Caring for an older cat

When does your cat begin to age? In general, a 10-year old cat is roughly 55 to 60 years old on the human scale. Since cats can live to be 18 to 20 years old with good care, nutrition, and strong family genes, you may still have your friend for many years.
Aging is a natural process, producing changes in body metabolism, hormone balance, and sensory perception. There is an overall gradual decline in the body’s metabolic rate. Decreased drug tolerance, inability to regulate body temperature, decreased calorie needs, and decreased immunity to diseases accompany the decline.

Physical and behavioral signs that reflect some of these bodily changes can include a cloudiness of the eyes, a thinning hair coat, decreased tolerance of the cold, flabby skin, prominent spine and hips, joint stiffness or lameness, graying of the muzzle, muscle atrophy and deafness. Behaviorally, the older cat is less tolerant of environmental changes, sleeps more and is less active, and may seem more irritable.

The best time to prepare for the care of your senior cat is while he or she is still healthy. Annual or semi-annual trips to the veterinarian are most important. Your veterinarian may be able to detect a problem that you weren’t able to see. Many times, a veterinarian will do blood tests as the cat begins to get older to look tor any hidden conditions.

No one knows your cat as well as you do, so if you notice any changes in behavior, eating, drinking or appearance, contact your veterinarian right away. Also, share some quality time with your cat. While your cat is on your lap being petted, use the time to check tor any growths, tumors, swelling or parasites before the problem becomes serious. If you notice that your cat has suddenly become cranky, stops eating, or has a rough coat, this may be a sign that there is something wrong other than just old age. If your cat looks or acts sick, he or she probably is.

Things to be on the lookout for are: constipation or diarrhea for more than two days; refusal to eat for more than 24 hours; vomiting, gagging, sneezing or coughing; breathing problems; runny eyes/nose; weight loss; gum problems; increased drinking or urinating, or straining to urinate.

Another improtant factor to consider when dealing with the older pet is nutrition. You are not doing your pet a favor by overfeeding. This can be harmful to your cat. If you notice that your cat is overweight, talk with your veterinarian about a proper diet. As always, the older cat should be fed a nutritionally balanced commercial diet. If your older cat has certain medical problems, your veterinarian may prescribe special food. Also, plenty of fresh water should be available at all times for your cat.

Older cats do not like a lot of changes, so be certain to reduce the amount of stress to your cat. Loud noises, changes in diet, a move to a new house, rearranging of furniture or a new person or animal in the house can all upset your cat. Stress can cause illness.

If you and your family must go away for long periods of time, you might consider having a person watch your cat at home rather than boarding the cat. Also, as your cat grows older, you may want to reduce the amount of traveling it has to do. During holidays and times when there might be a lot of people and noise, provide your older cat with a quiet, stress-free place.

If being sick in the hospital causes your cat stress, ask your veterinarian if your cat can be cared for at home.

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