Care of the older cat

old red cat lying in grassAs standards of veterinary care and diet improve, our cats are living longer. Their dietary and body changes and requirements are understood well, but what about their emotional and behavioural needs?

What happens to my cat’s behaviour as he or she gets older?

The most common behaviour seen in older cats is going to the toilet outside of the litter box or in the house, and/or spraying. This problem is often due to an underlying medical condition so the cat should be examined by a vet. If not a medical condition, other reasons for this behaviour may be that your cat doesn’t want to go outside. Perhaps other more aggressive cats are hanging around, or because they are more sensitive to harsh weather conditions. An indoor litter tray is likely to solve this problem, but the tray should have low sides to accommodate your old puss’s stiff joints. Be sure to change the litter regularly and try different types to see which one they prefer.

Another problem of the older cat, is that they are more prone to stress. Older cats don’t usually handle stress as well as younger cats. Stress factors include moving house, changes in routine and changes in family members (maybe you’ve just had a baby, or bought a new kitten or puppy) – these can all cause toileting inside the house! Reducing these stress factors will help your cat feel better. If you are moving house, make sure your puss is moved quietly and that their favourite bedding and familiar food, water and litter box are used in the new house.

Many cats become aggressive or anxious as they age. This may be due to a medical problem such as pain (for example arthritis), or loss of vision or hearing, which results in the cat being easily startled or frightened. Arthritis can be very painful, and inhibits the cat’s ability to run and jump.

Appetite also lessens with age, due to the cat’s decreased taste and smell. Dental disease is common, which also leads to less frequent eating. Cats may lose weight and become more prone to bowel problems, such as constipation.

It is well noticed that cats become more yowly and vocal as they age, and often more demanding! Older cats may cry or call, especially at night. Deafness is thought to play a role in the harshness of the cry. Like people get Alzheimer’s, older cats can suffer from senility and short-term memory problems, causing general confusion at night. Be sensitive to what your cat is going through and give him or her lots of care and attention.

Being more vocal at night may be an indication of hyperthyroidism (increased metabolic rate), which can also contribute to weight loss and other things – so it’s really important to see your vet if you suspect this may be a problem. Other causes of vocalisation include dental pain, high blood pressure and kidney disease.

As cats become older, they also sleep more. This includes any sleeping, from deep sleep to cat naps to dozing. Older cats go out less, explore less and generally do less, giving them more time to rest and sleep.

Older cats are more sensitive to the cold. Their favourite place to sleep will most likely be near a heat source, such as a radiator or warm pipe. As cats age, they may feel colder, or even suffer hypothermia in some cases.

As cats lose weight, they become more boney, so will look for soft, cushioned places to rest.

The older cat’s fur is not how it used to be, so their coat is less resistant to cold and wet. Also their grooming habits change – they groom less, or don’t groom as well, because any stiff joints make it hard for the cat to be flexible enough to reach those fiddly areas, in particular the base of the spine which can become mangled.

How can I help my cat be more comfortable in old age?

Sadly chronic illness is a big factor that can affect the older cat’s behaviour. For example, a kidney problem will make the cat drink more, and deafness will make the cat more vocal. Common illnesses in the older cat include:

If your cat is exhibiting any symptoms, for example weight loss, appetite changes, reluctance to jump up, changes in sleep, smelly breath – please come and see us! We want your cat to be happy and comfortable well into old age! It is best to treat any illness as soon as possible, be that to cure it or control and manage it to ensure a high quality of life. We have had enormous success with state of the art laser therapy. Old cats may come and see us for a series of laser treatments, in particular for arthritis.

Some ideas to look after your older puss cat:

  • Provide plenty of warm, soft, quiet sleeping places for the cat to spend most of its time
  • Keep these resting places as low as possible to cater for arthritic joints
  • Groom them often, particularly round the base of the spine where they may struggle to reach
  • Try and keep to routines to reduce stress
  • Play games to maintain mental wellbeing
  • Consider having indoor litter boxes if your cat doesn’t like going outside much anymore
  • Give them an old age diet, such as Royal Canin Senior, which helps to protect the kidneys. You can buy this at either of our clinics
  • Try and be sensitive to your older cat and what they are going through both physiologically and psychologically

Of course, like people, all cats are individuals and cats will age differently. Some may be perfectly fine their entire life. Come and see us to help judge if your cat is ‘senior’.

