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Your Cat Is Growing Older—Care With Love!


Teri Silver is a journalist, commercial copywriter, editor, broadcast anchor, and Public Relations Specialist.

Kitty Connections!

When we adopt kittens and young adult cats, the “older” years seem so far off. But a cat’s life span depends on its health, genetic make-up, and living environment. Veterinarians say there is no specific scientific method to determine how long cats can live, but various factors do play a role in your feline’s life span. For example, indoor cats are exposed to fewer diseases, infections, and hazards than outdoor animals. Feral and stray cats with no medical care and poor nutrition typically live fewer years than the fat, happy ball of fur curled up on your living room sofa. (Or in her favorite basket).

Do Cats Age Faster Than Humans?

Opinions can vary on the actual age that cats are, as compared to human years. But, similar to dogs, cats do age faster than humans. Your one-month-old kitten is about equal to a six-month-old (human) baby. When that kitten reaches the “terrible twos,” he is actually as mature as a 24 or 25-year-old human being. According to CalculatorCat.com, there are a couple of conversion formulas to determine the age of your cat. In one of them, the basic assumption is that if a cat is 20.8 feline years old, he or she will be about 100 in people years.

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers this analysis:

  • 7 cat years equals 45 human years
  • 10 cat years = 58 human years
  • 15 cat years = 75 human years
  • 20 cat years = 98 human years

Calculations for dog-to-human years—while similar—are different than for cats. Dog-to-human years are often based on breed, size, and weight.

Guessing Your Cat’s Age

So, you’ve adopted a stray, abandoned or sheltered animal and you want to know the age of your new forever friend. That’s an easy question if the cat was born in a pet shelter or you know its history, but often, it’s a guessing game. If the feline’s true age is unknown, your veterinarian may be able to tell you how old the cat could be, based on these factors:

  • Coat: Older cats often have thick, rough fur with some balding spots and perhaps a touch of gray. Younger cats’ fur is usually soft and full.
  • Eyes: Healthy kittens and young cats have clear, bright eyes. Typically absent is goopy discharge and tearing—unless the animal has a respiratory infection. Lenses in young cats’ eyes show their irises to be smooth and compact, compared to the jagged-like irises in eyes of middle-aged or senior cats. Cats with cloudiness or cataracts in their eyes are likely to be more than 12 (human) years old (although younger cats can have cataracts, too).
  • Teeth: Older cats’ teeth could have staining, yellowing, tartar and plaque buildup, chips or cracks, or a missing tooth (or more). Kittens’ “baby teeth” come in as they are two to four weeks old; permanent teeth come along at four months or so. Clean, strong white teeth indicate your feline is around a year old.
  • Form and Muscle Tone: Older cats have somewhat bony skeletal structures with drooping skin. Muscles are not as defined and sculpted as they are with younger animals.

Definition

What is a “senior” cat? That question has various answers because some cats age faster than others, notes Purina PetCare. But in general, older cats may be categorized in these terms:

  • Mature or middle-aged (7 to 10 in human years for cats equals 44–56 human years old)
  • Senior (11–14 in human years for cats equals 60–72 human years old)
  • Geriatric (15 and older in human years for cats equals 76 and older in human years)

It’s not typical, but some cats have been known to live long into their 20s and even upwards of 30 (people) years! A loving home and good medical care helps cats live long lives, but some animals are prone to medical issues that could lead to deteriorating bodily functions.

Love them while you have them.

Feline Signs of Aging

As in humans, aging is a natural progression in cats. Proper nutrition and medical care can help reduce health risks for your feline companions as they advance in years. The aging process can affect or facilitate:

  • Poor blood circulation
  • Immune system; ability to ward off diseases and infections
  • Hearing loss
  • Changes in vision and the eyes that may include discoloring lenses and haziness. Similar to humans, cats’ eyes can develop cataracts
  • Dental diseases in the teeth and gums
  • Sense of smell
  • Decrease of appetite
  • Reduced ability to fill lungs with clean air
  • Hydration; older cats don’t absorb water as well as younger ones. Dehydration may lead to poor blood circulation and disease immunity as well as thinner skin cell development
  • Grooming ability; older cats may have more fur tangles, skin odors, and sores
  • Thick, brittle claws—especially in females
  • Personality changes such as avoiding social interaction, meowing for no apparent reason, wandering restlessly, disorientation
  • Kidney damage or failure
  • Arthritis and the decreasing ability to jump or climb
  • Various diseases that could be associated with old age, such as diabetes, inflamed bowels, cancer, hyperthyroidism, lymphocytic leukemia, etc.

