Cats can live to a ripe old age - over twenty in some cases - But did you know that your cat is considered 'mature' after the age of eight?
As they age, your cat will require a little more monitoring and attention in order to be on the look out for any warning signs of impending illnesses or developing conditions, and to best cater for their needs as they get older.
Here are some points to bear in mind and potential problems to look out for when caring for your older cat.
As cats age, they can sometimes become less active, and show less interest in hunting, playing and keeping mobile. This can lead to loss of the muscle tone which helps with jumping, running and climbing. Stiff joints can be both a cause and an effect of reduced activity levels, so you may want to consider giving a healthy joint supplement in consultation with your veterinary surgeon.
Elderly cats, like people, may sleep more frequently than they did when they were young, but not as deeply.
Feeding and condition
Cats, notoriously fussy eaters at the best of times, and often become even more finicky as they get older. Their sense of smell and taste deteriorates with age, and so foods and treats that they may have loved when younger often lose appeal. It's important to pay special attention to the feeding of your adult cat to make sure that they are adequately nutritionally supported, eating enough, and receiving the correct diet for their changing activity level.
Loss of condition of the coat either caused by difficulty in maintaining good nutrition in old age or as a general side effect of aging may mean that your cat is more susceptible to the cold and wet. Make sure that their bed and favourite sleeping spots are warm enough and in an area free from draughts. Also take care that they do not overheat in hot weather, as their changing body systems can make it hard for them to regulate their internal temperature naturally.
Cat's digestive systems and bowel functions slow down as they age, leading to a reduction in their ability to absorb the nutrients they need from their food. Your cat's weight should be monitored to make sure they are not losing condition, and be alert for signs of bowel discomfort such as constipation or diarrhoea, and straining when passing stools.
Reduction in kidney function can lead to your cat drinking more water and having problems urinating. Kidney problems are relatively common in older cats, so monitor their drinking habits in case of possible problems. Special diets and medications can help with the ongoing treatment of kidney problems, so speak to your vet if you are concerned.
Your cat's immune system will start to deteriorate as they approach old age, so they may become more susceptible to infection and illness and find them harder to shake off than they would have done when they were younger.
Problems with the teeth and gums also occur with greater regularity in aging cats, so you should be on the lookout for signs of dental disease and discomfort.
If your cat appears to have problems chewing, finds eating painful, or appears to drop a lot of the food which they pick up before consuming it, you may have a problem. Red, inflamed gums, bad breath, abscesses and teeth which appear grey (indicating that the root is dead) all require treatment.
It is recommended that you get your cat into a teeth cleaning routine regularly when they are young, using a cat- specific palatable enzymatic toothpaste and soft brush. This can be easier said than done though, and older cats which are not used to having their teeth cleaned are likely to protest heartily.
You may find it necessary to have your cat's teeth thoroughly checked and maintained by the vet under a general anaesthetic, with any dead or decayed teeth removed to prevent pain and infection.
Eyes and ears
Just like people, your cat's eyesight and hearing can deteriorate in old age. Your cat may appear less responsive if their hearing or eyesight is affected, and find it harder to adapt to changes in their environment. Try to avoid any big changes in the home unless absolutely necessary. Be alert for signs of cataracts and other vision problems that can develop in the elderly cat.
Regular health checks
It's more important than ever to stay up to date with your cat's booster vaccinations as they get older, as their immune system will become less effective at fighting off disease and illness. Your cat should receive a general health check with the vet on an annual basis throughout their life, usually at the same time as they receive their yearly boosters.
You may want to consider having your cat's weight and general condition monitored on a more regular basis as they age- a lot of veterinary practices will run regular nurse clinics for animals with specific needs such as older pets, in order to pre-empt their developing needs and give you an early indication of any problems.
It's always recommended to have your pet of any age insured, although this is even truer in the case of mature pets. You may find it harder to insure your pet after a certain age, or that the cost of your premiums will increase. Check the wording of your insurance policy carefully, to see if any conditions or treatments are excluded under your current plan.
Also, as levels of coverage and the time period over which your insurer will fund any treatments varies considerably with different insurers, you should also check if your cat is covered for any necessary treatments for the duration of their life. Some policies will only fund treatment up to a set amount of money or for a specific period of time.
Your vet can usually advise you on the best insurers and policies available for your pet during their twilight years, and will have plenty of first hand knowledge on dealing with pet insurers and their propensity to pay out or not with health problems when you need it most.