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Senior Kittyzen: six tips for caring for your elderly cat

As cats grow older, they need different things from their owners than they did when they were kittens. Here's what you can do to help your pet through its golden years.

How old can cats get?

Domestic cats can reach an average age of 15 years.
Domestic cats can reach an average age of 15 years.  © Unsplash/Andrea Caramello

On average, domestic cats live to the ripe old age of 15. There are of course cats that seem to live forever. The oldest cat in the world lived to be 39.

Depending on the physical health of a cat, age related behavior changes tend appear once they turn 10.

But this is just a rough rule of thumb because similar to humans, genetic factors, nutrition, exercise, and previous illnesses play an important role in the health of an aging cat.

Regardless of whether the cat runs around the house all day or just basks in the sun, if you have a feline friend that is already 12 or older, you are basically dealing with a furry senior citizen. 

Here are six tips to help you make the sure that your elderly cat is living its best life.

1. Let the cat relax

Exhausted after a quick romp? Older cats tend to get tired more easily.
Exhausted after a quick romp? Older cats tend to get tired more easily.  © Unsplash/Manja Vitolic

If your cat is already getting on in years, you should go easy on it and seriously respect its need for rest.

Young cats aren't usually bothered by loud noises and the normal hustle and bustle, but all that can quickly stress out an older cat.

Make sure your senior fuzzball always has a quiet place to withdraw, especially if there are  visitors or small children in the house.

And most importantly, even if your cat is taking longer and longer to get from A to B, or is not immediately there when you call it, you should be patient and considerate.

2. Find the right activity for your older cat

Even in old age there is still much to discover for cats in the garden.
Even in old age there is still much to discover for cats in the garden.  © Unsplash/Craig McLachlan

Running and jumping is not getting any easier, so do your elderly cat a favor and make sure that it can still comfortably get to its favorite places.

Give your cat some climbing aids. Improvise some stairs in front the windowsill or place a small stool next to its favorite armchair. Your pet will appreciate it, because older cats love looking out of the window or being able to see what's going on in the room.

If you have an outdoor cat, don't take away its freedom to roam around in its old age.

It probably still wants to explore territory or just bask in the sunlight. Of course, you should make sure that your furry friend always has a way to get back to the safe space inside. A cat flap gives cats easy access to their home sweet home.

Little games keep old felines going

If your cat is receptive, you can also keep it busy with little brainteasers or games. Play with it and use its favorite toys, let it rummage through old newspapers or send it on scavenger hunts by hiding treats around the scratching post.

Try finding out what else your cat likes to do.

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3. Don't get your older cat a kitten

Baby kittens are cute, but they can be a real pain to older cats.
Baby kittens are cute, but they can be a real pain to older cats.  © Unsplash/Roxanne Desgagnés

You might think that adding a kitten to the mix will keep your elderly cat young at heart. It's a nice idea, but usually younger kittens tend to stress them out.

Kittens are full of energy and have an unstoppable need to hunt and play.

Their raw unchecked instincts are exactly what end up annoying the older cats, who tend to sleep more and are more interested in cuddling than scampering around.

If you do bring a dynamic youngster into the family, make sure that both cats have their own spaces for privacy.

4. Feed your cat age appropriate food

Older cats do not taste and smell as good anymore.
Older cats do not taste and smell as good anymore.  © Unsplash/Laura Chouette

Aging takes its toll on a cat's senses, and they can even lose their ability to smell and taste.

And as their taste buds change, they may find their formerly favorite food is suddenly bland.  

It's also not uncommon for senior cats to be fussy and reluctant to touch their food. After all, why should it want to eat something that doesn't really taste like anything?

If your cat isn't interested in its food, you can try adding some warm, unsalted broth, which gives it a bit more flavor. 

Just like kittens, older cats need age-appropriate food.

They require high-quality proteins and vitamins that support the kidneys. Plenty of brands cater to cats seven years and older. By the age of ten, at the very latest, it's high time for a cat to get a special menu.

5. Accept that your older cat is needy

Senior cats don't just get more comfortable in old age, they often become more needy too.
Senior cats don't just get more comfortable in old age, they often become more needy too.  © Unsplash/Jacalyn Beales

The ravages of time don't just affect your cat's senses, they also make it more and more needy.

Cats can even become senile and suffer from forms of dementia. They can get confused and lose their bearings in your house or apartment. It might forget where the food or the litter box is.

Don't scold your cat if it makes a mess. Be patient and remember that no one wants to be a burden or cause trouble intentionally.

You should also be compassionate if your aging pet meows a lot or acts out for some reason. It could be in pain or simply want to make sure that you're around.

6. Give your senior cat consistency and routines

Changes can be quite distressing for older cats.
Changes can be quite distressing for older cats.  © Unsplash/Eric Han

Just like some people, older cats don't like change.

They love their daily routines and knowing where everything is at home.

Try to be sensitive to your cat's needs when you make changes. If, for instance, you are planning to completely redecorate your home, have children, or move, try to make sure cat still has its own familiar place to retreat to. 

In other words, make sure there is always a safe space that it is easily accessible, for example by installing a night light that can help when the cat's eyesight starts to fail.

Cover photo: Unsplash/Andrea Caramello

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