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Caring for an Elderly Cat

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This article was updated on June 3rd, 2021

After years of experiencing the world together with your cat, you develop a special bond that just cannot be put into words. Your senior cat becomes a constant in the highs and lows of life, providing you with unconditional love and support.

It’s natural to want to give your cat the best care possible, even as she grows older and loses the nimbleness and playfulness of her youth. A lot of factors go into taking care of an older cat. This article will help you take care of your old cat and make the most of your time together.

How do you know when your feline friend gets old?

Is your cat old? You can use our online calculator to convert cat years to human years and find out how old is your cat in human years. Most veterinarians consider 10-12-year old cats to be “older cats”, but age isn’t the only factor that determines if your cat needs special care as a senior cat. The following are the signs of old age in cats:

  • Your cat is less active and playful than usual
  • Your cat sleeps more
  • Your cat lacks appetite
  • Your cat isn’t as flexible as it used to be
  • Your cat isn’t grooming itself properly
  • Your cat’s immune system has weakened
  • Your cat doesn’t react to loud noises or calls
  • Your cat’s senses have become less acute

Tips to take care of old cats

As cats grow old, they need special care and lifestyle changes to ensure their good health and well-being. Aging cats are prone to several age-related health conditions. Below are some tips to better care for your elderly cat.

1.    Schedule regular check-ups

Cats are experts at hiding illnesses, and 6 months in cat years can mean 2 years for a human. Take your cat to the vet frequently (even when it appears healthy) to increase the chances of early detection of disease.

2.    Closely monitor your cat’s weight

Both obesity and weight loss spell trouble for elderly cats. Weight loss in older cats is associated with hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, and dental problems but being overweight also puts them at risk.

WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]

3.    Pay attention to behavioral changes

Even seemingly minor changes in your senior cat’s behavior can be a sign that something is wrong. Pay special attention to your cat’s bowel movements, urine output, sleeping habits, activity level, mood, and food intake. Let your vet know if you notice anything unusual.

4.    Give your cat physical and mental exercise

Proper exercise is also part of caring for an elderly cat. Old cats are not as physically active as young cats, but they still need physical and mental stimulation. Gently and regularly coerce your cat into play and pay close attention to its grooming.

5.    Monitor your cat’s food intake and appetite

Closely monitor your cat’s nutritional intake and appetite. Lack of appetite is linked to several medical conditions, so you must know immediately if your cat starts eating less.

6.    Adapt to your cat’s needs

A lot of older cats progressively lose their hearing and sight as they age. Pay special attention to their needs and adapt accordingly by leaving nightlights on to help with navigation, calling their names before picking them up, and approaching from the front whenever possible, so they don’t startle.

7.    Easy access

Old cats often have reduced mobility and energy levels. Help them by keeping the litter box, water fountain, and food bowl on the same floor within easy reach. Make all their favorite spots easily reachable and minimize the need to use stairs whenever possible.

8.    Extra care

As cats become old, they seek out warm places to rest and require extra care to be comfortable. Add soft beds to warm areas of the house where your cat is unlikely to be disturbed to make it feel at home.

What are some of the most common issues with older cats?

Older cats have their own set of health problems. The most common old cat problems are:

  • Weight loss. Loss of weight in older cats can indicate digestive issues like low fat and protein digestibility. If you see that your cat has lost weight, make sure that you haven’t made any recent changes to your cat’s diet and routine, and check for other signs of illness such as fever, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Increased urination or thirst. With aged cats, increased thirst and urination are possible signs of kidney disease, urinary problems, diabetes, and hypothyroidism. Other symptoms of these diseases include abnormal appetite, weight loss, nausea, restlessness, and vomiting. Make sure that your cat has easy access to clean water all the time. You can also read our article on “Why is my elderly cat urinating inside the house?” 
  • Urine and bowel incontinence. As cats become older, their muscles become weaker, resulting in urine and bowel incontinence in some cats. Increase the number of litter boxes with low sides and have a ready supply of easily laundered cat beds, blankets, and pee pads, when taking care of an incontinent cat.
  • Constipation. Constipation is a common, under-recognized sign of dehydration in older cats. Too little or too much fiber and a sedentary lifestyle can also cause constipation. Feed your cat more wet food to keep her well-hydrated and encourage playtime.
  • Arthritis. Like humans, elderly cats are also susceptible to arthritis. Increased stiffness, reduced mobility, limping, and difficulty getting up are all signs of arthritis in cats. To help, make sure your cat’s bed is easy to get in and out of.
  • Feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD). More than 55% of senior cats suffer from FCD, which results in memory loss, decreased learning ability, disorientation, anxiousness, irritability, geriatric cat howling, and other unusual behaviors. Be patient and establish consistent daily routines to help a cat with FCD.
  • Cancer. Cats are also vulnerable to cancers and tumors. Regularly check for lumps and bumps all over your cat’s body, along with frequent vet visits for early detection and diagnosis.
  • Deafness. Cats progressively lose their hearing as they get older. These cats may stop responding to calls of their name and startle easily.  Use touch and vibration to communicate and a firm stomp on the floor to get their attention.
  • Dental disease. Old cat teeth problems include tartar build-up and inflamed gums. Such cats need regular dental health checks to keep their teeth and gums healthy. Help your cat by giving her dental treats and regularly brushing her teeth.

Should you give your old cat different food?

While there is no documentation to suggest that cats’ nutritional needs change as they grow, older cats still need a more tailored diet, just like indoor or sterilized cats need special nutrition.

Senior cat food is typically low in calories but moderately high in fiber to help combat constipation, diarrhea, diabetes, and obesity. Supplementation like joint support, probiotics, and antioxidants can also become a must for cats at this age due to malabsorption and gastrointestinal conditions.

What else can you do to care for your aging cat?

Don’t forget the basics, and don’t get a young kitten to rejuvenate your older cat. Stick to routines and have reasonable expectations of your cat’s energy level. Don’t dismiss changes in behavior and try to see things from their perspective.

Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.

Learn more

Find out how old your cat is in human years.

Why is my elderly cat urinating inside the house?


  • Dr. Winnie, Veterinarian

    Dr. Winnie earned a Master in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria's Veterinary School. She is a full-time Veterinarian specializing in internal medicine for companion animals.