What to Notice

Keep the answers to these questions in mind, as your kitty reaches his/her “senior” years:

  • Is your cat grooming more or less than usual?
  • What kinds of foods are he or she eating, how much, and how often?
  • Is the animal vomiting—if so, how often?
  • Is your kitty drinking a lot of water?
  • Is he/she interacting with you as usual?
  • Are there any changes in the litter box; loose stools, blood, etc.?
  • Are you noticing any mood changes?

Weight

Whether your aging animal is on the upside or the downside of his/her ideal weight, “fat” or “skinny” can play a part in overall health. Cats that weigh more than their ideal body-type can develop heart disease, breathing problems, urinary tract disease, arthritis, and diabetes. Your veterinarian may suggest a special diet to treat obesity.

On the flip side, cats in the senior and geriatric age groups sometimes lose weight gradually because they cannot digest protein and fat. Monitor your kitty for changes in behavior; the animal’s deteriorating sense of taste and smell may cause him or her to lose interest in eating. Watch long-haired cats, especially—it’s harder to see day-to-day changes in their body structure.

Master of Disguise

Six months in a cat’s life is tantamount to two years for a human being. Changes occur that we don’t necessarily see and when our feline friends are sick or in pain, they often do not show it. Twice-yearly “wellness” visits to a veterinarian (instead of once a year) may detect diseases or unusual behaviors before problems become difficult or impossible to manage. Your senior cat’s quality of life depends on how well you pay attention to his/her aging process.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends wellness examinations every six months. Exams often include evaluations of:

  • Joints, bones, and muscles
  • Mouth, teeth, and gums
  • Ears and eyes
  • Fur and skin
  • Heart and lungs
  • Weight and agility
  • Abdomen and kidney areas
  • Thyroid gland
  • Previous treatments for parasites or ongoing conditions

Examinations may include laboratory testing of blood, urine, and fecal samples.

Dental Care

In an ideal world, we “cat parents” have brushed our babies’ teeth since the day we brought them home. Special brushes and toothpastes (tuna flavored?) are available at your favorite pet store and veterinarian’s office. But in fairness, this is not an easy task to accomplish. Still, oral hygiene is important for felines (and dogs, too!). Damaged teeth and gums can lead to sore mouths, feline gingivitis, neck lesions, disease and infections which, notes the AAFP, can affect the entire body. Dental distress signs in cats include: Loss of appetite, sores in the mouth, drooling, broken teeth, bad breath and red, swollen or bleeding gums. Bad teeth can severely affect an older animal’s quality of life.

Common Diseases in Older Cats

Arthritis: Just like people do, aging cats can develop painful joints and “achy bones.” Unlike people, cats don’t usually let the world know about it. Ask your veterinarian for tips on how to make your older kitty more comfortable. Your vet may recommend vitamins or medication, but you can help by keeping your cat’s weight under control; providing ramps and steps to keep jumping (and landing) to a minimum; having litter boxes both upstairs and downstairs; placing food and water bowls on the floor (and not on counters) and adding pillows, towels and blankets to Kitty’s favorite sleeping places.

Signs of arthritis include:

  • Sleeping more and being less active
  • Crying when lifted
  • “Accidents” outside the litter box
  • Avoiding high or low jumps
  • Stiff walking, limping and difficulty climbing stairs
  • Declined interest in interaction with people or other animals
  • Unexpected aggressive behavior

Cancer: Despite the frightening “C” word, some feline cancers are treatable or, at least, manageable, says the AAFP. For example, longer survival times and remission can occur in lymphoma, a common feline cancer. Suspected areas must be biopsied to determine the exact cancer type and if it can be controlled. Common symptoms of various cancers in felines include sores that don’t heal, bleeding or discharge, lethargy, swelling, weight loss, difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite and a hard time urinating, defecating and/or breathing.

Chronic Kidney Disease: Kidney disease or stones may typically affect middle-aged cats, but older animals are also prone to kidney problems. Excessive thirst and drinking frequency, larger volumes of urine and changes in behavior can indicate a kidney problem. Other signs include nausea, weight loss, decreased appetite, constipation, and a ragged coat.

More Common Diseases

Diabetes: Overweight male cats between 10 and 15 (human) years old are apt to develop diabetes, although females are susceptible too. Symptoms include: Excessive thirst, weight loss, excessive hunger, and frequent urination. Blood and urine test results will help your veterinarian to decide the proper treatment plan.

Gastrointestinal Problems: Digestive disorders, especially in older cats, can bring the onset of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. IBD symptoms include weight loss, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and vomiting. IBD can usually be treated with special diets and medications.

