When Is A Cat Considered A Senior?

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As dedicated pet parents, we want our beloved feline friends to live forever. Unfortunately, your cat will one day reach their golden years. The average indoor cat has a lifespan of 10 to 15 years.1 However, many cats can live much longer than that, with the oldest living to the age of 28.2 Most cats don't have as long of a lifespan, but there are several ways to care for your senior cat's health and give them the best chance possible.

When is a cat considered a senior? Senior cat age is around 11-14 years old.3 As your cat ages, you'll notice changes in their behavior and appearance, but there's no reason to be sad because you can improve their quality of life and make them comfortable through old age. Senior cat ages vary based on your cat's health, so ensuring they maintain good overall health, even though they might be experiencing physical changes, is crucial. 

Signs Of Aging In Cats

Signs of aging in cats

When your cat reaches their golden years, you may start to notice some changes in their appearance and health. Remember, we've given you a general answer to your question, "How old is a senior cat?" but every cat is different. Depending on their health history, your cat's senior age might be much earlier or later. Below are some signs of aging in cats that can help you answer the question, "What age is a senior cat?" for your pet. Noticing these signs can help you learn when to take your cat to the vet for a checkup or modify how you care for them. 

  • Mobility issues: Many senior cats have mobility issues as part of the normal aging process. The same things happen when humans age. Unfortunately, senior cats are prone to joint pain, including arthritis. Cats are good at hiding their pain and can't tell you when they're in pain, so you should look for signs like difficulty jumping. 
  • Weight changes: Senior cats may experience a change in their weight; they can either gain or lose it. As cats age, they lose muscle mass, making them look thinner. However, some cats may gain weight as their metabolism slows. Of course, how heavy your cat should be depends on several factors, but most healthy domestic cats should weigh between 8 and 10 pounds. If your cat weighs more than that, your vet may suggest a new diet. 
  • Dental disease: Cats are at risk of dental disease when they have poor oral hygiene, and it can cause bad breath or fractured and loose teeth that make eating painful. 
  • Behavioral changes: Cats may experience a change in temperament as they age, becoming more stressed, anxious, or even aggressive. If your cat seems to be in a mood more than usual, it could be a sign of aging or pain. 
  • Confusion: Cat dementia can cause your aging cat to become confused or disoriented at night or during the day. Unfortunately, there's no treatment for cat cognitive dysfunction, so you may have to monitor your cat more closely if they receive this diagnosis. 
  • Vision loss: Many senior cats have partial or full vision loss. This could be due to the natural aging process or an underlying health problem. If your cat is experiencing sudden vision loss, you should take them to the vet as soon as possible. 
  • Litter box issues: Senior cats may be more prone to litter box issues like urinating outside the litter box because they're prone to health conditions that can cause more frequent urination, such as urinary tract infections and kidney disease . 

If you're wondering how old your cat is in human years, you can calculate cat years to human years to help you understand your cat's age and the different types of care they might need. 

Health Issues Common To Senior Cats

Common senior cat health issues

As mentioned briefly, senior cats are prone to several health conditions. Of course, your cat can get one or more of them, which means they'll require extra care. Depending on your cat's health, they may need daily medication, and you may have to keep a more watchful eye on them to prevent injury and accidents. A few common health issues you may notice in cats of senior age are: 

