Did you know that domesticated cats have an average lifespan of about 15 years? Compared to us humans, cats age differently. Most start experiencing age-related physical changes between 11 and 14 years of age, which creates a unique set of health needs that is completely different from when they were young and spritely.
Alas, these signs of ageing are subtle and difficult to detect, so in order to provide the appropriate care that our ageing cat needs, cat parents need to be better informed about the ageing process in felines.
Ageing is a gradual, irreversible, and inevitable process of the natural decline of a body’s organ functions. As a cat advances in years, its body’s ability to synchronise the functions of its organ system diminishes, and the age-related dysregulation of its metabolism results in the excessive production of free radicals (oxidative stress), which cause damage to the cells and the immune system.
All these result in a decline in physical condition, immune responses, organ function, and sensory and cognitive abilities, such as:
Knowing when exactly your pet is considered a senior is tricky because of several reasons. Firstly, no two cats will age at the same rate as several factors such as the cat’s genes, nutrition, and environment all influence this natural process of ageing.
This means that the first signs of ageing can appear at any age and in no specific order — some cats show physical signs of ageing as early as age 7, while others are friskier than kittens even at age 10!
Additionally, age-related changes progress very gradually and are oftentimes subtle early on. This makes it hard for cat owners to detect signs of changes in their pet, and it doesn’t help that cats are hard-wired to hide signs that reveal vulnerability. A survival instinct passed down from their ancestors, our felines will instead find a quiet and dark place to hide to conserve energy and avoid pain.
Observe your cat closely and keep a keen eye out for the above mentioned changes and these other telltale signs to know if your pet is approaching the senior life stage:
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Growing old is not a disease, but it is associated with age-related diseases. Healthy ageing should simply result in physical, mental, behavioural, and functional changes that are mild, progress slowly, and have minimal impact on your cat’s ability to carry out its daily activities.
On the other hand, age-related diseases can cause suffering and pain to your cat, and a cat’s senior years is the life stage when these chronic diseases (often more than just one) begin to develop, or have already advanced to a point where they significantly impact your cat’s health!
Some of the most common age-related diseases in cats are chronic renal disease (CKD), hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, and feline cognitive dysfunction. Undiagnosed chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism all eventualy lead to death, while osteoarthritis is a painful and crippling disease. As for cognitive dysfunction (dementia), it doesn’t cause death, but it will progressively reduce your cat’s quality of life to the point where some cat owners consider euthanasia.
That said, while these diseases are progressive and irreversible, they are treatable! Being aware of the differences between healthy ageing and age-related diseases will help to increase the chances of early detection of said illnesses, which can potentially save your kitty from months or years of unnecessary suffering. Do not mistakenly assume that every physical and behavioural change that you see in your cat is due to ageing!
Never assume that there’s nothing you can do when your cat is simply “getting old”. If you notice your feline behaving differently, there are measures that you can take to give your furry friend a happy and comfortable life in its golden years!
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Many cat owners mistake age-related diseases as the natural effect of ageing. To differentiate between the two, here are some signs of a disease, not natural ageing:
It is also best to develop a good understanding of your cat’s usual behaviour and daily habits so that you can detect even the slightest of changes before it’s too late! If you suspect that your pet is suffering from any of the symptoms above, we recommend bringing your cat to the vet for a thorough health examination and diagnostic tests.
A senior cat has unique health needs that it didn’t use to require when it was much younger. Since it cannot verbally tell you what they are, it is best to consult your vet and work with him/her to implement measures that can improve the quality and comfort of your pet’s life.
These include dietary measures such as:
You should also be recommended to provide environmental support such as:
In addition, it is important to:
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Preventive measures include vaccinations, protection against external and internal parasites (heartworms, fleas, and intestinal parasites), sterilisation, and regular health check-ups. Do not skip out on these as they are necessary to ensure healthy and happy years for your elderly cat!
Regular vaccinations will protect your pet from the risk of death or permanent organ damage, and sterilisation can help to prevent uterine infections known as pyometra, reduce the risk of testicular cancers, and more. For a more in-depth explanation on the health benefits of vaccinations and sterilisation, read our other article here.
Make it a point to schedule regular health checks as well! Typically, senior cats should go for a health examination every 6 months because chronic diseases can suddenly escalate. In doing so, you increase the chances of detecting illnesses early, which then opens up more treatment and management options to slow down the progression of the disease and allow your cat to enjoy more years of quality living.
Have your vet and the clinic’s veterinary nurses your go-to source for all matters concerning your cat’s health! Vets have the knowledge and training to provide science-based medical information that will keep your pet healthy, so if you ever need up-to-date care advice and medical recommendations, turn to your trusted vet and nurses.
Certified ISFM Cat Friendly Clinics such as The Cat Clinic, in particular, require their staff to be up-to-date in their knowledge of all aspects of feline health and disease, and they also ensure a less stressful experience for your elderly feline. They will be more than happy to work with you in keeping your cat in good health!
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Our cats have given their life to us entirely, enriching our world with their love and companionship. To thank them and reciprocate their affections, incorporate these measures into your pet care routine to help your feline friend live out the rest of its years happily and healthily!
Remember, every cat ages differently, so if you’re ever confused about whether your cat is simply ageing or suffering from something more, do not hesitate to give your vet a call.
This article was written in consultation with Dr Lennie from The Animal Clinic.