10 years, or about 60 years in human years, is the age at which a cat is considered old. However, when well cared for, a domestic cat can live to be 18 years old. This means that you still have many beautiful years to live with your cat!
As cats grow older, they change. Their behaviour changes, as do their needs. It is therefore important to adapt to these changes, to ensure their well-being, as well as yours. If your cat is over 10 years old and you're wondering how to help your feline in this phase of his life, here's everything you need to know about caring for an old cat!
At what age is a cat considered senior?
A feline is considered a senior cat at the age of 10-11. However, the life expectancy of a cat is on average 15 to 18 years depending on the breed, lifestyle, health, nutrition, etc. Here the vet's classification for your cat's age is:
- Seven to 10 years old: your cat is a mature adult
- 11 to 14 years old: your cat is considered a senior cat
- From 15 years of age: your cat is considered geriatric
A cat is considered "old" after 10 years. Although this mainly affects the cat's physique and reflexes, not to mention its flexibility, there are also behavioural changes. These should not be alarming if they do not occur overnight and are not too obvious. If your cat changes radically overnight, a visit to your vet is a must.
How old is your senior cat in human years?
Calculating the cat's age in human years: all owners do it and know that it is more fun than useful! But who cares, it is always fun to know how old your cat is (adult or not) in human years! So apparently cats have 9 lives… But first, let's start by finding out how old they would be if they were human.
The average domestic cat lives between 10 and 16 years. So while the first signs of old age may appear at around 10 years of age, your cat has certainly not said its last word! Since a cat's lifespan is closely related to its breed, sex, diet and quality of life, the ratio of cat ages to human ages is purely indicative and refers to the domestic cat living in a family. Find out your cat’s age with our cat age calculator.
What are the signs of a cat getting old?
As with humans, the ageing process is an individual experience and each cat will show signs of ageing at different times. However, your cat's body will usually start to show the first signs of ageing at a cellular level at seven years of age; but you won't be able to see any outward symptoms until your cat is about 12 years old. By this time, your feline’s body cells have slowed down and his body functions are less efficient, including her heart and immune system.
The signs of old age are progressive in cats: the senses (sight, hearing, smell) become weaker. A cat may be noticed to be going deaf when it no longer reacts to sound stimuli that previously made it react. For example, you can try calling his name or snapping your fingers behind his head. A deaf cat risks a lot if it is allowed to go outside, as it is unable to realise the danger.
Appetite can become a problem for older cats. The sense of smell is fundamental in encouraging a cat to taste a food, and if this sense is impaired then nothing seems appetising. Since heat makes the smell more intense, a slightly warm dish can be given to stimulate the cat's appetite.
An old cat loses muscle mass and looks more bony. But it can also become obese, even if it eats the same as before, because it is less active. First of all, make sure that a medical problem is not the cause of this change. A senior cat prefers to sleep rather than climb the curtains or do acrobatics on the furniture. It's important to continue to stimulate your cat through play, encouraging it to follow you around your home to maintain its interest and to keep it active.
The cat’s coat may become drier and the skin less elastic. The cat is no longer as careful in grooming itself, as it is no longer as agile in its movements. It is therefore recommended to consult your vet and to help your cat to stay clean by brushing him more frequently.
Your senior cat will have a change in its behaviour. Just like some humans, cats often become more assertive as they get older. It's important to be tolerant, although of course you shouldn't accept everything! If your cat starts to exhibit problematic behaviour that you can't explain, don't hesitate to consult a veterinarian or animal behaviourist to find solutions tailored to your pet's situation!
Let's get back to the behavioural problems of an elderly cat, even the geriatric one (over 15 years old). Generally speaking, cats have character traits that become more pronounced: a grumpy cat will be more and more grumpy, a fearful cat will no longer want to be approached, a cuddly cat will be less so, etc. Why is that so? Simply because, like us humans, with age cats become less tolerant. They’ll also feel more pain and very often a simple stroke can become a real ordeal for them. It is of course advisable not to force an older cat to be petted.
Common diseases for elderly cats
Just like us humans, a cat’s health becomes more fragile over the years. The risks of respiratory, renal or digestive diseases increase. It is therefore strongly recommended to take your little friend to the vet more often. Regular check-ups will help to detect any problems early on and treat them in time.
It is advisable to consult a vet at least twice a year. The vet will carry out blood tests to check the cat's kidney, liver and pancreatic functions. If necessary, he can also prescribe probiotics to your cat to restore the balance of his digestive tract.
