Optimal care for elderly cats: how to improve their quality of life

Optimal care for elderly cats

While we don't have children, we are the proud parents of two cats. Both were adopted from their owners for a different reason with well over ten years between each adoption.
Our oldest cat has reached the respectable age of 18 years, which makes her a truly old cat, which comes with many health problems of its own. By now we are more like the grand children who are taking care of their very old (great-)grand parent.
It subsequently blows your mind to see how senior cats are put on an even lower protein diet than they already receive. While felines are full-on carnivores, most will received a mixed diet with an unhealthy amount of carbohydrates. If you're lucky the grains are replaced by legumes, which however does not considerably lower the amount of carbs. Never mind on the precious few choices for cats with urinary or kidney problems.

We thought to put together some tips for owners of (future) senior cats, so you know in advance where to pay attention to.

If you have a feline in the family who’s getting up in years, the good news is that many cats today are living into their late teens and early 20s. With the proper care, a cat in good health at 8 can easily live another 10 or 12 years, or even longer. Now is the perfect time to begin taking steps to ensure not only that your cat stays happy and healthy throughout her golden years, but that she also enjoys an excellent quality of life.

From ‘mature’ to officially a senior

At around age 10, cats are considered seniors, and many begin to slow down a bit. For example, you may notice your cat isn’t jumping up on things as often as she once did, or perhaps her new favorite hangout is a lower perch on the cat tree.

However, it’s important to note that just like us, cats are individuals and age at different rates, so there can be signs of slowing down in cats as young as 8, as well as 14-year-olds who still run around like kittens. Whatever their age, indoor cats appreciate a consistent daily routine, and older cats in particular can get very stressed when they encounter something new or different in their environment.

Another subtle change you may notice is that your cat doesn't always greet you at the door when you come home as she once did. She may be playing less and sleeping more. Many cats also tend to become more talkative as they get older, and more easily startled by strange or loud noises.

Aging cats can also develop many of the same health conditions older humans do, such as arthritis, kidney problems, thyroid disease or diabetes. That's why every pet parent with a cat (or dog) over age 7 is encouraged to schedule twice-yearly veterinary wellness visits.

When you see your veterinarian, be sure to mention any behavior changes you've noticed in your cat, no matter how minor, as these can provide important clues about health problems in the making. It's also important to monitor your cat's weight to ensure she’s neither gaining nor losing too much weight.

Caring for your cat as they move beyond the senior stage

By the time your cat is in the 12 to 14-year range, it’s very likely your cat is moving more slowly, and may be experiencing some loss of vision and hearing. Your cat may also have less tolerance for cold weather. Many older cats develop age-related cognitive decline, so making even small changes in their environment or routine can be stressful for them.

Along with more napping, your senior cat may become more easily irritated. If your family includes small children or a playful dog, everyone will need to learn to approach cats in a quiet, non-aggressive manner. In multi-pet households, it's very important not to allow your senior cat to be bullied by younger pets who may sense a change in the pecking order.

You may also notice your cat prefers to spend more time alone. If this is the case, you can increase their feelings of safety and security by making the favorite hideout a warm, comfy little spot they can retreat to whenever he likes. With that said, it’s also important to remember that senior cats still need to interact with their humans regularly, so set aside some time each day to spend with him. You can play gently with them, brush or comb their coat if they enjoy it, or just pet and stroke the cat.

Veterinary checkups will now involve a senior workup, including a physical exam and blood, urine, and stool sample tests. The results of these tests will provide a snapshot of how well your cat's organs are functioning and point to any potential problems. Your vet will also check the condition of your cat's coat and skin, footpads and nails, and his teeth and gums.

Your cat at 15 is similar to a human at 76

Once your cat reaches 15 years of age, she officially joins the geriatric set, even if it’s not all that noticeable yet. She's moving and thinking more slowly now, and she may have one or more age-related health challenges. She's probably not as alert or responsive as she once was, and at times she may seem confused.

Even if she's still in good health, chances are your feline BFF is sleeping a lot, perhaps vocalizing more, and interacting with family members less. She may not be as well-groomed as she once was and may occasionally “miss” her litterbox.

As long as your cat is seeing the vet at least twice a year for checkups, and between visits you're keeping a careful eye out for significant or sudden behavior or health changes, there's no reason to be alarmed. Try not to hover, as she’s still a cat and prefers to initiate interactions on her own terms. Do make every effort to keep her life stress-free by maintaining a consistent daily routine and providing her with her own quiet, cozy spot outfitted with comfortable bedding and a familiar toy or two.