  • Kidney disease: Many senior cats have impaired kidney function, and kidney failure is common. This disease is characterized by a loss of kidney function over time, which can cause a buildup of waste in the cat's bloodstream.4 Cats with kidney disease may become lethargic, lose weight, and urinate more.5
  • Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland in your cat's neck produces too much thyroid hormone, resulting in an overactive  thyroid and associated health complications like weight loss, increased appetite, thirst, urination, vomiting, diarrhea, and hyperactivity. In addition, your cat's coat may change and appear more matted or greasy.6 Treatment for hyperthyroidism in cats includes medication, radioactive iodine therapy, surgery, or dietary therapy. Based on your cat's age, your vet will find the best solution or teach you about the options to ensure you make the right choice for your cat. 
  • Arthritis: Arthritis is common in senior cats. Some cats can become lame and weak, while others may have difficulty performing simple tasks like accessing the litter box or jumping on the couch.4 Arthritis can be managed at home with pain medication and by making simple changes to your cat's lifestyle. For example, if your cat is overweight, your vet may put them on a diet to reduce the pressure on the joints. In addition, you can add pet stairs around your home to help your cat access areas that usually require jumping, like the couch or bed.  
  • Diabetes: Diabetes occurs when there's increased glucose in your cat's blood, causing a change in their blood sugar levels.7 Of course, senior cats can avoid diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight. Still, with the presence of other underlying diseases that can cause weight gain along with a slowed metabolism, many senior cats gain weight and eventually become diabetic. Cats with diabetes will require insulin injections regularly, which your vet can show you how to do. 
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) occurs when a cat's GI tract becomes inflamed and irritated.8 Unfortunately, the cause of IBD is unknown, but most vets will recommend a change in your cat's diet to reduce the inflammation. 

How Do I Take Care Of A Senior Cat?

Taking care of a senior cat is a lot like taking care of an adult cat, but you should take extra precautions to ensure their health. In addition, if your senior cat is diagnosed with an underlying health condition, your vet will provide you with instructions on how to care for them at home. A few considerations for caring for a senior cat include:

Nutrition

Nutrition is important throughout your cat's entire life, especially as they age. Your cat needs a balanced diet to maintain their ideal body weight, healthy skin and coat, and overall health. Older cats may need to be fed smaller meals more frequently to improve digestion. In addition, they may consume more water to prevent dehydration.3 Depending on their nutrition, your vet may suggest giving them cat vitamins to support overall health. 

Physical Exercise

Senior cats may be more lethargic than young or adult cats. However, they may still want to engage in play. Remember, senior cat age varies, so your cat might be graying around the muzzle but still have tons of energy. Since many health problems, such as diabetes and arthritis, that affect senior cats can occur due to a lack of exercise and weight gain, your cat should continue to get physical exercise every day. 

Of course, if your cat suffers from mobility issues, play may look a little different. Still, continue to let your cat play because toys can be a great way for them to burn some excess energy while helping them maintain their weight. 

Mental Stimulation

In addition to play, senior cats can benefit from mental stimulation. Giving your cat a task to focus on can improve their mental health while helping them work their minds to fight off the signs of aging and dementia. Activities like scratching, puzzles, and treat-dispensing toys are a great way to enrich your cat's life. If your cat loves to scratch, consider getting them a horizontal scratching pad instead of a post because vertical posts can worsen arthritis pain.9 

Grooming

Grooming is still essential as your cat ages. However, senior cats will be less able to groom themselves, so their coats and skin may feel less clean. Daily brushing can remove loose hair and prevent hairballs while stimulating blood circulation to improve your cat's skin and coat health.4 In addition to brushing, you should check your cat's nails weekly. If your cat doesn't scratch often anymore, they may need more frequent trimmings. 

Dental Care

Dental care can help prevent periodontal disease and oral pain. Cats with dental disease or pain in the mouth may have difficulty eating or show less interest in food, so ensuring their dental health is crucial. You can brush your cat's teeth with a cat toothpaste and toothbrush to prevent dental disease, but it may take some training to help your cat learn to tolerate the experience. 

Reduce Stress

Senior cats can get stressed quickly, especially if they're experiencing pain or cognitive dysfunction that can cause fear and confusion. You should aim to reduce environmental stress whenever possible.4 Keeping your cat's home clean and giving them their own sanctuary space where they can spend their time alone when they need to can prevent stress in cats of all ages. 

Frequent Vet Visits

Adult cats typically go to the vet once a year for their wellness exam. However, senior cats should go at least twice a year or more if they're experiencing a health concern. Your vet will perform a chemistry panel during your senior cat's wellness exam. These tests include thyroid level checks, blood count, urinalysis, heartworm, and more.10

Vets typically inform you when your cat is approaching senior age and should visit them more frequently to screen for common diseases. 

