6 Tips for Caring for Senior Cats

6 Tips for Caring for Senior Cats

As seen in PetMD and Reviewed for accuracy on November 18, 2019, by Dr. Liz Bales, VMD

With good care—and good luck—our cats can live well into their late teens, and even their twenties. But as cats age, their physical and behavioral needs change.  

While these changes are obvious as your kitten matures into an adult cat, the changes when your cat transitions from an adult to a senior—starting at 11 years old—can be harder to spot. 

Here are the top six ways to care for aging cats.

1. Pay Extra Attention to Your Senior Cat’s Diet

Senior cats have unique dietary and behavioral needs. It is more important than ever for your cat to be a healthy weight to maintain optimum health. 

Talk to your veterinarian about how and when to transition your cat to a senior food. 

Your veterinarian will help you asses your cat’s optimum weight and can recommend a senior food to help maintain, lose or gain weight.

A cat’s digestion is also improved by feeding them small, frequent meals throughout the day and night. Measure your cat’s daily food and distribute it in small portions.

You can use tools like hunting feeders, like Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co. Indoor Cat Feeder Kit, and puzzle toys that promote physical and mental engagement at mealtime.

2. Increase Your Cat’s Access to Water

As cats age, they are prone to constipation and kidney disease, especially if they are not staying hydrated enough.

Increase your senior cat’s water intake by providing canned food and more options for drinking water.

As your cat gets older, they might not be able to jump up on to counters or access the usual water dish. Add more water stations around the house with plenty of bowls and/or pet water fountains to entice your senior cat to drink more.

3. Know and Keep an Eye Out for the Subtle Signs of Pain in Cats

Cats are masters at hiding their pain. As many as nine out of 10 senior cats show evidence of arthritis when X-rayed, yet most of us with senior cats have no idea.

The most important thing you can do to prevent the pain from arthritis is to keep your cat at healthy weight. As little as a pound or two of excess weight can significantly increase the pain of sore joints. 

Your veterinarian can help you with a long-term plan to help control your cat’s pain with medicine, supplements and alternative treatments, like acupuncture, physical therapy and laser treatments

4. Don’t Neglect Your Cat’s Dental Health

Dental disease is very common in aging cats. Cats can get painful holes in their teeth, broken teeth, gum disease and oral tumors that significantly affect their quality of life.

Infections in the mouth enter the bloodstream and can slowly affect the liver, kidneys and heart. So paying attention to your cat’s dental health is essential to caring for them during their senior years.

Often, there is no clear sign of dental disease. Cat parents see weight loss and a poor hair coat as the vague signs of aging, not an indication of a potential problem.

A thorough veterinary exam and routine dental care can drastically improve your cat’s quality of life, and can even extend their lifespan. 

5. Give Senior Cats Daily Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Environmental enrichment is an essential part of your cat’s quality of life.

All cats need places to climb, places to hide, things to scratch, and ways to hunt and play. All of these things will help your cat stay physically and mentally stimulated as well as healthy.

However, as your cat ages, providing these things may require some extra thought. Your cat’s mobility may become more limited, so you will need to make your home more accessible so that it’s easier on their older joints.

For example, a carpeted cat ramp can act as a scratching post as well as a climbing aid for cats with arthritis. A covered cat bed can give aging cats a cozy, warm place to hide that also helps to soothe sore joints and muscles. You can move their food and water bowls to more accessible locations on the ground instead of on tables or counters.

6. Don’t Skimp on Biannual Vet Visits

Finally, and most importantly, maintaining a good relationship with your veterinarian is critical when discussing care and quality of life for your cat in their senior years. Ideally, cats over 11 years of age should see the veterinarian every six months.

Blood work done during these visits can detect the onset of health issues—like kidney disease—while there’s still time to make medical changes that will improve and extend your cat’s life.

Weighing your cat twice a year will also show trends in weight loss or gain that can be valuable clues to overall health changes. And oral exams will detect dental disease before it negatively impacts your cat’s health.

Cat Constipated???

Cat Constipated???

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

Just like us, our feline friends can suffer from constipation. In some kitties it happens just once in a while; for others it can become a persistent problem.

When stool stays in the colon too long, it becomes dry, hard, and difficult to pass. Left untreated, chronic constipation can lead to megacolon, a terrible condition in which the large intestine stretches so much it can no longer do its job effectively.

How to Tell if Your Cat Is Constipated

Your kitty should poop at least once every day because it’s an important part of the body’s natural detoxification process.

Your cat is constipated when he either has difficulty pooping (and the stool he produces is dry and hard), or he isn’t pooping at all. This is why it’s so important to keep an eye on kitty’s daily “output.” The quantity, color, texture, and smell, along with the presence of mucus or blood, are all indicators of his general well-being.

Often, what passes from (or in the case of constipation, doesn’t pass from) your pet’s body is the first sign of a health problem, so you should regularly monitor your cats litterbox and familiarize yourself with what “normal” looks like for your kitty.

