Is your cat getting on in years? Check out six ways to help her stay happy, healthy and comfortable as she ages.
Just like us, cats can find life more difficult as they age. They might not be as agile as they used to be, and their digestion may not be as good. Health problems can arise, and they often spend more time sleeping and less time exercising. If your own cat is up there in years, there are things you can do to improve his well-being, quality of life, and even his longevity.
1. MAKE SURE YOUR CAT IS EATING HEALTHY
A nutritious whole-foods diet is vital at any age, but is especially important for seniors. A cat’s digestive system may become less efficient as she gets older, so a diet made from easily-digestible, bioavailable nutrients is crucial. Avoid highly-processed foods, especially low-end dry kibble, and opt for diets made from natural ingredients. Premium canned, raw or freeze-dried foods are all good, but work with a holistic or integrative veterinarian for guidance on choosing the right one for your senior cat. Not all older felines may do well on raw food, for example. Also, suddenly switching foods can cause digestive upsets, especially in older animals.
Keep in mind: Elderly cats are at greater risk for urinary tract issues, often caused by dehydration, so ensure your kitty is getting enough moisture. A wet food can help with this, but you can also help her hydrate more with a pet water fountain, since cats are often more attracted to running water. Whether you use a fountain or bowl, make sure it’s filled at all times with fresh, pure water.
2. ELEVATE FOOD AND WATER BOWLS
Many senior cats struggle with arthritis. This can lead to pain and stiffness, and makes daily activities more difficult. Using elevated food and water bowls is a great way to prevent your cat from having to crouch down to eat and drink. Not only it is more comfortable for him, but it also encourages him to eat and drink more, a consideration for cats that get pickier as they age.
Keep in mind: Situate bowls in a spot accessible to your cat. They should be away from litter boxes and sleeping areas, but somewhere he can get to them easily and comfortably — e.g. not in a cluttered spot or on another floor of the house.
3. PROVIDE EXERCISE AND ENTERTAINMENT
Senior cats can become lazy. This is normal to some extent, but unless your cat has a health problem that limits physical activity, it’s important to make sure she gets little bit of exercise and mental stimulation every day. This helps prevent weight gain and boredom, and keeps her mind active too, potentially staving off cognitive decline.
Keep in mind: Engage your cat in a short session of interactive play at least once a day — just keep an eye on her and stop when she gets tired. You can also buy a cat tree or condo for her to climb and play on. Make sure she has easy access to a window, and have plenty of toys scattered around.
4. MAKE LITTER BOXES ACCESSIBLE
You probably keep your cat’s litter box out of sight, but depending on where this is, it could become difficult for him to get to when he’s older. Some senior cats may not be able to reach the litter box in time if it’s tucked away in a remote corner, especially if they have mobility or incontinence issues. If your cat is getting on in years, ensure his litter box is in an accessible place, and make sure the sides aren’t too high for him to navigate comfortably.
Keep in mind: If possible, have two litter boxes per cat so they have plenty of options. Locate them near where your cats often hang out, in a spot that also offers a bit of privacy. Even if you only have one cat, a litter box on each floor is a good idea when he reaches his senior years.
5. GIVE YOUR CAT REGULAR VETERINARY CHECK-UPS
Cats aren’t very good at letting us know when they don’t feel well, so we often don’t realize there’s a health problem until it’s more advanced. This is especially the case with senior cats, who can develop a variety of health issues without showing clear symptoms. It’s important to have your cat checked by a veterinarian at least once a year, so they can discover any underlying health concerns before they become serious.
Keep in mind: Dehydration, fatigue, and pain are among the symptoms your older cat may experience, but they may not be obvious to you. Your veterinarian can check for these and others, and figure out what’s causing them.
6. SPEND QUALITY TIME WITH YOUR CAT
One of the best things you can do for your senior cat is spend more time with her. Cats need love, physical contact, and affection, and these become even more comforting as they get older. Attention and quality time can increase your cat’s happiness and contentment and strengthen the bond between you.
Keep in mind: Give your kitty plenty of attention throughout the day — if you have a busy schedule, carve out a few short, regular blocks of time to devote to her. Whether you’re stroking or talking to her, or letting her take a nap by your side, this quiet time together will benefit both of you.