At your regular veterinary wellness visits, you'll want to mention any changes you've noticed in your cat, for example, increased or decreased appetite or water consumption, constipation or incontinence, aggressive behavior or mental confusion. You'll also want to keep a careful eye out for signs your cat is in pain, which can include hiding, teeth grinding, panting, shortness of breath, loss of interest in food or reluctance to move around.

Additional tips to ensure your aging cat enjoys a good quality of life

Feed your cat like a carnivore

Contrary to what many cat parents and even veterinarians believe, aging pets need more protein than their younger counterparts, and the quality is of paramount importance. The more digestible and assimilable the protein is, and the higher the moisture content of the food, the easier it will be for aging organs to process.

Feed your cat a nutritionally balanced, antioxidant-rich, species-appropriate diet that includes omega-3 essential fats such as krill oil. Allow her to fulfill her drive to hunt prey by treating her to an indoor hunting feeder with a teaspoon of freeze dried meat treats.

Since moisture is a cat's best friend, be sure to encourage hydration by offering your cat a variety of water bowls around the house or a drinking fountain, in addition to minimizing or (preferably) eliminating dry food. If your cat is addicted to a poor-quality processed diet and efforts to upgrade the food she eats have failed, consider adding a supplement.

Provide appropriate supplementation

Offering your cat SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) is a safe and effective way to stall mental decline, improve mobility and assist in liver detoxification. Consult your integrative veterinarian for the right dose size.

Periodic detoxification with milk thistle, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and dandelion can also be very beneficial, as can providing super green foods in the form of fresh “cat grass” to nibble on. Chlorophyll, chlorella or spirulina can also be offered in supplement form to enhance your cat’s detoxification processes.

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to be safe for cats and can improve brain energy metabolism and decrease the amyloid protein buildup that results in brain lesions in older pets. Coconut oil is a rich source of MCTs and may also reduce hairball issues. One quarter teaspoon is recommended for 5 kg of body weight twice daily for basic MCT support, if your cat will voluntarily eat it.

For aging cats who prowl the house at night and vocalize, consider low dose melatonin, which is not only a sedative with a calming effect, but also an antioxidant. Orthomolecular vets also use rhodiola, chamomile and l-theanine with good results.

Keep your cat physically and mentally stimulated

Keep your cat’s body and mind active with regular exercise appropriate for your cat’s age and physical condition, and mental stimulation (puzzles and treat-release toys can be beneficial). Think of creative ways to enrich your cat's indoor environment and if your cat never touches the earth’s surface directly (most house cats don’t), consider a grounding pad to help reduce the buildup of EMFs.

Regular massage can help keep your senior cat's muscles toned and reduce the slackening that comes with aging. Massaged muscles are looser, which makes it easier for your pet to move around comfortably. Massage also improves circulation, encourages lymphatic drainage and eases joint stiffness.

Take steps to keep your cat’s aging body comfortable — If your cat seems physically uncomfortable, it's important not to assume it's just a natural part of aging. You want to make sure she's not in pain, so a visit to your veterinarian is in order. The sooner a health problem is diagnosed and treated, in most cases, the better the outcome.

Keeping your cat at a good weight and physically active will help control arthritis and degenerative joint disease as he ages. Chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture can also be very helpful in keeping cats fully mobile in their later years. There are a wide range of supplements that can be added to your cat's diet to help maintain healthy tendons, ligaments, joints and cartilage. These include:

  • glucosamine sulfate with MSM
  • omega-3 fats (fish oil/ krill oil)
  • co-enzyme Q10 with ubiquinone or the more superior ubiquinol
  • supergreen foods like spirulina and astaxanthin
  • natural anti-inflammatory formulas (herbs, proteolytic enzymes and nutraceuticals)
Also ensure your cat can get into and out of the litterbox easily. Remember that cats are very adept at hiding arthritis and other aches and pains, which can limit their ability to climb into high-sided boxes, or boxes kept in bathtubs or up a flight of stairs, for example.

Spend time interacting with your cat every day

Set aside time each day to hang out with your cat. If she tolerates being brushed or combed, work that into the daily schedule as well, to help her with grooming chores. Trimming the hair around the perineal area is usually much appreciated by older cats.

Make sure meals are provided on a consistent schedule, along with playtime and petting/lap time. Organic catnip can be a very effective way to encourage your cat to play.

Summmary

Cats at 10 years and beyond are officially senior citizens with changing needs.
This is the perfect time to take action to ensure your aging kitty maintains an excellent quality of life for the rest of her life
Providing for more frequent wellness exams, a stress-free environment, the right diet, comfy out-of-the-way napping spots, and physical and mental stimulation are just some of the ways you can help your feline companion enjoy her golden years.
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