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Senior Cat Care - Nutritional Changes and Other Suggestions to Keep Your Senior Cat Happy and Healthy



Dr. Sudeep Wahla
Prestige Animal Hospital

How will getting older impact the health of my cat?

Just like people, everything slows down a little bit as cats age. As they get older, they might want to play less. Their nutritional needs will change. Arthritis tends to develop, and many people don't realize that even kitty cats can develop arthritis. So, getting older is like people, as cats can also have vision problems or hearing problems, so care as they age becomes more necessary.

How do a cat's nutritional needs change as they age?

Nutritional needs vary depending on the lifestyle and age of the pet. So, you started with a kitten-formulated food that has more calories, different kinds of minerals, vitamins, and then as they age to adults, they have different necessities as far as their protein requirements, fat requirements, calories, and vitamins. Then you get to your senior geriatric stages in which they may need some things like joint supplements, probiotics, and different kinds of vitamins at that age to help them thrive. So, as they age, we have to consider these different lifestyles and we have to have an array of choices in order to change our pet's foods.

What are some signs and symptoms that your cat might be slowing down?

Well, cats are notoriously good at hiding signs and symptoms so you may not even notice any, or they might be so subtle and slow that you're not noticing it. A few things can be hidden more often—less frequent grooming, not wanting to jump up, or hesitating to jump up or jump down from somewhere. These can be signs of some arthritic changes in those joints.

I had somebody who had a 14-year-old cat and said, "The cat's fine." They brought her in and we looked at a tooth, and I said, "This tooth is going to have to come out." She said, "Don't pull my cat's tooth." And I said, "No, no, we have to." So, after some talking about it, we went under, and we ended up removing the tooth of a 14-year-old kitty, who this person thought was doing just fine. As soon as we removed the tooth, the cat went back home and she got mad at me. She said, "What'd you do to my cat?" I said, "What do you mean? What did I do to your cat?" And she says, "My 14-year-old senior cat's acting like a kitten. I liked my senior cat who sat around all day." So, basically, she didn't realize the cat was in pain from the dental disease. But once we pulled that tooth that was causing a problem, the cat turned into a whole new kitty, and almost started acting like a kitten.

What are some health complications or diseases that are commonly experienced by senior cats?

Number one, as we talked about, is dental disease. And, again, pets can't complain that they have pain. So, what do they do? Especially with teeth, they won't complain. They'll just keep eating. They have to eat to survive. So, we will think, "Boy, they’re eating fine." But really, they can have some dental problems.

Arthritis is a big complication as well as gaining weight because they're not moving as much but still eating the same amount. Renal disease and kidney disease are common in cats. Diabetes, cataracts, and hearing loss as they age are all the things that we have to watch for.

What kinds of preventative care can help extend the life and health of my cat? And what tests might they need?

So, regular testing is very important, especially when your cat becomes senior … blood work, urine testing, and full-body x-rays because cats are small enough that you can generally get a full-body x-ray in there. The fecal testing will check for parasites and urine will help assess kidney function as well as blood and liver and other internal organ functions. Regular vet visits are crucial so we can listen to the heart and lungs to find underlying issues. And, as we’ve mentioned, dental cleanings are necessary to prevent dental disease and to save teeth so, hopefully, we don't have to extract them later in life.

Why are wellness exams and regular checkups important for senior cats?

Similar to the reason we discussed is we find so many things—underlying things that we didn't know were there. And one of the main things I hear is, "Oh yeah, they're getting older and they're slowing down." But just like the example I gave previously, sometimes they're slowing down because they're constantly in pain but they just hide it so well.

So the wellness exams help us to find things like that tooth that's maybe painful or maybe underlying blood work shows us a trend. We trend the blood year after year because, remember, they age faster than us. So, if we do a blood work one year and we say, "Hey, those kidney values are normal, but they're looking a little higher." And we follow it up within six months or a year and say, "Boy, that graph is trending up." At that point, we take action and do something as simple as changing the food, which might save them years of their lives and a lot of hospital visits.

What is the most important thing to know about caring for a senior cat?

I know I’ve already mentioned it several times, but you should know that sometimes they're slowing down because there are underlying reasons. Cats can hide arthritis and dental disease very well. They sometimes start losing weight because of renal disease.

The most important thing about caring for a senior cat is, please, regular vet visits. You should also keep an eye on them and if you think there is an issue or they're not grooming or showing other symptoms we’ve mentioned (hiding or not doing what they used to), it's good to catch things early and see if we can help them live a longer, higher quality life.

FAQ - Senior Cat Care


Dr. Sudeep Wahla
Prestige Animal Hospital

When is my cat considered a senior?

Cats are technically considered a senior around 11 years old. We tend to do a little bit more care and follow up after the age of seven, though, because a lot of times we can detect early changes as they age, and we want to trend things. So, even though 11 is considered senior, we should be doing at least annual but hopefully biannual as they age over seven years of age.

What are some of the health needs my senior cat might need?

A couple of health needs that your senior cat may require are just regular vaccines, depending on the lifestyle, dewormings, preventative care testings, such as blood works, and urine testing. Sometimes x-rays and diet changes are needed. As they age, senior cats need specific changes in their diet to meet their nutritional needs. Exercise is still a big one in all cats and dogs as they age. So, those are some of the health needs.

Are there any vaccinations my senior cat should have?

The most common feline vaccinations that we see are feline leukemia. They’re multiple vaccines called FVRCP and rabies. These are the most common vaccines that we see in cats. But again, it depends on the lifestyle of the kitty cat, whether strictly indoors, meaning no other contact with cats. Do they have some contact with cats? Do they go outside, even occasionally? Do you have that kitty cat that meets them at the screen door once in a while—their outdoor friend? So, a lot of these tend to dictate what vaccines, if any, your cat will need, and we can help determine that.

Should I encourage my senior cat to exercise?

I think exercise is important in all species and all kinds of animals. So, yes, I would encourage exercise, if possible. And I know people are probably looking at the screen like, "Yeah, you come to my house and make my senior cat exercise." But anything you could do to get them moving. If they're food motivated, tie that little food to a string and track it along and have them taste it. But it is important to try to get some physical activity.

The more stationary they are, the more weight they're going to gain, and the more there are possibilities of other diseases manifesting themselves. Please try your best to exercise your senior cats.

How can I make my home more senior cat-friendly?

So, one thing that a lot of people don't realize that kitty cats get is arthritis. Perhaps they used to be able to jump up high on their perches or on the bed or on the couch. But now, they're kind of hesitant. They have to find another way around. So you might consider putting some steps in or a ramp. And if they are later in their senior years, you might even check their litter box. In case they’re having trouble getting in and/or out, get an entrance that kind of dips so they don't have to step over it to get in.

If they're losing some vision or hearing, just keeping those things in mind, such as where you place certain things around your house. So, a lot depends on what symptoms your cats are having, if any, when they get to senior. That’s something that we can always help you with as well.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (909) 329-2860, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook.

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