Cats are sweet creatures and caring for an older cat is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Excellent vet care and small adaptations to your home can improve your cat’s quality of life for many more years.

We would love to see you and your senior feline friend, so if you have any concerns please do call or message us to book an appointment. You can register your pet online to get 20% off your cat’s first consultation.

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Vet4life

Veterinary Surgeon at Vet4life
Ian Stroud is a highly experienced small animal veterinary surgeon with over 15 years working in practice. He has particular interests in several areas including minimally-invasive surgery, orthopaedics and oncology (cancer treatment). He currently practices in Teddington, Shepperton and Surbiton where he is the director of Vet4life.
Vet4life

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33 Responses to “Care of the older cat”

  1. Audrey Russell

    We have an 18 yr old female cat. She has had one eye only since long before we had her………7 years.She became very deaf some years ago. That apart she is in v.good health. Well muscled, good coat, teeth, eats well, leaps chair to settee to windows to table to chair etc. However she continually meows and you’ll at night. As I write this a.m. She is now sound asleep.We have tried keeping her occupied and awake for much of the day but no good. She has done this before…………….days getting shorter ……..Last night was particularly bad. Would appreciate some advice

    Reply
    • Alex Kay

      It sounds like your cat is doing well considering her age. However being unsettled at night can often be a sign of underlying medical problems. For example the thyroid disease hyperthyroidism is common in elderly cats and is frequently associated with behaviour changes and hyperactivity. Other conditions, such as arthritis, could cause discomfort that may make it difficult for her to settle overnight. Cats often mask their pain and so cats with chronic mild discomfort may only show very subtle signs that an owner may not always notice at home. It is important that she has a consultation with a vet to assess her general health and ensure that the night crying is not due to a medical issue.

      Elderly cats can also suffer dementia type signs in old age. This may also be more noticeable since she is deaf and is therefore likely to vocalise more loudly, she won’t know how loud her voice is! If her health is found to be OK then there are measures you can take to try and help her settle overnight. Providing her with a quiet secure room that she can stay in overnight will help prevent her wandering the house. Place a warm bed, ideally slightly elevated so she feels secure with a view of her surroundings, as well as fresh litter, her food and water. A Feliway diffuser, which is an analogue of the calming facial pheromone, will also help her to feel more relaxed. There are also supplements we can give to either as medication or incorporated into food that can help to increase her serotonin levels (the happy neurotransmitter in the brain) and therefore help to alleviate anxiety or nervousness she may be suffering.

      Cats are also very susceptible to stress induced by changes in their environment. Try to identify triggers that may have set off this new behaviour. Renovations, house guests, a new pet or cat coming close to her territory may be enough to make her anxious. If you have other cats then ensure that there are adequate resources . 1 litter tray, food bowl and water bowl per cat plus an additional one is the rule; therefore a house with 2 cats should have 3 litter trays etc.

      I hope this advice helps. As she is an elderly cat the most important thing is to ensure that there is not an underlying health problem leading to this unsettled behaviour. Please call reception at Vet4life on 02089773955 if you have any further questions or to book a consultation for her. Once she has the all clear then hopefully a few changes in her environment will help you all get a good night’s sleep.

      Alexandra Kay
      BVSc Hons MRCVS

      Reply
  2. Samantha

    My mums 18 year old cat, a little wobbly on his legs but otherwise ok, is being left for a couple of days at a time regularly with only visits and also being subjected to the dog of her partner visiting for days at a time. Is it more stressful a situation for him to move to my house were I can look after him properly or remain in his own home with periods on his own and with this dog, whose hates.
    Would love to have hi with me as I think I can care for him better.

    Reply
  3. Keith

    My 16 year old male in recent weeks will not leave me alone siting next to me on me .very intense constant head rubbing and attention seeking.as this is old for him,wondered if this was normal.

    Reply
  4. Nancy

    My 17 year old cat has started urinating where ever he wants to. Particularly around the edges of room along the outside walls. He also will pee right in front of the out side doors. We are keeping his litter box clean and well filled but he will often ignore the box and use the floors. It seems that he has forgotten his litter box training.

    Reply
    • Sarah Holliday

      Hi there,

      Thank you very much for your enquiry.

      Inappropriate toileting can be a sign of many things. It is a very common behaviour problem reported in the Veterinary practice and often seen in elderly cats. It could be a clinical sign associated with a number of clinical conditions such as a cystitis. As pets get older they can also develop certain conditions such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism, often causing them to drink more and urinate more frequently.

      It could also be a sign of a behavioural problem such as marking their territory or a response to anxiety or stress.

      Unfortunately, it is not possible to identify the cause until we have examined him and gained a urine sample to rule out any infections.

      We would recommend booking your elderly boy in for a full health check with a vet to rule out any clinical conditions and allow us to give you the best advice to stop this behaviour.

      If you would like to book an appointment or have any further questions please do let us know.

      Reply
  5. Louise Davies

    Our 18 year old cat has become very vocal over the past few months, she does make some very loud strange sounding meowing. I suspect she has ‘pet dementia’. She’ll meow to go out then seconds later want to come straight back in. It’s like our poor old cat doesn’t know what she wants. We have noticed how she needs constant company. She doesn’t like to be left alone, and prefers to sit by my husband’s feet, beside the sofa, in the evening’s. We all love her dearly and make sure she receives extra attention in her old age, but sometimes she can be like a constant crying baby. My husband gets out of bed every few hours overnight to deal with our Simbas meowing.

    Reply
    • Ian Stroud

      Hello, I’m sorry Simba is showing these signs. It may be dementia but also deafness, hypertension, hormonal diseases, kidney problems or high blood pressure. Has she been seen by a vet recently as there may be something they are able to do to help? Best of luck. I do hope he is ok. Ian

      Reply
  6. Charlie

    Hello, Our 19 year old cat has just been diagnosed with mild high blood pressure & mild renal failure, sadly this has caused her to go blind in one eye an lost most of the sight in the other.
    She is very slowly making her way around the house but seems to want to stay in the kitchen, we’ve added in a minni cat step so she can easily get out but still she just goes around in circles, if you help show her how to get out she turns around and goes back in to the kitchen and cry’s (she has full bowls of food & water in there which she seems to be able to find)
    We are unsure why she keeps going back to to coldest room in the house? and are worried she will get sick as she is so thin. We’ve put a cat bed in there but it just confuses her and she sits next to it.

    Having never had a blind cat before we are finding this change hard (probably more so than Hazel)

    Any thoughts much appreciated.

    Charlie.

    Reply
  7. Ian Stroud

    Hello, I am sorry to hear about Hazel, I hope she is happier now than last week. Cats can do really well after they go blind, especially if they go blind slowly as their other senses are so good. It might be worth giving her a little bit of time but also if she is not right to get her checked by a vet that she is responding well to any medication that she may be on for the hypertension. Keeping things in the same places and smelling the same as normal will help with her adjustment. Do you know if she is thin because of the kidney disease? Is there any possibility she may have had a mini stroke at the same time as she lost her vision as this may also cause some of the signs you are describing.
    I hope this helps a little.
    Ian

    Reply
  8. Jackie Booton

    My moms cat is about 14 years old and spends most of her time outdoors – although not moving from the front or back garden. She is quite overweight but my mom doesn’t feed her extensively. Recently she has started going to the toilet in the house (No. 2’s and not urine). My mom is nearly 80 and cannot cope with the cleaning up that this entails. Molly (the cat) seems to go in the same two places, the lounge and dining room, and so if you make these rooms inaccessible to her she will got outside. It is strange that she goes outside to ‘pee’ but not to go to the toilet. What can I do to stop her doing this as it is very stressful for my mom. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ian Stroud

      I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s cat. It can be very difficult when an animal eliminates in the house. This sounds like a behavioural issue but often these behavioural issues can have an underlying health problem. I would suggest in the first instance that she is seen by a vet to give her a health examination, check her vision, examine her for any painful things such as arthritis or dental disease, check her blood pressure and other tests as they see fit.