Hypertension: Yup, kitties can have high blood pressure, too. Once diagnosed by a veterinarian, you can monitor Kitty’s blood pressure by using a special cuff that wraps around the leg or tail. It’s a painless procedure that can be easily tolerated, but taking your kitty’s blood pressure could also stress out an already-stressed cat. High blood pressure can lead to brain, kidney, heart, and eye damage.

Thyroid Disease: Hyperthyroidism may cause an overly-high metabolism in cats that are middle-aged or older, notes Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Heart damage could develop over time if the cat is not treated because thyroid hormones cause a faster heart rate and more work for the heart muscle. Blood tests determine whether a particular treatment plan is viable, such as medication, radioactive-iodine therapy, or surgery. Thyroid hormones affect most of the cat’s organs and could cause problems in other parts of the body. Signs of hyperthyroidism include excessive thirst, weight loss, change in appetite, enlarged thyroid, high blood pressure, vomiting and diarrhea, rapid heart rate or murmur, and changes of behavior.

General Health Care

Cats are known to live longer and healthier lives if their primary residence is indoors. Proper diet and exercise, as well as regular veterinary checkups and shots, help give our furry family members the best life possible. While an occasional table scrap won’t necessarily hurt your kitty, too much “people food” can add too many calories to what should be a well-balanced diet (avoid milk and cream that could bring on diarrhea). Consult your veterinarian for suggestions on the best dietary options for your older (and younger) cat(s).

  • Pet adoption: Want a dog or cat? Adopt a pet on Petfinder
    Search more than 350,000 adoptable pets from nearly 14,000 humane societies and pet adoption sources. Senior and geriatric cats are often overlooked, but they do need your love!

Disclaimer

This article is not intended to replace professional consultation or treatment. Discuss your animals’ specific needs with a licensed veterinarian.

Resources and Further Reading

  • American Veterinary Medical Association: Senior Pet Care FAQ
  • Hill’s Pet: Cat Myths
  • Cats articles | Webvet

Questions & Answers

Question: Can I give my cold tea to my cat?

Answer: I would never recommend that. We cat parents know that sometimes cats get their noses into our cups of water, tea, coffee, etc ... but it's then that we must shoo them away. With tea, the caffeine can make kitty ill. Too much of it can lead to hard breathing, restlessness, seizures or worse. Herbal tea is less effective this way, but it is not a good idea to let cats drink any of it. We humans love chocolate, tea, coffee, and other stimulants; don't let your pets consume these substances.

Question: I have an 18-year-old female cat. All her vet labs came back fine; she is always hungry and not gaining weight. Yes, she was checked for fecal issues also. What could be wrong with her?

Answer: I am sorry, but I cannot provide medical advice on specific cases; it is best left to the veterinarians and technicians who have personally evaluated your fur-baby. However, sometimes, as they age, cats' metabolisms change and their diets needs to be modified. If she is as active as she always has been (and her weight is stable), it may be a question of diet. If your veterinarian is not able to determine Kitty's current dietary needs, perhaps a visit to your local university's vet school (and research facility) may yield some further answers.

© 2013 Teri Silver

Teri Silver (author) from The Buckeye State on July 12, 2015:

Thank you for your input -- but I absolutely disagree with your statement that regular vet visits are unnecessary. One always has the option to say "no" to any test they can't afford to undertake for their pet. I cannot speak for these animal care professionals who you say are "in it for the money." However, it is ultimately up to the pet parent to decide whether or not they want to prolong the life of an animal. In my experience, I've had veterinarians say, yes, this will definitely help (and it does/has), and no, we can try this but we cannot be sure of the outcome. That's when you have to decide whether you are prolonging your furry friend's life or prolonging its death. Knowing all the particulars of the medical situation and what your options are is key to making the decision about quality and quantity -- for your pet or yourself.

Jack on July 11, 2015:

I disagree with regular vet visits, especially for indoor cats. Feed you cat well, play with him/her regularly, and change the water bowl at least once a day. These three things will keep your cat healthy and happy for many years.

Visits to the vet can be quite stressful on cats. Some people say regular visits decreases the stress, but I disagree. Too many vets are in it for the money. Performing unnecessary tests. Just like human doctors. They may have your best interests at heart, but medicine is NOT an exact science.

To stay well, pay attention to your precious kitty. Pay attention to your own body. Eat well. Exercise. Avoid stress. You know yourself and your kitty better than anyone else. You'll notice a problem if you're paying proper attention.

IMO, quality of life is FAR more important than quantity. And if you focus on a happy life, chances are you'll have a long one without even trying.