Modify Your Home Environment

Modifying your home environment can make your senior cat more comfortable, especially if they're experiencing pain or stress. A few ways you can modify your home for your cat include:

  • Softer bed: Giving your cat an orthopedic bed can reduce joint pain and stiffness to help them sleep better while supporting overall health. 
  • Heated bed: A heated bed can help your cat stay warm while reducing aches and pains. 
  • Raised water and food bowls: If your cat has mobility issues, they might find it difficult to reach their bowls if they're on the floor. Raising the bowls a few inches off the floor may make accessing food and water easier. 
  • Non-slip mats: Non-slip mats for homes with hardwood floors can prevent cats from slipping or having difficulty moving around the home. 
  • Ramps: Ramps or pet stairs are other options for cats who love to spend time on the bed or couch with their pet parents. Instead of jumping, they can easily walk up the ramps to reduce pain. 
  • Pillows for landing by places they like to jump onto: If your cat loves to jump onto the floor, consider placing pillows or softer materials in those areas to prevent injury. 

Cat aging timeline

When Is A Cat Considered A Senior?: FAQs

How do I know if my cat is depressed?

Unfortunately, your cat can't tell you how they're feeling, but senior cats can get depressed because they can't enjoy their favorite activities anymore. Signs of depression in cats include changes in body language and temperament, hiding, excessive meowing, and sleeping more. However, these signs closely resemble the signs of aging, so if you believe your cat is depressed, consider taking them to the vet to rule out any underlying illnesses. 

How do I know if my cat is in pain?

You can't always tell when your cat is in pain because they're good at hiding it. However, cats in pain typically experience a lack of appetite, lethargy, and become withdrawn. Many may even hide. If your cat's behavior has changed, it could indicate that they're in pain. However, there's no way to know without having your cat examined by a vet who can tell you whether your cat is experiencing pain or something else. 

Closeup of a senior cat

Final Notes

Taking care of a senior cat means being more attentive to their needs and looking out for signs of illness. Senior cats are more prone to diseases because of the changes in their bodies. However, you can improve your cat's quality of life by making a few changes at home. How old is a senior cat? Unfortunately, it depends. However, if your cat is around 11 years old, you should take them to the vet more often to monitor their health. 

Whether your cat has a diagnosed underlying health condition or is reaching their golden years, you need a vet by your side who can help you take better care of your pet. Look to Dutch for help. Dutch vets can provide advice for taking care of senior cats and diagnose and treat various illnesses that affect them. Try Dutch today. 

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References

  1. Youngerman, Claire. “Cats: Indoors or Outdoors?” UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, 8 Apr. 2019, https://vetmed.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk491/files/inline-files/Cats-Indoors_or_Outdoors.pdf.

  2. “Oldest Cat Ever.” Guinness World Records, https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/oldest-cat-ever.

  3. “Senior Care Guidelines.” Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, American Association of Feline Practitioners , https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1016/j.jfms.2009.07.011.

  4. “The Special Needs of the Senior Cat.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 22 Aug. 2022, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/special-needs-senior-cat.

  5. “Chronic Kidney Disease.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 1 Mar. 2019, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/chronic-kidney-disease.

  6. “Hyperthyroidism in Cats.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 23 July 2018, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/hyperthyroidism-cats.

  7. “Seven Most Common Illnesses in Senior Cats.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/lhuston/2013/july/seven-most-common-illnesses-in-senior-cats-30574.

  8. “Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 18 Mar. 2021, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/inflammatory-bowel-disease.

  9. “Elderly Cats – Special Considerations.” International Cat Care, 7 Oct. 2019, https://icatcare.org/advice/elderly-cats-special-considerations/.

  10. “What to Expect When Your Kitty Becomes a Senior Cat.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/what-expect-when-your-kitty-becomes-senior-cat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

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During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

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