      Please let me know how you get on.

      Reply
  9. Sally Hipgrave

    Hi There, my cat Dave is 17 now & aside from a bit arthritis has been fine until the last few weeks, he has now stopped coming indoors except to eat & occasionally yowls loudly for a couple of minutes a day. His eyesight & hearing seem okay & he’s not having any toiletting issues, but he’s always been a very affectionate & cuddly cat but now he has lost interest in us. If I go outside with him he’ll come over for a chat & will sit with me or on me for a while so I think he knows who I am. He did have what my vet thought may have been a very mild stroke back in January & an abcess on his jaw that he fully recovered from & these changes have only occurred in the last 3-4 weeks. He is now living quite happily in our back garden just sleeping & pottering about & making plans to catch the pigeon that uses the bird feeder bless him but I’m worried about when it starts to get colder at night. I have a green house that I leave open so he can shelter in there but really I’d like to get him back indoors but I don’t want to force him to stay in, he has always had access to go in & out as he pleases & to keep him in stressed him out a lot. Please do you have any advice on how I can help him stay well for as long as he’s with us? I’d love him to start coming back in for cuddles as I miss my little lapmate but primarily I just want to do what I can to keep him happy & as healthy as an old cat can be x

    Reply
  10. Yvonne Mills

    We rehomed 2 older cats from a rescue centre. Thought to be 11 or 12 years old or so and siblings. 1 year on they are settled and happy. They love to be near us at all times and we love them. I got them ater being pesterd by my 22 year old daughter who was lonely and unemployed at home all day. She cared for them and loved them but had to move a long way away to find work. She has not been around for 9 months but now wants to have the cats with her. She lives in a shared house with a small garden while they are currently in a large house with a big garden. I am finding it hard to be rational as we all love the cats and I also love my daughter. What is in the best interests of the cats? On a side note, the male is going to have the rest of his teeth out next week because of FCGS, poor thing. The female is a mad old lady like me and yowls loudly at me even after she has just been fed. They both love fussing.

    Reply
  11. Tracy Hall

    My 14 year old cat has always been a grump. Doesnt want held, does her own thing, never goes outside. Recently she is super affectionate and desperately tries to get outside. She was fixed at 2 years old. I am at a loss. I love the affection but she is tearing up my screens trying to get out and when she does she runs under the house.

    Reply
    • Ian Stroud

      I am sorry to hear your cat is trying to escape all the time. There are a number of things that could be going on to change her personality so dramatically. I would therefore strongly recommend in the first instance you take her to see your vet for a good physical examination

      Reply
  12. Lisa Light

    Kitty boi 15 or 16 years old Siamese I took him to the vet 3 months ago and they said it was totally blind in both eyes recently we have had new family members come to the house we have moved some extra Furniture into my son’s room. Lately he goes from circles all the time he is anxious and he is cold he likes to lay by heater. He has just recently stopped eating of course it is Christmas Eve and I am unfortunately unable to afford to take him to an emergency clinic. I am afraid he will dehydrate and he will not eat even his favorite foods like tuna or turkey he seems more comfortable in front of the heater or on a heating pad on low. It is a very sensitive the animal and recently my son had a friend who was a girl comes to stay at the house you started to go sideways then and not using his litter pan. I just to do laundry. He is a cherished animal we adore him I am just worried that he is not eating and drinking .

    Reply
  13. David

    We have a 16 year old purebread Bermease. She’s generally healthy, a little over 7 lbs., though she sleeps more than she use to and she craves heat. We live in Phoenix and I just brought her in from the very warm garage. She’s always followed the sun around the house, but she is really interested in being very warm now.

