement weather if the cat can’t easily access indoors.

Dental problems can make eating painful but also may indicate long-standing viral problems, bacterial infection or rarely tumours. Cats are very sensitive to oral pain. Some hard diets may be helpful in encouraging chewing but are not appropriate if cats suffer significant oral pain. In a cooperative cat regular daily brushing and cleaning the teeth will help prevent tartar and some forms of gum disease.

Constipation may point to colon problems or hairballs. A diet that is easily digestible and rich in nutrients is essential. We can advise on this.

Skin or coat changes in ageing cats mean the skin loses elasticity, making your pet more susceptible to injury while the fur can thin, develop scurf or dandruff and become dry, dull or oily over time. This may occur as part of ageing but can also reflect underlying skin, metabolic or hormonal problems. Veterinary advice should always be sought when such a change is noticed. Regular grooming to prevent matting and essential fatty acid supplements can improve coat lustre.

Recurrent infections and/or other health problems may indicate an impaired immune system. Bring your cat in for a check-up. We may suggest blood or urine tests.

Increased thirst can be a sign of diabetes, kidney failure or hyperthyroidism. Our vets will investigate with blood and urine tests to help determine the cause and provide appropriate advice on treatment.