Looking after elderly cats

DrPaul -

Looking after elderly cats

It can often be overlooked but it is so important to make appropriate changes and be prepared to adapt when our pets transition into old age. This is especially true of cats, of which are the ultimate masters at disguising any illnesses or ailments they may have. We usually identify cats as being geriatric once they reach 15 years old or over.

When it comes to veterinary care it is important to keep preventative care such as parasite control and annual vaccinations up to date as our elderly cats are just as susceptible, if not more so, to contracting preventable illness and parasite borne diseases. If your veterinary practice runs senior or geriatric clinics it is a great idea to get involved in these so that subtle changes in weight or other health parameters can be tracked and caught as early as possible. At the very least you should be taking your cat to be checked by the vet once every 6 months, more so if your cat has any underlying diseases.

As our cats get older we need to be aware there will likely be changes in eating and toileting behaviour and we need to cater to these changes. Cats that have always toileted outdoors may, as they reach old age, start to venture less from their core territory. It’s therefore essential that a litter tray is provided which would ideally be open with low sides so that they may be more easily negotiated for elderly cats with stiff joints and hips.

Wide and shallow food bowls are also a good substitution for deep narrow bowls that may become difficult to eat from as cats get less flexible around the neck and spine. Elevating food and water bowls is also a good solution for those cats suffering from arthritis. Appetite also tends to diminish as your cat gets older and you may find they tend to prefer to eat smaller meals spread out through the day. If your cats appetite decreases then I would avoid feeding food directly from the fridge as it can be less palatable when it’s cold, mainly because it doesn’t give off as much aroma as food that is at room temperature or even slightly warmed.

As elderly cats are far more susceptible to becoming dehydrated, especially if they suffer from chronic disease processes such as kidney disease, it is vital that plenty of drinking sources are provided. This should be in a variety of sources, which may include running water fountains or stationary bowls and for some cats only a dripping tap will do! Adding water to wet or even dry foods is also a good idea if you need to increase your cat’s water intake.

Scratching facilities are just as essential for elderly cats as not only will it help maintain claw length, it forms an integral part of their scent marking ritual. Older cats are less likely to want to use a vertical scratch post due to the strain it can put on arthritic joints so swap these for horizontal scratch surfaces - it will be much better appreciated!

Sadly there is an inevitability that at some point there will be a deterioration in the quality of life of a geriatric cat. Being able to evaluate this is really important and you should speak to your vet about the signs to look out for so that you can make a sensible end of life plan.

Paul Manktelow

Veterinary Surgeon

Dr Paul Manktelow is a vet who's worked for almost 20 years on the front line in some of the UK's busiest veterinary hospitals. Paul also appears regularly in the media as a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer.