Aging Cats: When Is a Cat Considered a Senior?

Even as your cat gets older they may not seem to change much, which can make it difficult to tell when they are getting older. Here, our Wake Forest vets talk about signs of aging in cats and answer the question of when is a cat considered a senior.

Aging Cats: How do you know your senior cat's age?

Cats generally live fairly long lives and slowly show signs of aging over time. This can lead pet owners to wonder things like 'How old is a senior cat?'.

You will likely begin to really notice the signs of age when your cat is between 7 and 10 years old and by the time they are 12 they will likely be noticeably older.

While we may commonly express that one human year equals 7 cat years, this is not exactly true. While that may seem true during their early years, this changes over time.

Later in their life, one "cat year" is equal to roughly four human years (for example, a 10-year-old cat = 53-year-old human; a 12-year-old cat = 61-year-old human; a 15-year-old cat = 73-year-old human, etc.)

You'll be the proud owner of a senior cat by the time they hit about 11 years old. If a cat lives beyond 15 years of age, it'd be a "super-senior". When caring for older cats, it sometimes helps to think of their age in human terms. 

What happens as my feline friend becomes an old cat?

As your cat becomes a senior, they will go through a number of changes, both physically and behaviourally. While aging in cats is not a disease in itself, keeping your vet up to date on changes in your senior cat's body and personality will go a long way to ensuring they receive the most comprehensive routine care possible. Some changes to keep an eye out for include:

What physical changes will my cat go through?

Change in Appearance

Aging cats may be less effective at grooming, which can lead to matted or oily fur. Painful hair matting can result in inflammation and skin odor. Senior cats' claws also often become thick, brittle, and overgrown, and will need more attention from caretakers. 

An old cat's eyes and vision may also change - they commonly have a slightly hazy lens and a 'lacy' appearance to the iris (the colorful part of the eye). Still, there is little evidence that their sight is significantly impacted by this alone.

However, numerous diseases, especially those related to high blood pressure, can seriously and irreversibly affect a cat's ability to see.

Unexpected Weight Fluctuation

If your senior cat is losing weight, this can point to any number of problems, from diabetes to kidney and heart disease. Dental disease is also extremely common in senior cats. As they age, dental issues can impair eating, causing malnutrition and weight loss along with causing significant pain in their mouths.

Decrease in Physical Abilities

Arthritis or degenerative joint disease often becomes a problem for older cats. This condition makes it difficult to access food and water bowls, beds, and litter boxes. This is especially true for a cat that needs to climb stairs or jump. 

While changes in sleep are a normal aspect of aging, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep is a concern and your vet should be notified. If you notice your senior cat's energy has suddenly increased, this may indicate hyperthyroidism and should be checked by a vet. 

Hearing loss is also common among senior cats and if you think this is happening then you should bring them to your vet for an exam.

What are some behavioral changes that my senior cat may experience?

Cognitive or Memory Concerns

If you notice that your cat has started being confused by tasks or objects that are part of their daily routine, this may be a sign of issues with memory or cognition. Behavioral changes such as litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and seeming disorientated, are also potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be examined by your vet.

Complications From Disease

A cat may become aggressive due to pain from health issues like dental disease or arthritis, so keeping an eye on your cat's mood is important because cats tend to hide discomfort. Diseases and disorders affecting urination (e.g. diabetes, kidney failure) can cause an increase in litterbox usage and potential issues related to bathroom use.

Cats that are experiencing mobility problems due to joint inflammation may have challenges accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This can result in your senior cat relieving itself outside of the litterbox. If this happens you should contact your vet to schedule an appointment.

What are some ways that you can help keep your old cat healthy?

Because you live with your cat, you will be able to notice any possible signs of illness before anyone else might. Incorporating simple changes to your grooming, feeding and general interactions with your cat can be a low-pressure way to watch for any changes in your aging pet so your vet can provide geriatric care geared to your pet's needs.

Groom Them Regularly

Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are great ways to keep older cats clean and healthy, while also checking for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.

Provide Adequate Nutrition

As their metabolism and active level decrease, senior cats can quickly begin to gain weight. This makes it important to stay focused on diet and exercise. Other weight issues include elderly cats being underweight, which may be caused by a variety of medical conditions and should be assessed by a veterinarian.

Offer a Calm Environment

While all cats can be sensitive to change, this can be even more true if you have a senior cat. Patience and accommodations (extra affection, a favorite toy or blanket, a quiet room for them to stay in) go a long way to helping your senior cat adjust to upsetting changes. Don't forget to keep playing with your cat as they age; mental and physical stimulation is beneficial for their well-being.

Bring Them For Routine Vet Care

Wellness exams are vital to the health and well-being of cats, even when they seem healthy. These exams allow your vet to see any signs of potential issues or illness. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor any conditions that your senior cat may have, and catch any potential or emerging issues early when they're more treatable. their behavior and health.

How can your vet help care for your senior cat?

Because you spend each day with your cat, you will be able to provide your vet with valuable insight into the health of your feline friend. These should be paired with regularly scheduled routine exams. Depending on your senior cat's age, lifestyle, health status, and a few other factors including any ongoing needs they may have regarding medical conditions, your vet can tell you how often to come in for a visit and may recommend increasing the frequency of physical checkups. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Does your cat need a routine wellness exam or preventive care? Please contact our Wake Forest vets today to schedule a visit for your senior cat.