Veterinary Checks and the Senior Cat

The old saying that a cat year is equal to seven human years isn’t quite true. Some experts say a year-old cat is akin to a 16-year-old kid. When your cat ticks off its second year, it’s like a 21-year-old young adult. After that, you can assume four “human years” for every year your cat ages.

With that progression, it doesn’t take long for your kitten to become a senior citizen. The American Association of Feline Practitioners says cats advance to mature age by the time they’re between 7 and 10. They’re considered “senior” cats from 11 to 14 years and “geriatric” beyond that.

As they age, cats are likely to experience many of the same issues their human companions experience as they get on in years, the only difference is that cats aren’t likely to complain about their aches and pains, their faltering appetite or their toilet troubles. In fact, felines tend to hide their physical problems. Cats are predators, but they are also prey. It’s their nature to conceal weakness.

Experts recommend semiannual visits to the veterinarian for senior cats to set a baseline and catch problems early, before they become harder (and more expensive) to address. Your veterinarian will perform a typical nose-to-tail physical inspection to check your cat’s fur, its muscle tone and the condition of its organs, eyes, ears and mouth.

Your cat’s vet may also want to conduct baseline screening tests that may need to be repeated on an annual basis. These screenings can include tests to measure your cat’s blood pressure, blood cell count, liver and kidney function and thyroid function. Such screenings can signal signs of disease such as kidney and liver disease, hyperthyroidism and urinary problems.

As your cat’s health advocate, it is your job to watch for warning signs and consult with your veterinarian about behavioral and physiological changes you see as your cat ages.

  • Diet changes.  Consult your veterinarian about any changes in your senior cat’s eating habits. Unwanted weight gain or loss at this stage in your cat’s life could indicate a health issue. Your veterinarian should be involved in any decision to make a change to a mature cat’s diet.
  • Mobility changes. Can your cat still easily reach his food and water dishes, his bedding and his litter box? Can he easily get in and out of it? It’s not uncommon for older cats to sleep more, but it’s also not a bad idea to try and engage them in periods of activity to promote muscle tone and mental stimulation. Watch, too, for your cat’s ability to groom himself. Matted fur can lead to skin odor and cat dander.
  • The eyes, ears and mouth. Older cats tend to experience more dental disorders, which can impair their eating and cause significant pain. As they age, cats can experience hearing and vision loss as well.
  • Other behavioral changes. Some older cats may cry in the night. They may relate differently, somehow, to the people they see regularly. Alert your veterinarian to such changes.
You may observe some issues that are simply par for the course as your cat ages, but unless you take your cat to the vet you won’t know if these changes signal something more serious. Be sure to use your veterinarian as a resource to monitor your cat’s physiological and nutritional needs. Be sure to ask your vet for recommended adjustments to your cat’s diet as your pet ages.

Explore the My Pet Reference digestive healthcare page if your cat has shown signs of upset stomach or has demonstrated unusual eating habits and learn more about Royal Canin’s cat food options.

Tips to Take Away

Follow your veterinarian’s advice on frequency of well-pet examinations.
Consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your aging cat’s diet.
Don’t be bashful about sharing any changes you observe in your cat with your veterinarian.

Why Your Cat Needs to See a Doctor Now—PetMD
Aging Cat Pet Care—American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Feeding Your Senior Cat—PetMD
Cat Life Stages-Senior (7+ years old)—VCA Animal Hospitals
What Your Should Know About Feline Senior Wellness—Animal Medical Center of Chicago
How to Care for Your Senior Cat—VCA Animal Hospitals