Written By Dr Lisa Reynolds
Cats are living much longer now than was the case 20 years ago, thanks to better nutrition, veterinary and home care. One conversation I frequently have with owners of elderly cats (aged 14-15 years +) is around changing behaviours, not all of which are positive.
Elderly cats are much less agile than their younger counterparts, and may find it difficult to get in and out of litter trays or to hold a correct posture while toileting and can also be very prone to gut upsets and constipation.
They also become more sensitive to their toilet location, particularly if in a damp/cold area.
Night time restlessness/vocalisation
This is very common and contrary to popular belief it’s not always related to ‘dementia’-type changes in the brain.
There are many disease processes that can contribute to howling at night and insomnia in some elderly cats.
Activity changes – sleeping more & going outside less
This can be a tough one to decide ‘Is it normal for my elderly cat to be slowing down?’ or ‘Is my elderly cat unwell?’.
They will often be less inclined to go outside especially if other cats are coming into their yard as they are not able to defend their territory like they once could.
They will also be very sensitive to cold weather and may find it very unappealing to venture out in winter.
Appetite changes – becoming ‘picky’
Again, this can be a normal change or it can be a sign of underlying disease. Taste and smell can diminish in old age so sometimes we have to make more effort to make food ‘appealing’ for the elderly cat.
Things like gently warming wet food, raising the food bowl so they don’t have to crouch down so far, feeding small amounts more often and mashing up lumpy gravy-based foods can all help to improve food intake.
Aggression – 'grumpy old cat'
This is generally considered an abnormal aged-related change in behaviour and is most commonly associated with pain (mostly arthritic pain).
There is a lot to think about with elderly cats, and one of the most important aspects is a regular vet check-up.
I often suggest six-monthly checks for the elderly, particularly if they have diseases that need monitoring and managing.
Underlying disease is very common in elderly cats (a 16-year-old cat is 80 in human years!!) and most have more than one disease which can be tricky to manage.
Ultimately there are often small things we can do at home to improve the quality of life for your elderly feline friend.