Much like human senior citizens, geriatric cats need a bit more attention and help from their caretakers in order to enjoy the quality of life they deserve in their advancing years. They have served us well, and we need to reward that lifetime of devotion with some well-deserved pampering.
As cats age, their nails harden and become brittle and overgrown, which can cause difficulty in mobility.
In addition, cats sometimes lose the ability to retract their claws. As a result, claws can catch on surfaces, causing injury to the claw or the limb. Older cats' claws should be trimmed at least once monthly, or more often, as indicated. Trimming claws is a fairly simple process, following my How to tips , or you may elect to have your veterinarian perform this procedure. My veterinarian charges $7.00 - prices may vary depending on your area.
Mats and Snarls
Aging is often accompanied by arthritis, for cats as well as humans. Consequently, the geriatric cat may find it more difficult to groom his coat thoroughly. Over a period of time, lack of grooming will cause mats to develop, which are not only unsightly and painful, but can provide a harboring place for bacteria and fleas, with resultant skin irritation.
A good grooming habit is to brush your cat thoroughly three times a week; daily brushing is ideal.
Brushing your elderly cat not only will help keep his coat free of mats, but it will also help prevent the ubiquitous hair balls, and in addition stimulates blood circulation and natural oil secretion, resulting in a healthier skin and coat. A daily brushing session with your older cat will give you the opportunity to get in some quality cuddling time, which will benefit both of you.
Subtle changes in weight can be indicative of serious underlying conditions, and for that reason, ideally, your cat should be weighed monthly after reaching the age of ten years. Many veterinarians will perform this service for free, or you could invest in a scale which give small enough increments for close monitoring.
As older cats become more sedentary, they often tend to gain weight if continued on their normal diet. Excess weight can be contributory to a number of conditions, including arthritis, diabetes and heart disease. The other side of the coin, of course, is that anorexia and sudden weight loss can cause fatty liver disease, which is a very serious condition. Managing your elder cat's nutrition is something that should be developed through close work with your own veterinarian, taking into consideration the "whole cat," i.e. other diseases that may require special dietary formulas.
As older cats can easily become dehydrated, it is also important that they alway have plenty of fresh, cool, water. I recommend using an automatic water dispenser to help keep water "interesting" for senior cats
Regular play periods with your elder cat will help to give him the exercise he needs, for muscle tone, suppleness, and to help prevent weight gain.
Older cats, either as a result of disease, or simply from age, have a lowered immune system, and are subject to increased stresses from changing environmental conditions. Care should be taken to avoid disruptions as much as possible. Your older cat needs his own "quiet space" with a comfortable, warm bed where he can retreat when visitors arrive. Although older cats will sometimes learn to tolerate a new kitten, introduction of new pets to the household are more often a traumatic event, and should be avoided, if at all possible. For the same reasons, moving to a new residence can be stressful. You can ease the stress somewhat, by moving everything but the cat and "his" room first, leaving someone behind to comfort the cat; until it is absolutely necessary to move the cat.
Put him and his new belongings into a "private room" at the new residence, and leave him there during the unpacking and "settling in." Extra cuddles and attention will help during this transition.
Quality Together Time
Don't forget to give your senior cat plenty of petting and gentle massage. It will not only help him relax, but can help in preventing muscle atrophy cause by lack of exercise. And, of course, you'll want to spend as much quality time with him as possible in this stage of his life.
Aging is inevitable for all of us, but with loving care and close monitoring of your kitty's condition and his comfort level, you can both enjoy his golden years for many years to come.
This concludes the final part of the series of three articles on nurturing your senior cat. Although these articles offer general guidelines for the care of your senior cat, the final decision for his or her care appropriately rests in you and your veterinarian.
The Senior Cat Series
- Part 1: Optimizing his Health and Well-Being
- Part 2: Diseases That Target Older Cats
- Part 3: The Comfort Factor