    Reply
  14. Caroline Peat

    Hi, my 15 year old female cat Ginger has never been a friendly cat only to me. i rescued her when she was 18 months old. She very rarely goes out hates other cats.She has never messed in the house. Recently a new cat moved in next door and sits on the window staring at her only wants to be friends, he’s a lovely cat, a big softy. She lost all her fur. The vet put her on stress tablet, the fur has grown back. She is now off the tablets. Now she has started me- owing loads, started messing in the house ,turns her back on me. cant seem to settle. Eats well but loosing weight,vomit up fluid at least once a week. Do you think its her age or something more. Caroline

    Reply
    • Ian Stroud

      I am sorry to hear about your cat, it sounds very stressful for you! I suggest that take her to see your vet again as although it may be that starting the tablets again might be the answer, it is possible she has another condition which requires another treatment. Best of luck. Ian

      Reply
  15. Jeffrey. M Bingham

    My 18 year old redpoint Siamese just died with fluid in his Chest. He had been Diabetic for a few years. Still want to know if I could of saved him. He was also losing weight.

    Reply
    • Ian Stroud

      I am so sorry to hear about your cat. There are several potential cases of fluid in the chest but in an 18 year old cat, they are almost all very serious and unlikely to be successfully treated for long. One of the most common cases is heart failure and although draining fluid from the chest can give temporary relief because medications don’t work very well in cats with heart failure, the fluid is likely to return very quickly.

      I can tell you miss him very much. I hope you cherish the lovely memories you had with him

      Reply
  16. Olivera Anne

    I’m due to be moving home in 3 month with a geriatric cat (he is 17yrs old and neutered) to a home with a 7yr old female cat (also neutered).

    He wasn’t socialised with other cats when young so I’m concerned about the potential stress and aggression this could result in. Only other option seems to be giving him up for adoption, which is heart wrenching.

    Are there any tips or advice on how best to try and introduce them with minimal stress to both cats? I’ve used Feliway in the past when moving home but there was never another animal involved.

    Many thanks in advance.

    Olivera

    Reply
    • Ian Stroud

      Thank you for your post. You are quite right, frequently cats do not like other cats and housing two adult cats together can result in conflict and aggression. I’ve listed some tips below to help out but it is important to remember that none of these have a guaranteed success rate and I’d recommend chatting to your local vet as well or a pet behaviourist

      1. Resource management.
      Resources include litter trays, water bowls, food bowls, scratching posts, beds etc. Always make sure there are enough for one per cat and one spare one. This is to help reduce conflict over resources. It is important to note that two identical resources in the same room count as one resource (for example even if you have three water bowls in the same room it would count as one resource).
      2. Adjunctive therapies can be helpful, this would include the use of feliway diffusers (ideally one per room) and increased hiding places at a variety of heights.
      3. New cats should be introduced very slowly, initially the cats should have no contact with one another, over the first two weeks or more so the cats should gradually get used to the smell of one another. This may include switching items such as bowls, scratching posts or beds or use of brushes on both cats. After this phase the cats should get used to being able to see each (ideally through a window) without any contact with one another. After this has occurred for two weeks or more they may start to gradually be introduced to one another.

      I hope this guidelines are useful and I would encourage consultation with a professional.

      Many thanks

      Reply
  17. Tamica

    My cat has reached the dead age of 20 and has become very vocal at random times, crying a lot considering she never ever meowed up until a year or so ago. Before then I think I’d only heard her meow a handful of times. She is still quite agile and gets up onto the sides and sofas, is slowing down a bit on the stairs but then so am I at her age. She’s always been very independent and let’s herself in and out but I am becoming very aware of her age and behaviour. I just don’t want her to be in pain and was wondering what could be making her so vocal

    Reply
    • Ian Stroud

      Your cat sounds very loved and has lived to an old age. She must be really well cared for.

      I would take her to the vets as her meowing could indicate something is not right. Most often this might be high blood pressure, an overactive thyroid, kidney disease, loss of hearing or pain (especially from the teeth). Anyway they might want to give your cat a really good exam and possibly take some blood and urine to test. Best of luck.