Teri Silver (author) from The Buckeye State on May 01, 2015:

Thank you!

Knightheart from MIssouri, USA on April 30, 2015:

As a cat lover and owner for decades, this was a excellent article. I agree 100% with what you have written and goes with my views on how to keep our feline friends happy. My first cat lived to be 18, and my beloved Specks whom I still grieve over to this day, lived to be 18 also, or very close to it. My current fuzzball is now 12, so is entering her later years.

I hope you will visit my hubpages and check out some of my 'kitty' articles...some are funny, but many very serious.

KH


How to Bond With Your Cat

Last Updated: January 9, 2021 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Brian Bourquin, DVM. Brian Bourquin, better known as “Dr. B” to his clients, is a Veterinarian and the Owner of Boston Veterinary Clinic, a pet health care and veterinary clinic with two locations, South End/Bay Village and Brookline, Massachusetts. Boston Veterinary Clinic specializes in primary veterinary care, including wellness and preventative care, sick and emergency care, soft-tissue surgery, dentistry. The clinic also provides specialty services in behavior, nutrition, and alternative pain management therapies using acupuncture, and therapeutic laser treatments. Boston Veterinary Clinic is an AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) accredited hospital and Boston’s first and only Fear Free Certified Clinic. Brian has over 19 years of veterinary experience and earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University.

There are 41 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 11 testimonials and 100% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

This article has been viewed 291,886 times.

Bonding with a cat can be a rewarding but challenging experience. Cats, while domesticated, still have a limited understanding of human behavior. [1] X Research source Communicating affection towards your cat can therefore be difficult. However, many owners are able to form healthy, happy relationship with their cats. If you understand your cat's body language, respect her boundaries, and give her affection on her terms you should be able to form a solid bond with your feline friend. [2] X Expert Source

u00a9 2021 wikiHow, Inc. All rights reserved. wikiHow, Inc. is the copyright holder of this image under U.S. and international copyright laws. This image is not licensed under the Creative Commons license applied to text content and some other images posted to the wikiHow website. This image may not be used by other entities without the express written consent of wikiHow, Inc.

Brian Bourquin, DVM
Cat Behavior Trainer Expert Interview. 20 December 2019. For whatever reason, she feels threatened and needs space. Do not attempt to interact with your cat until she calms down. [6] X Research source

  • When your cat is anxious, she will try to look small by hunching down and wrapping her tail around her. Her limbs will be poised to run if necessary with her pupils enlarged and her ears held sideways. You should not touch your cat if she is behaving like this she is nervous and needs space. [7] X Research source
  • When a cat is defensive, her ears will be flat, her teeth might be displayed, and she will be rolled on one side displaying her paws and claws. A cat is likely to lash out when engaging in this behavior and you need to give her space to cool down. She is likely to scratch you if she's behaving aggressively. [8] X Research source
  • u00a9 2021 wikiHow, Inc. All rights reserved. wikiHow, Inc. is the copyright holder of this image under U.S. and international copyright laws. This image is not licensed under the Creative Commons license applied to text content and some other images posted to the wikiHow website. This image may not be used by other entities without the express written consent of wikiHow, Inc.

    Brian Bourquin, DVM
    Cat Behavior Trainer Expert Interview. 20 December 2019. Know how to show your cat your intentions are friendly.

    • A common complaint about cats is that they're drawn to those who dislike them. People who dislike cats tend to ignore them. Since cats hate direct stares (as it is a display of a threat), the cat feels less threatened and will approach to explore [10] X Research source
    • Lie down near your cat when she is relaxing. Look at her until she looks back and, when she does, slowly close your eyes and then open them a few times. Wait for your cat to do the same. [11] X Research source
    • If your cat turns away, this is a good sign. It means she does not see you as threat and feels no need to intimidate you. If she does not turn away, break the gaze so she does not think you're trying to challenge her. It may take several attempts at a slow blink before your cat is comfortable enough to look away after eye contact. [12] X Research source

    u00a9 2021 wikiHow, Inc. All rights reserved. wikiHow, Inc. is the copyright holder of this image under U.S. and international copyright laws. This image is not licensed under the Creative Commons license applied to text content and some other images posted to the wikiHow website. This image may not be used by other entities without the express written consent of wikiHow, Inc.