Here are other signs you should look out for:
- The cat’s heart: signs such as persistent coughing, shortness of breath, tiredness, intolerance to effort, can warn you of a malfunction of the heart pump.
- The cat’s appetite: a loss of appetite, or on the contrary, a significant increase in appetite are warning signs that should lead you to consult your veterinarian, as they indicate various pathologies that should be explored.
- The amount of drinking: many metabolic disorders associated with old age are accompanied by a sharp increase in drink intake: diabetes, renal or liver failure. If you have any doubts, monitor carefully so that you can quantify and inform your vet, who will carry out the necessary tests.
- The cat’s weight: monitoring your pet's weight is important, but even more so with a senior cat; rapid weight loss may indicate an underlying disease; an increase in weight may have repercussions on the heart and joints.
- The cat’s joints: Even though cats are rather flexible animals, their joints do age from a certain age. Even without apparent pain, the animal can suffer from arthritis and be hampered in its daily life (grooming, eating, etc.)
- The cat’s teeth: the bacteria present in the mouth (tartar) and responsible for bad breath, loosening of the teeth and infections, can pass into the bloodstream and cause serious kidney or heart problems. Hence the importance of oral hygiene for elderly cats.
- The cat’s eyes/ears: visual and hearing acuity decreases significantly with age, and you should learn to take this into account.
- The cat’s coat: a dull, prickly, unkempt coat with dandruff should alert you: your pet may no longer be able to maintain it properly by grooming, or may be suffering from a general illness that affects the appearance of the coat.
All of the above problems can be assessed, monitored and managed by your vet.
How to care for your senior cat?
As cats age, they become less active and spend more time sleeping. However, ensuring that your cat has regular physical and mental activity, such as playing, is essential to keep him fit. Increased health monitoring is also necessary, as well as more frequent grooming and brushing, as older cats may not be as good at grooming themselves. Here are more of our tips for caring for your older cat.
Provide the right diet for your senior cat
Older cats have different nutritional requirements than younger cats. Their immune defences weaken, free radicals increase and the first signs of kidney failure often begin to appear. Diabetes, as well as the risk of kidney failure, should be taken very seriously as the cat ages. Older cats are also more likely to gain weight because they are less active. That's why it's important to adapt the diet, to make sure it's well-balanced and, above all, to avoid excess.
There are specially prepared foods to meet an elderly cat’s needs. Adapted to senior cats, they have a lower protein content and are enriched with fibre to promote intestinal transit. For all these reasons, the diet of the older cat must be modified. Senior cat food has the following characteristics:
- It is appetising, as appetite decreases
- The consistency is suitable for effortless chewing
- It is easily digestible, as the ability to assimilate is reduced
- It is supplemented with essential fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6) and antioxidant vitamins that help fight free radicals. It is essential to maintain a good percentage of protein, but not too much, and to reduce the intake of phosphorus (around 0.6%) in order to preserve renal function.
Keep your senior cat active
It is normal for an aging cat to be less active. Her joints are more fragile and her senses are diminished and it's easy to be tempted to leave your cat alone, to let her doze off all day long, because she's old. But this is not doing your cat any favours. It’s important to keep your cat active.
To take good care of your older cat, stimulate her by playing with her. Not only will this help your pet to exercise, but you'll also have a great time with your four-legged friend! Your cat may not be as active as she was when she was young, but she can still play with you and be stimulated. It is therefore important to keep your feline busy and her reflexes and senses alert by offering her play sessions adapted to her age and abilities.
Make sure you go to the vet for regular check ups
Visits to the vet should be more frequent and should be combined with blood tests to assess kidney, liver and pancreatic function.
The slightest symptom should not be neglected, as from a certain age it may be a sign of advanced pathologies.
Keep being consistent
If the living room table has been forbidden for 12 years, it doesn't become a conquered territory because it's hard to run after a ball! So make sure the rules you’ve set up when you first welcome your kitty stay the same. Your cat will need constancy in order to not feel disoriented.
Make your house even more comfier
Elderly cats will definitely be looking for cosy and warm places to snooze all day, so make sure you prepare nice and comfortable areas in your house. Why not get a radiator hammock for winters? You could also place blankets and cushions around the house and near a source of heat or buy a cosy bed to place at the foot of your bed. Your kitty will be so pleased with all that.
Act normal, just like you would with your cat but just make sure to be more gentle, especially when you cuddle your feline as he will feel more pain and it could not be an enjoyable moment for him. But, don’t stop giving treats, on the contrary. And keep your pet active, even if it’s just a few minutes a day, your cat needs to keep moving.