By Dr. Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann
By the time your cat reaches the age of 10, she’s officially a senior citizen. The good news is that many cats today are living into their late teens and even early 20s. With the proper care, a kitty in good health at 10 can easily live another 8, 10 or even 12 years. There’s no need to worry that your feline companion is getting older. In fact, this is a great time to take steps to make the second half of kitty’s life with you as healthy and happy as the first half.
7 Tips to Keep Your Senior Cat Healthy and Happy
1. Schedule twice-yearly veterinary visits
Once your cat is into her senior years and beyond, her wellness and nutritional needs can require fine-tuning every four to six months. It’s very important to review weight, muscle tone, joint range of motion, diet, supplement protocol and exercise habits at least semi-annually for older pets.
At veterinary visits, be sure to mention any behavior changes you’ve noticed in your cat, no matter how minor, as these can provide important clues about health problems that may be brewing under the surface. It’s also important to monitor your cat’s weight to ensure she isn’t becoming too heavy or too thin.
The senior pet wellness screen is an excellent tool for early detection of changes in your cat’s health so that treatment, including appropriate lifestyle changes, can begin immediately. As part of the checkup, your vet will perform a physical exam and blood (including thyroid levels), urine and stool sample tests.
The results will provide a snapshot of how well your cat’s organs are functioning, and point to any potential problems. Regular wellness screens also allow your vet to compare current test results with past results to check for changes that may need further investigation.
2. Minimize environmental stressors
Kitties of all ages do best with a consistent daily routine, but older cats tend to get extra stressed when presented with anything new or different in their environment. Your senior kitty may be dealing with some vision and hearing loss, less tolerance for the cold and mental confusion. Cats can and do develop age-related cognitive decline, which means even the smallest change in your kitty’s routine can cause stress.
Your senior cat may become a little cranky and easily irritated. If there are young children or a playful dog at home, it’s important that all family members approach your kitty in a quiet, non-aggressive manner. It’s also important to protect an aging cat from potential bullying by younger or more active pets.
Of course, it’s important to avoid becoming a “helicopter pet parent” who constantly hovers over kitty. He’s still a cat after all, and prefers attention on his own terms! But do make a concerted effort to keep him comfy, secure and relaxed by maintaining a consistent daily routine and providing him with a quiet, cozy hideaway with comfy bedding and a favorite toy or two.
3. Feed your cat like a carnivore
Contrary to what many cat parents and even veterinarians believe, aging pets need MORE protein than their younger counterparts, and the quality is of paramount importance. The more digestible and assimilable the protein is, and the higher the moisture content of the food, the easier it will be for aging organs to process.
Feed kitty a nutritionally balanced, antioxidant-rich, species-appropriate diet that includes omega-3 essential fats such as krill oil. Since moisture is a cat’s best friend, be sure to encourage hydration by offering kitty a variety of water bowls around the house or a drinking fountain, in addition to minimizing or (preferably) eliminating dry food. If your cat is addicted to a poor-quality processed diet, consider adding a supplement such as Feline Whole Body Support.
4. Provide appropriate supplementation
Offering your cat SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) is a safe and effective way to stall mental decline, improve mobility and assist in liver detoxification. Consult your holistic veterinarian for the right dose size.
Periodic detoxification with the herbs milk thistle and dandelion can also be very beneficial, as can providing super green foods in the form of fresh “cat grass” to nibble on. Chlorophyll, chlorella or spirulina can also be offered in supplement form to enhance your cat’s detoxification processes.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to be safe for cats and can improve brain energy metabolism and decrease the amyloid protein buildup that results in brain lesions in older pets. Coconut oil is a rich source of MCTs and may also reduce hairball issues. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight twice daily for basic MCT support, if your cat will voluntarily eat it.
For aging kitties who prowl the house all night and vocalize, consider low-dose melatonin, which is not only a sedative with a calming effect, but also an antioxidant. I also use rhodiola, chamomile and l-theanine with good results.
5. Make sure kitty stays physically and mentally stimulated
Keep your cat’s body and mind active with regular exercise appropriate for your cat’s age and physical condition, and mental stimulation (puzzles and treat-release toys can be beneficial). Think of creative ways to enrich your cat’s indoor environment and if your kitty never touches the earth’s surface directly (most housecats don’t), consider a grounding pad to help reduce the buildup of EMFs.
Regular massage can help keep your senior cat’s muscles toned and reduce the slackening that comes with aging. Massaged muscles are looser, which makes it easier for your pet to move around comfortably. Massage also improves circulation, encourages lymphatic drainage and eases joint stiffness.
6. Take steps to keep your cat’s aging body comfortable
If kitty seems physically uncomfortable, it’s important not to assume it’s just a natural part of aging. You want to make sure she’s not in pain, so a visit to your vet is in order. The sooner a health problem is diagnosed and treated, in most cases, the better the outcome.
Keeping your cat at a good weight and physically active will help control arthritis and degenerative joint disease as he ages. Chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture can also be very helpful in keeping cats fully mobile in their later years. There are a wide range of supplements that can be added to your cat’s diet to help maintain healthy tendons, ligaments, joints and cartilage. These include:
• Glucosamine sulfate with MSM and eggshell membrane
• Omega-3 fats (krill oil)
• Supergreen foods like spirulina and astaxanthin
• Natural anti-inflammatory formulas (herbs, proteolytic enzymes and nutraceuticals)
In addition, talk to your vet about Adequan injections, which can stimulate joint fluid very rapidly in pets with arthritis. Also insure your cat can get into and out of the litterbox easily. Remember that kitties are very adept at hiding arthritis and other aches and pains, which can limit their ability to climb into high-sided boxes, or boxes kept in bathtubs or up a flight of stairs, for example.
7. Spend some time with your cat every day
Set aside time each day to hang out with your kitty. If she tolerates being brushed or combed, work that into the daily schedule as well, to help her with grooming chores. Trimming the hair around the perineal area is usually much appreciated by older cats. Make sure meals are provided on a consistent schedule, along with playtime and petting/lap time. Organic catnip (for kitties who respond to it — not all do) can be a very effective way to encourage your cat to play.
I know my older cats, Arron and Milo both really enjoyed their snuggle time. It’s very important for both your pet’s and your own emotional security to spend time together sharing the love and demonstrating how much you mean to each other. Make sure you spend time each day cuddling because the memories you make together are irreplaceable!