Updated - Nov 15th, 2022
- Cats between the ages of 11-14 are considered senior cats.
- As your cat ages, you may notice small behavioral changes such as loud, random meowing and more frequent trips to the litter box.
- Senior cats’ immune systems are fragile, so bring your kitty to the vet more often to get ahead of any health issues.
Whether you adopted your cat as a kitten or an adult, watching them grow old can be a bittersweet experience.
You might notice they don’t jump or pounce as ferociously as they used to, their coat is looking a little dull, or they’re making more frequent trips to the litter box.
As you take note of these changes, you may begin to wonder, “When is my cat considered senior?” and “What exactly does this mean for their behavior, health, and care?” We sought out advice from a veterinarian and animal behaviorist to bring you these answers and more.
When is a cat considered a senior?
A cat is considered a senior when they reach the age of 11 and remain a senior until the age of 14. Once a cat reaches 15 years of age, they are considered geriatric. To fully understand these designations, it’s important to remember that the cat aging process is very different from the human aging process. Cats age very fast in their first two years of life.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), a cat’s first year of life is equivalent to 15 human years. A cat’s second year of life is equivalent to an additional 9 human years, bringing the cat to the human age of 24. After these first two years, the cat aging process slows down. Each additional year after the first two is equal to approximately 4 human years. So, by the time a cat reaches 11 years of life, the cat is considered to be about 60 in human years, and therefore, a senior citizen.
If you’re a visual learner, check out this handy cat aging chart.
What are signs of aging in cats?
Just like humans, you may notice changes in your cat’s behavior and health as they age. Here are some common ones to look out for:
Weight loss or gain
It’s normal for a cat’s weight to change in older age. Some cats experience a decrease in appetite, which may lead to weight loss, whereas other cats may experience decreased mobility, which can lead to weight gain. While minor weight changes are usually not a health risk, if you notice any major changes or strange eating habits, speak with your vet. Obesity can sometimes lead to high blood pressure or diabetes, which are conditions that should be carefully monitored.
Just as humans do, cats can develop gray hair as they age – so don’t be surprised if your cat’s fur changes colors in certain areas. It’s also possible that your cat’s fur may become stiffer or thinner with age.
Changes in litter box habits
Sometimes when a cat reaches senior status, they may experience digestive changes that can lead to more frequent bathroom trips. If you’re cleaning up bigger messes, this could be why!
Changes in mobility
As they age, cats tend to lose some of their previous mobility – it may be harder for your older cat to climb or jump, and they may become less active overall.
Perhaps the most telling sign of an aging cat is odd changes in their behavior. Many cats become more vocal with age so you may notice more frequent meowing. Some older cats experience increased anxiety levels and may appear agitated or wander around more often. Just as humans experience cognitive decline in older age, your cat may lose certain cognitive functions and appear confused or disoriented from time to time.
While these physical and behavioral changes are all completely normal for an aging cat, it never hurts to check in with your vet if you notice them. Your vet will help you recognize signs of aging and rule out other potential causes.
What are some common health problems in senior cats?
Older cats are at a higher risk for developing kidney disease. When functioning normally, your cat’s kidneys play a key role in regulating fluids and filtering waste. If their kidneys become damaged, waste may build up in the bloodstream. If you notice weight loss, poor coat quality, dehydration, or excessive drinking and urination, schedule a vet appointment.
Dental disease is extremely common. In fact, more than half of cats over the age of three have some form of dental disease. As your cat ages, be on the lookout for changes in appetite and eating habits, and don’t skip regular checkups! Your vet will perform an oral exam to identify any dental issues.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when your cat produces too much thyroid hormone, causing their metabolism to spike. The condition can cause weight loss, increased appetite, and hyperactivity. Hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed and treated by your vet.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition in which the cartilage cushioning your cat’s joints breaks down, which can be painful. Because of this persistent pain, osteoarthritis can make it difficult for your cat to walk, run, or jump.
How can I support my senior cat as they age?
As your cat ages, you may need to make small adjustments in your regular care routines. Here are a few helpful tips:
Come up with a nutrition plan
Work with your vet to determine a nutrition plan for your cat so they can feel nourished and energized even as they age. Some older cats experience an appetite decrease as they age. To combat this, try offering smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
“Ensure [your senior cats] are eating foods that support whatever conditions they might have due to age, and that said foods are easy to eat and digest,” says animal trainer and behavioral specialist Jaquelyne Kennedy. “You should also increase their access to water, as senior cats tend to suffer from dehydration.”
Lend them a paw with grooming
As your cat ages, they may need a little extra help with grooming. Brush your cat regularly with a soft brush, paying special attention to the areas that may be harder for your cat to reach, like their hindquarters and legs. You can also gently wipe away mucus from the eyes or nose with a warm, wet washcloth if you notice buildup. Elderly cats tend to have a harder time retracting their claws, so regular nail trimmin is a must.
Keep their mind and body stimulated
Because arthritis, obesity, and cognitive dysfunction are common in older cats, it’s important to keep your senior cat both physically and mentally stimulated. Continue to engage them in play with their favorite toy or cardboard box. Throw small toys or use a string o encourage your cat to hunt. If mobility becomes an issue, add steps or ramps up to their favorite lookouts for easy access or switch from tall scratching posts to horizontal ones.
International Cat Care recommends using a toy to encourage your cat to lie on their side, grab the toy with their front paws, and kick their back legs. Cats not only greatly enjoy this type of play, but older cats with stiff hind limbs can benefit from the kicking motion involved.
Visit your vet regularly
Annual checkups are recommended for cats of all ages, but they are especially important for senior cats. New health conditions may arise more regularly and rapidly than they did in their younger years, so keeping up with preventive care is a great way to detect and treat illnesses early. Plus, symptoms of illness can sometimes be confused with common signs of aging, so it’s best to have your vet perform regular exams on your cat to figure what’s cause for concern and what’s not.
Tip: Pumpkin’s Preventive Essentials is an optional non-insurance add-on package to your pet’s Pumpkin insurance plan that can help cover preventive care costs like annual exam fees, parasite screenings, and vaccinations.
“At a minimum, a yearly exam with your veterinarian is essential. Blood work should be performed at this visit to screen for early signs of liver, kidney, and thyroid disease,” says Dr. Jamie Whittenburg (DVM), a veterinarian at Cat World and director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital in Texas.
As you can see, parenting a cat throughout their senior years may take a little extra care, but it’s so worth it. So long as you keep up with routine care and adapt to their changing appetite, grooming habits, and quirky behaviors, your cat can live a happy, healthy life well into their golden years.
Remember, pet insurance can still benefit an older cat by helping pay for critical, sometimes life-saving care. Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans cover 90% of eligible vet visits, helping you provide your senior cat with the best possible care if new accidents and illnesses arise. Fetch a free quote today!