how to care for a very old cat

Caring For Very Old Cats: How To Do It Well

Caring for very old cats demands a lot of love and tender care. The average life expectancy of cats today is 15.1 years, although that number is going up almost yearly (read our article on converting your cats age to human years to find out more).

Thanks to advancements in nutrition and veterinary care, we are able to extend the life expectancy well above that number. Some cat owners will tell you that they have had their cat for over 20 years!

As they age, they become less agile and not as flexible and attentive as before. And as their senses start to weaken, they require more attention to keep them healthy.

how to care for a very old cat

Older cats tend to become much more passive than their younger counterparts. They might start to sleep more, become less playful, and they might start to lose or gain weight. These changes are perfectly normal. However, elderly cats are also more prone to diseases and health problems. 

But the good news is that with proper and gentle care, we can postpone those diseases and the onset of some common issues that come with age. 

Here are the key things you should do to care for an older cat:

  • More frequent vet visits
  • Regular dental checks
  • Improve their diet
  • Give them a comfortable living space
  • Groom them
  • Keep them indoors as much as possible

What Happens When a Cat Ages?

With increasing age, it is completely normal for cats to experience some effects of aging – from physiological changes to behavioural changes. When will vary from cat to cat – a lot of it comes down to genetics and how the cat has been cared for during its lifetime.

old cat sat on lap

Our four-legged friends will start to lose their sight, smell and hearing in their elder years.

Your cat’s immune system will also weaken, and they will become more prone to diseases and various health problems.

That’s why you should protect your cat as much as you can at this stage, and prevent them from venturing outdoors as much as possible. Dental problems are quite common, as are skeletal problems – arthritis being a common example.

6 Tips for Caring for Very Old Cats:

Follow these tips to help you and your cat make the most of its senior years.

1. See the Vet More Often

As your cat ages, more and more potential health issues will start to spring. That’s why regular veterinary check-ups should be your goal. 

Ask a Vet

If you are concerned about the health of your elderly cat we recommend you speak with a vet ASAP to help you work out if there is an underlying issue and if anything needs to be done. JustAnswer allows you to talk in real-time to veterinary experts for a small fee.

Normally, we would recommend at least one yearly visit to the vet, but for very old cats, you might have to halve that number. Visiting the vet every 6 months seems to be the optimal schedule for elderly cats. Your vet might prescribe some medications or supplements that will help you postpone the severe effects of aging.

Some alarming signs of disease you should watch out for include:

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss,
  • Drinking more often or much less,
  • Stiffness and lethargy,
  • Lumps on the body,
  • Loss of balance,
  • Trouble urinating,
  • Changes in behaviour.

There should also be one bigger examination each year. This is helpful for taking the blood test samples and analysing your cat’s wellbeing. Regular vet check-ups will do your cat a world of good. Dental issues are a common problem

old cat on bed

At the same time, your vet might also give you valuable advice on how to care for your elderly cat. From the diet to general care, it’s better to get expert advice from someone who has a lot of experience in dealing with elderly cats.

2. Get Good Cat Insurance

Old cats can expect to pay visits to the vet more regularly which means your vet bills will grow.

If you have adopted an older cat or you cat has grown old and you haven’t insured in then vet costs can lead to prohibitively expensive insurance fees if you’re not careful.

Not every insurer will insure older cats as they are seen as a insurance liability and if they do you will generally have to pay significantly more for the insurance than you would for a younger cat.

Read our article on the best cat insurance for older cats to find something that ticks all the boxes without ripping you off.

3. Perform Regular Dental Checks

Dental problems are very common for very old cats. It’s recommended that you keep a good level of care for your cat’s teeth throughout their lifetime. But for senior cats, dental diseases are quite common. Some signs of dental problems include:

  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Excessive drooling,
  • Inability to eat,
  • Pawing at the mouth constantly.
cat having it's teeth cleaned

If you notice any of these changes, then you should talk to your vet immediately. Your cat might also be in severe pain, which they will let you know about. Gingivitis is common and is reversible, but tooth resorption might require tooth extractions.

4. Take Care Of Their Diet

An elderly cat’s diet should be rich with protein, vitamins, and minerals. You should stay well away from commercial foods which tend to be the cheapest. Now it’s time to think about providing some high-quality food sources.

You might even cook a meal for your cat then and again. You’ll find that your cat will absolutely love cooked meats, which are also more favourable for their teeth which tend to weaken at very old ages.

tabby cat eating from a food bowl

But more importantly, buy foods that have quality nutrients and that are without filler content. Also, try to keep the diet varied, and always make sure your elderly cat has an accessible water source, too!

4. Adjust Their Living Area

As your cat ages, you can expect the cat to struggle to reach higher places in your home. They will lose their strength, which is completely natural. But your job now is to make sure that your cat has everything she needs and that it’s easily accessible.

Make sure the litter box is somewhere on the ground and not too high for the cat. Also, the edges of the litter box should also not be too high. At the same time, put the food and water source somewhere safe and accessible for the cat so that it doesn’t have to jump as much.

It also might make sense to place the litter boxes in several places of your home, especially if you have stairs or several stores in your home. Easy access should be your priority.

At the same time, you can also provide some help for your cat for climbing on high spots. Cat steps are available for purchase for this particular reason.

5. Groom Your Cat Frequently

Now it is more important than ever to give your cat the loving care it deserves. It will seek assurances from you, and you should make sure you give your cat the attention it needs at this point.

Even if the cat might not be in a playful mood, you should still pet it and keep it as comfortable as possible. And, more importantly, protect your cat from stress sources as elderly cats are more affected by stress.

a grey cat being groomed

Your old cat will appreciate regular and gentle grooming (get a good cat grooming brush to help) – you may find that your cat will not groom itself as much as a younger cat may so help them out.

Long-haired cats are especially prone to developing hairballs as their self-care begins to wane. 

6. Restrict Your Cat’s Access to the Outdoors

It should go without saying that caring for very old cats includes keeping them as safe as possible.

As they become weakened, they become unable to defend their patch against other, more agile cats. Take care to not allow your cat to wander outside too much, as it might get involved in some fights!

If you do keep it outside, keep it in a confined, restricted area that is completely safe.

Another worry for elderly cats is that their immune systems are weakened, so diseases that are transmitted from other cats and are not that severe for younger cats might become life-threatening for your senior cat.

…and don’t worry about your cat being frustrated or unhappy indoors, its not cruel to keep your cat inside as they can live perfectly happy, fulfilled lives indoors.

The Bottom Line

Take your time to evaluate your cat’s condition frequently and ask yourself if you’re doing all you can to make your cat as comfortable as possible. Just like elderly humans, elderly cats need more attention so they might need a helping hand in times of need. 

Your goal is to make the last few years of their lives as comfortable and as enjoyable as possible.

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