      Reply
  18. joan johns

    my 16 year old female cat is sleeping a lot and will not let me touch her l feel like she in pain

    Reply
    • Keira Dullaghan

      Hello Joan,
      I would advise that you get your cat checked with the vet as soon as you can. Due to her age, there could be a number of things wrong that need to be addressed to make her more comfortable.
      Thank you,
      Keira

      Reply
  19. Louise Freeman

    Hi. Jasper will be 20 in September and I’ve had him since rescuing him as a kitten. He has hyperthyroidism and has been on medication for a few years to control this. He also has a heart murmur. Like previous posters have said, he meows/cries very regularly (my vet told me it’s probably a bit of dementia) but it’s a very distressing sound, he is unable to groom himself at all now (vet said probably arthritis) he keeps missing the litter tray (he’s been tested for infections), he sleeps the majority of the time and is also going deaf. Jasper is also a very nervous cat who detests anyone except me and gets extremely stressed out visiting the vets. I feel like Jasper has had his best years and is now suffering, however when I bring this up with the vet he maintains Jasper is ok. Can I insist I know what is best for my cat and go against the vet’s advice?

    Reply
    • Lily Raeyen

      Hi Louise,

      This sounds like a very tough situation and I am sorry to hear Jasper is struggling. I would recommend booking in to see your vet to discuss Jasper’s condition in depth and if he gets very stressed at the vets potentially going without Jasper initially so you can discuss all of your concerns without stressing him out. It might be a good idea to make a list of concerns to discuss with the vet before going to ensure everything is addressed.

      Best wishes,
      Lily.

      Reply
  20. mr g c holden

    my cat is 12yrs old until 3 months ago she always slept on our bed or in arm chair
    now she only sleeps on a hard surface like kitchen worktop even glass tv stand
    she eats well and spends a lot of time in garden which has always done but now
    when it rains she will sit in and gets soaking wet so i pick her up and dry her off
    as soon as i put her down she will go back out and repeat sitting in the rain–
    she has her annual injection and flea and worm treatment can you advise me is that normal for a 12 yr cat

    Reply
  21. Tina

    Hello, sorry to bother you but I would truly appreciate your advice on the matter of my senior cat. He is 15, I’ve had him since he was 8 weeks old and I can’t tell you how much he means to me.
    He has always been a bigger boy, got to 8 kilos when he turned two and kept that weight consistently ever since.
    This summer he started losing weight rapidly, started refusing food and asks me to open a faucet for him at least 4 times a day and then continues to drink heavily.
    He always has fresh water available as he always has, but he is no longer interested in it and just wants to drink massive amounts of running water.
    He asks for food a lot but whatever type of food I try giving him, he takes a bite or two at most and loses interest. All his old favorites are now rejected as well as any new food I try.
    I just weighted him, he now weighs 5 kilos. That’s 3 kilos lost in six months or so. He was a bit overweight, sure, but not much, he’s just a larger cat. It breaks my heart to see how much he deteriorated so quickly.
    I was hoping the changes were due to the summer heat which was rather extreme over here this year and my younger 5 year old boy wasn’t eating much either.
    Sadly, with the coming of fall the younger cat started happily chomping food down again but my senior boy only got worse, if anything.
    Now, I understand that it can be kidney issues, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and a whole number of things and I should see a vet as soon as possible.
    Problem is, the reason I hesitated to do so up till now is that he has a panic attack every time he leaves the house. He has always been like that, ever since he was a kitten, he soils himself immediately after going over the doorstep, starts shaking and screaming horribly. That’s why it’s been years since he’s last seen a vet, I just didn’t have the heart to do that to him.
    I am horrified that if I try taking him,
    he’ll get a heart attack or a stroke or something.
    I’m not exaggerating, it’s truly that bad, it’s that stressful to him.
    So now I’m at a loss as to what to do.
    Any advice would be so so appreciated.

    Reply

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