What to Expect As A Cat Ages and Becomes a Senior

Herman Quinn - October 2007
Herman Quinn my Hyperthyroid Cat - October 2007. Janet Tobiassen DVM

What Age Is My Cat Considered A Senior?

What is considered old age for cats? The old classic "one human year equals seven cat years" is an easy way to calculate and relate to your cat's age, but isn't entirely accurate. The feline stage of life (kitten, adolescent, adult, senior) determines the comparison between human and cat years. To see a comparison chart of cat years to human years of age, based on the above concept, click here.

Companion piece to Caring for Geriatric Dogs

As a general rule of thumb, a cat who is 8 to 10 years old and older should be considered middle to senior aged, and a consultation with your vet is in order to determine the best health care maintenance program for your cat as s/he ages.

What Things Should I Expect As My Cat Ages?

Each cat, like each human, is different. Here are some general things to watch for as a cat age.

Slowing down: 

Admittedly, this can be hard to discern for many cats! You know your cat best — do you notice any of the following:

  • Sleeping more than usual?
  • Not wanting to climb the cat condo as much?
  • Any difficulty grooming the "hard to reach" areas?
  • Difficulty going up or down the stairs, jumping up or down off of favorite perches, etc.?

Reduced Hearing

Cats can experience hearing loss. The loss may be barely noticeable, or, as in the case of some cats, the hearing loss can be total.

Always have your vet examine your cat's ears if there is a question of hearing loss -- to rule out parasites, infection, growths in the canal, or other medical problems that could interfere with normal hearing.

Cloudy Eyes

Like dogs, cat's eyes often show a bluish transparent "haze" in the pupil area.

This is a normal effect of aging, and the medical term for this is lenticular sclerosis. Vision does not appear to be affected. This is NOT the same as cataracts. Cataracts are white and opaque. Vision can be affected by cataracts, and your vet needs to be consulted (see "when is it time to see the vet?" below).

Thinning of the Iris: 

Also known as iris atrophy, some cats eyes, particularly those lighter in color, may appear to be "moth-eaten" as they age. This does not appear to affect vision, but some cats may become more light sensitive. Increased pigmentation in the iris may indicate a risk for malignant iris melanoma and should be checked by your vet.

Muscle Atrophy

Mild loss of muscle mass, especially the hind legs, may be seen with old age. If your cat is having trouble walking, see your veterinarian. Some cats with Diabetes Mellitus can have nerve problems and become "dropped in the hocks" and have trouble walking, see your vet if your cat is having trouble standing or walking.

Related: When it is time to see the vet with your senior cat? Senior dog?