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You've spent so many wonderful years with your cat. Now that they're getting older, learning about proper senior cat care has become important. You want to make sure you're taking all the steps necessary to make sure your pet stays comfortable and healthy.
So what do senior cats need as they age? Unless your pet has special needs to address, such as managing feline leukemia virus or a kidney problem, all an aging cat needs are regular health checkups, a good meal plan and regular exercise.
But it's also important to learn about the health concerns cats may face as they age. Be on the lookout for weight loss or gain, deterioration of the teeth or gums, or any mobility changes. Older cats may experience problems like arthritis, decreased vision and hearing issues, in addition to diabetes, cancer and thyroid problems. Knowing what may occur in your cat's future can help you determine how to care for your pet as they age.
Here are some of the best ways you can take care of an older kitty.
1. Schedule Frequent Veterinarian Visits
Visiting the vet annually is important for all pets, but aging pets may need to check in on a more frequent basis, especially if they're on any medication or have special needs. The Cornell Feline Health Center recommends two exams a year, including one with full blood work and X-rays.
2. Monitor Their Dental Health
You know how important dental hygiene is for your own health — make sure to pay attention to your cat's teeth, too! Unfortunately, tartar and dental disease are common in older cats. These problems can keep your pet from eating comfortably. Proper nutrition and daily tooth brushing or a prescription dental food can help to maintain your cat's dental hygiene as they age.
3. Watch What They Eat and Drink
As your cat ages, it becomes even more important that they drink enough water and maintain a healthy weight. Senior cats have special nutritional needs, and some may lose weight unexpectedly. Your vet can help you determine whether to transition their food or feeding schedule. For example, your vet may recommend several smaller meals of wet food throughout the day instead of free-feeding dry food.
It's also important to make sure your cat has access to fresh water at all times as older cats are more susceptible to constipation or kidney problems. Consider keeping multiple water bowls throughout the home on the floor level so your aging friend doesn't need to jump up and down to get a drink.
4. Provide Exercise and Mental Stimulation
It might seem that as your cat ages, they tire more easily and are less playful than their kitten days. Just don't let their "maturity" convince you that they don't need to work out their bodies and brains. They still need exercise and stimulation! Keep in mind that you may need to make adjustments if your cat's mobility is limited. Treat toys can help with mental stimulation, and carpet cat ramps provide easier access to exercise for senior cats.
5. Watch for Symptoms of Pain or Discomfort
Paying attention to your cat's comfort level is important in their senior years. One common issue that senior cats experience is osteoarthritis. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, cats may be less likely than dogs to show any signs of stiff joints "due to their small size and natural agility," which is why osteoarthritis symptoms often go overlooked. Keep an eye out for decreased movement, difficulty with stairs or jumping, or lameness in the legs. Maintaining a healthy weight is critical for senior cat care as the smallest increase in weight can agitate already sore joints.
Senior cats require love, attention and some increased care as they age. So long as they're eating a healthy meal plan, getting exercise and stimulation, and regularly attending all vet appointments, you'll know you're doing your best to keep them healthy and safe.
Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and has written hundreds of articles about the health and behavior of dogs and cats. She believes there will always be more to learn about our furry friends.