Caring for your older cat

Caring for Your Older Cat

Older pussy cats require different care than cats 7 years-old or younger.  This is not to say, by any means, that they have one foot in the grave, for cats these days, if well cared for, can reach the age of 30 years-old and more, still hale and hearty and enjoying life.  But once cats reach the age of 8-10 years old, their bodily systems, temperment and disposition change and they require altered feeding, grooming and owner attention.

All of these changes happen gradually so neither pussy or pussy parent is faced with alarming disruptions in normal routines.  As your cat ages, you will notice him slowing down, sleeping more, and perhaps playing and bouncing/leaping around less.  But almost in compensation for these changes, you will observe he has become more companionable, homebound and just plain sociable.  He will appreciate your company more, maybe be more vocal in expressing his opinions about household events and enjoy such things as sunbathing and relaxing inside.

Feeding

Older cats’ digestive systems tend to be more sensitive to unusual foods and generally less efficient in metabolizing protein and other nutrients necessary for good health.  Instead of feeding your older cat two square meals a day, you should consider feeding him several times a day in smaller amounts.  Make sure the food is palatable and easy to chew.  You might try a special “older cat” formulation to ensure he’s getting everything he needs nutritionally in his diet, but most older cats do well on a regular cat food provided it’s moistened in an amount necessary for him to chew and digest it.  Your best bet is to watch carefully how your old buddy is eating.  Is he picky?  Is he having a hard time chewing?  Is he eating less?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might want to check with your vet to see if he/her has any suggestions.  However, if you decide to change his daily ration, do it gradually in small amounts over a week’s time.  Sudden changes in his diet can result in intestinal upsets and diarrhea.

If your cat likes dry cat food, all the better because the crunchy texture can  aid in tartar control for his teeth.  Most cats, though, prefer a bit of a mixture of canned and dry food.  Most common commercially available catfoods found in reputable stores contain all the nutrients your cat needs.  If he is doing well on his old feed, leave well enough alone.  Simply feed more frequently and in smaller amounts.  As long as your cat is eating well without any obvious digestive or dental problems, all is well.

Eating and Nutrition Problems

If your older cat seems to be less interested in his food, is having difficulty chewing and swallowing, or is losing or gaining weight, it’s time to consult with your veterinarian.  Also be on the look-out for other signs of inadequate nutrients making it to pussy’s system, such as a thin, dull coat, excessive shedding or dandruff, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, yellow teeth and bad breath.  These all are indications that something is amiss. The problem could be dental, intestinal or something more serious.  It’s always best to head off early a small problem before it becomes a big one!

You may notice your older cat having difficulty moving his bowels.  Older intestines often need a little more bulk and moisture than younger ones, and you can try soft well-moistened oatmeal, mashed potatos, or well cooked rice to give him a little bulk and get things moving again.

Grooming

The older your cat becomes the less supple and energetic he will be.  While he still has a desire to be well groomed, he may need your help in staying tidy and clean.  Areas of his body that used to be easy for him to clean regularly may now be difficult for him to reach.  His thighs, flanks and posterior in particular may become impossible for him to reach to perform his natural healthy cat hygeine routine. Be on guard for signs of matted hair, debris and even dried feces attached to these areas.  If these disturb you when you find them, be assured the presence of them disturb him even more!  Use a soft brush or warm damp wash cloth and a gentle, mild mixture of warm soap suds, as needed, with gentle strokes, to remove material that is lodged in these areas.  A soft swipe over the face and ears, with care not to get soap in his eyes, is also helpful.

Old pussy will appreciate the attention you are giving him and be delighted you have helped him clean himself up!  He will feel refreshed and ready to go after his compassionately delivered sponge bath. You may find that you need to make this a regular routine (perform as needed and his condition warrants).  After you’ve ministered to him a few times in this way, he will come to look forward to the next time you appear with a wash cloth and brush and show his appreciation for your efforts vocally and with “full body” rubs against your arms and legs.

Older cats with long hair are in extra danger of developing mats and developing furballs unless you brush and groom them regularly.  Also regular grooming keeps you apprised of the presence of fleas and ticks on the cat and alerts you to the need for flea powder or other flea and tick control.

If your senior kitty becomes very dirty, he may need a bath.  Do this in a warm room with warm water, using a good cat shampoo, and make sure you rise and dry him thoroughly afterward.  A handheld hairdryer is good for this, but make sure the setting does not get too hot for him and burn his skin.  When bathing a cat, it is often necessary to be firm, but always be kind and respectful, and you cat will understand and not resent the event.

Special attention may be required for your older cat’s teeth and claws.  Good dental care is important in protecting him from kidney ailmments and other diseases and, because he’s not using his paws as often the older he gets, his claws may need more frequent trimming.  This is important not only to protect your furniture and other belongings, but also for his comfort.  Long claws are uncomfortable for him to walk on and can snag and tear, causing him painful injuries that could become infected.

Health Considerations

An older cat’s senses and reflexes can become dulled and less acute.  His vision and hearing may deteriorate somewhat and because of this you need to keep an eye on his response to stimuli in the house and out of doors.  If he is bumping into things, it’s a sign that he may not be seeing as well as he once did. If he seems unresponsive to loud noises and sounds which he used to react to quite predictably, his hearing may be impaired.  Take care that he always knows where the litter box is and do not make any abrupt, radical changes in the placement of his food and water bowls or litter box.  He could become confused or disoriented if he doesn’t find them in their customary places in the house.  If his vision and hearing seem compromised, take special care that you always supervise his outdoor excursions.  Without your help he could injure himself or fall prey to predators he once was able to easily evade.

Older cats’ immune systems are also subject to decline and this means it is more important than ever that he stay up-to-date on his vaccinations. Cat Flu and Feline Infectious Enteritis (Distemper) vaccinations are particularly critical so establish a regular schedule with your vet to keep your cat fully protected from these diseases.

Though your older cat is no doubt sleeping more and is generally more sedentary, he still needs regular exercise.  He probably disdains most rambunctious play, but taking him outside for walks and a little diversion every day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes at a time, can help keep him limber and refreshed.  A little outdoors activity is also good for his mood and sensory stimulation, and will make him a more alert and interesting companion.

Saying Good-Bye

A time will inevitably come when it is clear to you that, despite all your efforts, your older cat is no longer enjoying life.  He will have stopped eating and lack interest in his surroundings.  If he is in pain, he will be complaining and perhaps become very irritable.  Usually at this point the loving owner has exhausted all home remedies and veterinary treatments and has reached the stage of sad frustration that is the beginning of coming to terms with the fact that it is time to say good-bye.  This is always an agonizing decision, for we all love our pets dearly, and the longer they are with us, the more attached we are to them and a part of our lives they have become.

But no matter how wrenching, we must be kind even unto the end.  It is important to realize that, unlike people, cats live in the present moment and if that moment is painful or extremely uncomfortable, the kindest thing we can do is release them from the irremediable condition they are in.  Veterinary euthanasia is gentle and swift.  You cat simply goes into a pleasant slumber.  Be assured that when the time comes, you have done the right and kindest thing you can do.  Memories last and your cat never is far from you even though he is not physically present.  You have given him the best life you could manage and, ultimately, that is all we can give any pet, the best of ourselves and our resources.  You will grieve, which is natural, for a time, but eventually happy memories and a quiet peace will replace the pain of losing your old pussy. Then you are free to move on to considering taking in another cat who would relish the love and attention you can lavish on him, for there is no shortage of needy pussy cats in the world!