As cats age, they tend to change in a number of ways. Older cats appreciate more care, and there are various things you can do to help them. Cats are usually assumed to be elderly when they reach the age of about12. But just like people, cats age at different rates, and you should keep an eye on your elderly cat to try to find out when he or she might need a little more help. Here are some things you can do to help a cat who perhaps isn't as young as he once was...
Your cat may have been able to take care of keeping himself well groomed and free from loose hair and tangles when he was young. But older cats may be stiffer and find it harder to groom themselves. If you notice that your cat isn't as flexible as he once was, or that his coat isn't as shiny, it may be time to start grooming him. Use a soft brush or a comb, and go gently in case he isn't used to it. But older cats will often really appreciate this sort of help.
Cats can usually take care of their own claws, by stropping them on trees or scratching posts. They also prevent them getting too long and sharp by being active and running around, which wears the claws down. But this may not be the case with older cats, which may be less active. Older cats' claws can grow too long, which makes it hard for them to walk around, and it is even possible for a claw to grow right round and pierce the cat's paw – very painful for the cat. So check your older cats' claws, and if they need cutting, gently clip the ends off for the cat. Your vet can show you how to do this if you've never done it before, since you need to be very careful not to take off too much claw and hurt the cat.
Keep an eye on your cat, and see if he can still get into his bed, or the place where he likes to sleep. If he is becoming less mobile, he may have difficulty climbing into a bed with high sides, or one on a shelf, for instance. Make sure his bed is easily accessible.
Similarly, a less active older cat may find it hard to get into a litter tray with high sides. Also, cats which are used to going outside to do their business, might appreciate a litter tray indoors, particularly in cold or wet weather. So if your cat is occasionally having accidents, or even if he just seems to be struggling, get him a more easily accessible litter tray. And keep an eye open for constipation or problems urinating, both of which can affect elderly cats.
Many people put cat food and water bowls high up or on a shelf, to keep them out of the way. This may be fine when the cat is younger, but it may be difficult for an older cat to jump up to reach them. So put the food and water where your cat can easily reach it. And it might also be a good idea to switch to a diet designed for older cats. And bear in mind that older cats often lose their sense of smell, and may be more inclined to eat if you warm their food a little.
Most cats, even elderly ones, like to have somewhere high up to sit, where they can feel safe and watch the world go by. But your elderly cat may not be able to reach the shelf, cupboard, or wardrobe where he formerly liked to sit. If you notice this happening, use a stool or something similar to provide a step for him.
Older cats often seem to lose interest in playing. However, play is good for them, as it enables them to have exercise and stimulates their minds. Most older cats will enjoy playing with their owners, perhaps with a toy on the end of a string, if the owner initiates the play session. But keep playtimes shorter and more gentle than you would for a younger cat.
All cats like routine and dislike change. However, this is particularly the case for an older cat. Try to keep things as much as possible as he is used to them – furniture in the same places, meals at the same times, and so on. Some older cats don't mind changes, but don't try to force this upon them. And if you get a new addition to the family, either a baby or a new cat, allow your elderly cat lots of time to get used to it.
Hopefully your cat will already have been microchipped. But if not, do so now, since elderly cats can easily become disorientated, forget where they live, and get lost. If they have a microchip, any vet and many rescue organisations can scan the cat and identify it, and let you know where he is.
Cat owners are usually recommended to have their cat checked over by a vet once a year, usually when the cat has its annual vaccination booster. But many vets recommend six-monthly checks for older cats. There are many illnesses which older cats tend to get, which can be easily treated if diagnosed early – kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and arthritis and common ones. It is easy to miss early symptoms of these diseases, as cats can't tell you if they are ill or in pain, and often hide any symptoms.
If you follow all of the above, hopefully your elderly cat will live happily to a ripe old age. Many cats these days live well into their late teens, even their early twenties. But they do require a little more help and care if they are to do this and still have a happy life. But of course, as a loving cat owner, you will be happy to do all this.