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Geriatric Cat Problems

Updated on May 4, 2021
hglick profile image

HGlick has rescued and placed stray cats for over 20 years and has personally fostered more than ten during that time

Geriatric Cat Problems can be expected to occur less quickly today than 30 - 40 years ago. The life expectancy of a cat was once 10 years, but today it is not uncommon in veterinary practice to see cats 18 to 20 years old. It is even possible for a cat to reach 25 - 30 years but it is extremely unusual.

All cats do not age at the same rate. The biological age of a cat depends upon many things: his genetic background, his nutritional status, the presence of coexistent diseases and environmental stresses. The completely outdoor cat has a markedly diminished life expectancy - only about six years. Diseases, accidents, the difficulty of securing nourishment and stresses of frequent pregnancy all contribute to this shortened life. The indoor cat, on the other hand, who is well nourished, vaccinated against infectious diseases and protected from accidents fares the best.

Older cats do not adjust well to physical and emotional stresses. A sudden stress, shock, or even a surgical procedure could lead to organ decompensation. As the liver function is reduced, so does the capacity to detoxify drugs. This must be taken into consideration when administering medications or anesthetics. An older cat is also less tolerant to extremes of heat and cold. Changes in the diet or drinking water can also stress him. His digestive tract and bacterial flora are geared to his present diet.

The elderly cat is often a neglected individual. His basic nature is to seek solitude and avoid human contact when feeling out of sorts. Crankiness and irritability are common. Although aging is inevitable and irreversible, some of the infirmities attributed to old age may be due to disease, and correctable or at least treatable.

Older cats are more sedentary, less energetic, less curious, and more restricted in their everyday activities. They seek out warm areas and sleep for longer periods. They become fixed in their habits and show less tolerance to changes in their daily routines. Being less active, they require fewer calories.

These behavioral changes are not necessarily due to loss of mental fitness, but rather the addition of physical infirmities. These physical issues could include failing eyesight, diminished hearing and sense of smell, arthritic stiffness, and muscular weakness. In frustration, such a cat might withdraw or even seek seclusion. He might also engage in compulsive self-grooming or begin to eliminate in places outside the litter box. You, as the owner, might want to provide a warm nesting spot near the center of family activity, to stimulate the cat's interest and encourage him to participate more actively. As an added bonus, you might want to take the cat with you on a trip outside twice a day. Boarding and hospitalization are poorly tolerated by older cats. If possible, it is advisable to care for them at home under the guidance of your veterinarian, in order to avoid stress and anxiety.

Old cats need more minerals and vitamins. B vitamins are lost in the urine of cats having reduced kidney function. Also, the absorption of vitamins through the intestinal tract diminishes as the cat ages. Calcium and phosphorus incorrect balance 1.2 to 1 help prevent the softening of the bones. Therefore, many elderly cats need a vitamin/mineral supplement, which is balanced to meet their metabolic needs. Your vet can recommend an appropriate supplement to meet the specific requirements of your cat.

It is desirable to feed an older cat equally divided rations. The first half should be in the morning and the second half in the evening. Underweight cats might respond better to three or four feedings a day. Also, dry or semi-moist rations can be left out all day long so the cat can snack whenever he's hungry.

The following flags are danger signals in the older cat. If you should notice the presence of any one of these findings, it is a good idea to call your vet and have it examined as soon as possible.

1. A prolonged increase in temperature, pulse, or breathing rate

2. Loss of appetite or weight

3. Unexplained change in behavior

4. Loss of eyesight hearing or sense of smell

5. Weakness or difficulty getting around

6. Bloody or pussy discharge from a body opening

7. Nonstop diarrhea or constipation

8. Increased thirst and/or frequency of urination

9. Persistent cough, labored breathing, or shortness of breath

10. An unexplained growth or lump anywhere on the body

Geriatric Cat Problems can be limited if you observe your individual kitty closely and give them companionship and quality care if needed, in order to reduce their stress level.

References: The Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Delbert G. Carlson, D.V.M and James M. Giffin, M.D. - First Edition

5 Senior Cat Essentials

How to Spot Health Problems in Older Cats


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    • DragonflyTreasure profile image


      8 years ago from on the breeze.........

      It's only been one day but no accidents, she's made it into the litterbox without difficulty! SO happy. Steps are a great tip. I have her dry food up on a dresser so the dogs can't get to it. I realized she was having trouble jumping up, so I put a small step ladder near it and she uses it and is eating more. She seems to have a small "belly" now and hoping she can add more weight...last month at the vets she weighed just 4 lbs. I have been giving her small wet food "meals" through out the day, as you mentioned, and our vet recommended.

      Just trying to keep her comfortable and as healthy as possible. ?

    • hglick profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY

      Dragonfly, Thank you for your compliments. Keep up the good work with your old girl. Making it easier for her to be mobile is a smart practice. Stairsteps to your bed or her favorite couch, might also help. Best of luck

    • DragonflyTreasure profile image


      8 years ago from on the breeze.........

      Whoops, I meant liver, not her kidneys, for the Zentonil

    • DragonflyTreasure profile image


      8 years ago from on the breeze.........

      Great hub! I have a 16 yr old Siamese who has Hyperthyroidism for which she is on Methimole for. Also on Enalipril for her heart and her kidneys are showing poor signs so she is on a the supplement Zentonil, all prescribed by my wonderful vet. She has started having accidents. She has a covered litterbox that she has used since she was a kitten which I keep clean. Her accidents seem to happen on an area rug in my bathroom or in my tub...which are only a couple feet away from her litterbox. I have recently learned that a covered catbox can be difficult to manuever for the geriatric cat. I just removed the lid today and am hoping it helps. Wish me/us luck ;)

    • stars439 profile image


      11 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Wonderful article. Our older cats love to sleep and lounge around in our bedroom. God Bless You.


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