Your cat’s stools should be brown, formed, and soft enough that litter sticks to them. If your kitty isn’t going daily or his stools are so hard and dry that litter doesn’t stick to them, he could be constipated. And keep in mind most constipated cats will never show overt signs of a problem. In fact, some suffer their entire lives and their humans don’t realize it because they aren’t aware of the more subtle signs of chronic constipation.

Left untreated, a constipated cat may begin to vomit intermittently, lose his appetite, and start dropping weight. He may seem lethargic. Don’t let the problem progress to this point before you take action.

Potential Causes of Feline Constipation

Often, constipation in cats is simply the result of inadequate water consumption or lack of dietary fiber. But sometimes the situation is more complicated, involving an obstruction inside the colon or a problem in the pelvic cavity, such as a tumor that interferes with bowel function.

If you actually saw your cat swallow something that could cause an obstruction, get veterinary help right away as this situation can rapidly progress to a very serious and even fatal problem.

Intact males, especially if they’re older, can develop enlarged prostates that compress the bowel, creating very thin stools or even an obstruction. This problem can usually be resolved by having your male cat neutered.

Hernias in the rectum are another obstruction that can cause constipation. The hernia bulges into the rectum, closing off passage of stool. Hernias usually require surgery to repair.

Constipation can also be the result of a neuromuscular problem or a disease like hypothyroidism or hypercalcemia. Some kitties have insufficient muscle tone or neuromuscular disorders that impede the body’s ability to efficiently move waste through the colon.

Other causes of constipation can include infected or cancerous anal glands, or a hip or pelvic injury that makes pooping painful, the effects of surgery, certain medications, iron supplements, and stress.

Hands Down, the Most Common Reason for Kitty Constipation

With all the above said, when it comes to constipation in cats, by far the most common cause is inadequate fluid intake. Your kitty’s natural prey (e.g., mice) contains 70% to 75% water, and felines are designed to get most of the water their bodies need from their diet.

Cats fed exclusively kibble are getting only a very small amount (10% to 12%) of the moisture their bodies need, and unlike dogs and other animals, they won’t make up the difference at the water bowl due to their “underactive” thirst drive. So, these cats are chronically dehydrated, which causes constipation.

The lack of moisture causes stool in the colon to turn dry, hard and painful to pass; it also causes the kidneys to become stressed. If your cat happens to be overweight and not getting enough exercise, the problem is exacerbated. Physical activity stimulates rhythmic muscle contractions (peristalsis) in the colon, which helps move things through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Unfortunately, many housecats have lifestyles that involve eating too much of the wrong type of food and moving too little. Swallowing fur during grooming can further slow the transit time of waste through the colon, especially in cats fed dry diets who are also not getting adequate exercise.

How to Help a Constipated Cat

Assuming your kitty is in otherwise good health, there are several things you can do to help solve her constipation issues.

  1. If you’re feeding kibble, I strongly encourage you to switch to a moisture-rich, nutritionally optimal, species-specific diet. It’s always the first thing I recommend, especially for cats with any sort of digestive issue. At a minimum, transition from dry food to canned food, which will automatically increase the moisture in your cat’s system.
  2. If you make your own food, be absolutely sure your kitty’s diet is nutritionally balanced. Many of the homemade recipes I’ve analyzed have two to three times the upper safe limits of calcium levels recommended for pets, which will lead to constipation, among many other things. Recipes to try.
  3. Make sure your cat has access to clean, fresh, filtered drinking water at all times. Place a few stainless steel or Pyrex glass bowls around the house in areas she frequents. Avoid plastic water bowls, which can make the water taste unpleasant. You might also want to consider purchasing a pet water fountain to replace your cat’s water bowl, since many kitties will drink more from a moving water source. If she still isn’t drinking enough, consider adding bone broth to her food to increase the moisture content in her diet.
  4. Offer bone broth, in addition to water. Broths are an excellent way to entice cats to drink more. Add a bowl of warm broth beside her regular food on a daily basis. Here’s a recipe for homemade bone broth.
  5. Cats need to move their bodies through play and exercise. Movement also helps stool move through the colon. Regular physical activity can help prevent or remedy constipation.
  6. Add digestive enzymes and probiotics to your pet’s meals. Both these supplements will help with maldigestion, which is often the cause of both occasional constipation and diarrhea.
  7. If your cat lived in the wild, his natural prey would provide ample fiber in the form of fur, feathers and predigested gut contents. Needless to say, domesticated pets don’t get a lot of these things in their meals! Good replacement options for your feline companion include:
Psyllium husk powder — 1/2 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food Ground dark green leafy veggies — 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily with food
Coconut oil — 1/2 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily Canned 100 percent pumpkin — 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food
Aloe juice (not the topical gel) — 1/4 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food Acacia fiber — 1/8 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily as prebiotic fiber
  1. Chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage can also be very beneficial in helping to alleviate chronic constipation in pets.

Please note these recommendations are for cats experiencing a minor, temporary bout of constipation. If your kitty’s condition is not resolving or seems chronic, or if you aren’t sure of the cause, make an appointment with your veterinarian.