    Brian Bourquin, DVM
    Cat Behavior Trainer Expert Interview. 20 December 2019. If your cat wags her tail when being petted, you're doing something wrong. You should pet her in a different area or change the direction or pressure of the petting. [18] X Research source

  • Cats convey pleasure and trust in a variety of ways. Your cat may knead her claws in and out of a soft object or even your clothing. Cats sometimes lick and gently nip to show affection. She may bump her head against you or scent mark with her cheeks and side.
  • Brian Bourquin, DVM
    Cat Behavior Trainer Expert Interview. 20 December 2019. Teaching a cat tricks is a great way to strengthen your bond.

    • Use treats, but only treats your cat likes. There are many different types of cat treats and cats can be somewhat picky about food. You might have to experiment with different brands before you find a treat your cat is willing to work for. Buy a variety of cat treats as a supermarket or pet store and see which kind your cat prefers. [32] X Research source
    • Start by looking for specific behaviors you want your cat to perform on command. When you see your cat performing these behaviors, state the name of the trick, praise the cat, and follow up with a treat. For example, say you love it when your cat stands up on her hind legs and would like her to do this in response to the command "Beg." When you see your cat standing up, say "Beg," praise the cat, and give her a treat. Eventually, she'll make the connection between the command and the behavior. [33] X Research source
    • Once the cat starts performing the behavior on command, practice. You want to solidify the connection between the command and the trick. Only attempt to teach one command at a time and limit practice sessions to 10 to 15 minutes. [34] X Research source
    • Use a clicker, a small device that makes a clicking noise when a button is pressed. Use this while using treats to reinforce the behavior. Eventually, you can cut down on treats. You want your cat to learn to perform without the constant expectation of food as a reward. [35] X Research source
    • Once one command is mastered, move onto another. You can teach your cat to sit, lie down, stay, speak, and even more complex command. Some cats, for example, can be taught how to walk on a leash. Get creative. [36] X Research source


    How to Gain a Cat's Trust

    Last Updated: February 12, 2021 References Approved

    This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.

    wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 12 testimonials and 85% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

    This article has been viewed 329,453 times.

    Do you find yourself wishing that your new cat would be more friendly and trusting of you? By nature, cats are more independent and don't depend on your friendship. They also take longer to trust and respond less quickly to bribery, like treats. Let your cat set the pace for befriending you and simply focus on making your cat feel safe and secure. Once they feel nurtured by their environment, they'll learn to trust you.


    How to Make Your Cat Love You

    Last Updated: March 11, 2021 References Approved

    This article was co-authored by Brian Bourquin, DVM. Brian Bourquin, better known as “Dr. B” to his clients, is a Veterinarian and the Owner of Boston Veterinary Clinic, a pet health care and veterinary clinic with two locations, South End/Bay Village and Brookline, Massachusetts. Boston Veterinary Clinic specializes in primary veterinary care, including wellness and preventative care, sick and emergency care, soft-tissue surgery, dentistry. The clinic also provides specialty services in behavior, nutrition, and alternative pain management therapies using acupuncture, and therapeutic laser treatments. Boston Veterinary Clinic is an AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) accredited hospital and Boston’s first and only Fear Free Certified Clinic. Brian has over 19 years of veterinary experience and earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University.

    There are 16 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

    wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article has 42 testimonials from our readers, earning it our reader-approved status.

    This article has been viewed 971,458 times.

    Cats are typically thought of as being incredibly independent animals, but that doesn't mean they don't enjoy being around people and receiving love and affection. Many cat-owners often feel like their cats don't like them, but there are a few things you can do to foster a better relationship between you and your cat. Our veterinarian expert Brian Bourquin suggests learning a little bit about cat behavior first so that you can understand why cats do certain things, like staring at you or biting your fingers. Learning about cats will help you to act properly around them. In addition, you should also provide proper care and attention to keep your kitty happy and healthy. By doing all of these things, your cat will begin to return the love that you show it.


    How to Tell if a Cat is Pregnant

    Last Updated: January 8, 2021 References Approved

    This article was co-authored by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS. Dr. Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS is a veterinarian with over 30 years of experience in veterinary surgery and companion animal practice. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1987 with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. She has worked at the same animal clinic in her hometown for over 20 years.

    There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

    wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article has 44 testimonials from our readers, earning it our reader-approved status.

    This article has been viewed 3,482,994 times.

    The typical gestation period for cats is about 9 weeks, and a pregnant cat will begin to display telling physical and behavioral changes soon after becoming pregnant. [1] X Research source If you know how to spot these changes, it can help you determine if your cat is indeed pregnant. The best way to know for certain, though, is of course to take your cat to the vet. Unless you’re a professional cat breeder, you should have your cat spayed--overpopulation among cats is a significant problem that results in many cats having to be euthanized when they can’t find a home.


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