Caring for your senior cats

Cats can live for years and stay healthy.

Some senior cats though may need more of your attention and care than the young ones. But they deserve the extra attention and care because they have given you years of happiness.

Felix, the blind cat rescued by Save Animals of Love and Light (Save ALL) after he was hit by a vehicle, gets cuddles from Leslie Carlos who regularly visits rescues in a foster home.
They can live up to 20 years old with proper nutrition, if given immediate medical attention when needed, and if living indoor,  says Cornel Feline Health Center in the article “Loving Care for Older Cats/When your favorite feline friend is aging, give some extra TLC”

But some cats do love to live outdoor. Tips on caring for older cats below can also help outdoor cats. You just have to improvise a little.

“Not long ago, cats were considered seniors at eight years old. Today, it's not unusual for veterinarians to have feline patients in their twenties. Thanks to improved nutrition, living indoors, and advances in veterinary medicine, cats live longer and are now considered older at 12 to 14 years,” the center says, citing the observation of  Richard Goldstein, DVM, assistant professor in small animal medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Goldstein’s oldest feline patient reached 22 years old, still healthy and well.

"Growing older is not a disease. While it's true that senior cats are more likely to get different conditions, some older cats are perfectly normal and don't change at all," Dr. Goldstein stresses.

You may observe your older cats to be less active and playful, or they may sleep more, gain or lose weight, and may have trouble reaching their favorite places.

“Don't chalk up health or behavior changes - often gradual - to old age, however. Such changes can be signs of common diseases or dental problems that should be addressed by your veterinarian, “ the center says.

The center also quotes Emily Levine, DVM, animal behavior resident of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine who says,”Making sure older cats have easy access to the things they enjoy and/or need is critical…We remember to give them medications, but we tend to forget about addressing food, water and litter box issues.”

Here are suggestions to help your cat enjoy his/her golden years:

1. Bring your cat to the vet. Schedule physical exam (eye and ear check-up),  blood work and x-ray every six months for senior cats. 

2. Think warm. Cats look for warm places to rest. Make sure your cat's favorite bed or resting place is not in a drafty area of your home. But too much heat can harm your cat, so think warm, not hot. 

Blue, our senior cat, asks for more petting and needs more vitamins. We give her prescription canned food recommended by the vet with a little water.
For outdoor cats, you can have a  big cat  house built in the garden where they can be brought inside during rainy nights or at night.  Put cat beds inside with a blanket, especially during cold nights.  You can also have small cat “homes” in areas with a roof with a blanket and a pillow inside.  Do improvise based on the situation in your place.

3. Basic needs should be accessible.

“As cats age they are more prone to getting arthritis and may have reduced control over their bowels and bladder,” Dr. Levine says.

Dr. Levine suggests putting litter boxes on every floor.

Some older cats may climb into a normal litter box to urinate but not to poop. Dr. Levine suggests using a litter box with very low sides (a large cookie sheet) or place a newspaper around the litter box.

"Older cats should have easy access to food, water, and litter boxes, so if they choose not to climb stairs, they don't have to," she adds.

It is thus advised that the owner put food and water bowls in other areas also.

4. Help your cat get to his favorite spots. “If your older cat can no longer jump on his favorite windowsill, create box steps, ramps, or purchase pet stairs that allow him to safely reach a special spot on his own. This also works for a cat that wants to reach a favorite chair or sofa. The idea is to provide firm footing; for example, cover steps or a ramp with carpet to prevent slipping,“ the center stresses.

5. Gently groom your cat.  When a cat suddenly stops grooming herself, please see a vet immediately. “This is particularly crucial for longhaired cats who become uncomfortably matted, “ the center says.  

“Older cats can benefit from more frequent hands-on help if their self-grooming begins to wane. Gently brushing or combing removes loose hairs and stimulates circulation and sebaceous gland secretions, returning luster to the coat, “ it adds.

6. Keep a light on. Older cats with eyesight problems will need night lights to help them navigate an area.

“If your cat is blind, try to keep your cat's environment as stationary and consistent as possible, including litter boxes and furniture,” Dr. Levine says. 

“To avoid disorienting or startling a blind cat, do not pick him up unless necessary and call his name before approaching him," the center adds.

7. Approach a deaf cat or a cat with hearing problems from the front. Do not approach a cat with hearing problems from behind. This will startle him.

“Keep him safely inside your home to protect him from cars and predators, “ the center says.

8. Keep your cat away from kittens. A kitten will not make your older cat more bubbly. “..a rambunctious kitten climbing all over your cat may be more detrimental than helpful, and people have a tendency to focus on the young cat and ignore the older one," Dr. Levine says.

You can find gentle ways to encourage your older cat to play with you.

“Try waving a wand, going for a walk with your cat inside your home, and playing chase the kibble, one piece at a time, “ Dr. Levine says.

9. Remember the basics. Cats of any age need fresh water and good food.

Older cats need a special diet though. Your vet can help you, specially on the right amount of calories for your aging cat.

"It's especially important that senior cats have easy access to clean water because kidney function frequently deteriorates in older cats," Dr. Goldstein says.

He adds: "Consider mixing canned and dry food to let your cat absorb the water canned food offers.”

10. Older cats prefer a routine.

Older cats can be set in their ways, says Dr. Goldstein.

There are cats who prefer more emotional support while other cats prefer to be alone, he adds.

 "They may become more dependent on relationships and require more attention. It may be harder for them to deal with changes. Sticking to normal routines reassures them,” he adds.

Dr. Levine stressed that older cats need more time with human family members.

"It is important to give them the extra tender loving care that they'll need for many years to come," she says.

Topics: Pet Tales , Pets , Cats , Animal care , Richard Goldstein ,
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