Cat owners often ask questions about how to care for cats through many information channels, such as relatives, friends, and the internet.
Three main building blocks form the foundation of a cat’s potential lifespan: Consistent veterinary care, a nutritious age-appropriate diet, and responsible at-home care. Maintaining a close bond with your cat is essential to ensuring the highest quality of comfort possible throughout its lifespan.
Basic cat stages of life
While it was once understood that cats go through three basic stages of age, it’s now believed they develop through six stages.
- Kittenhood: For most cats, the growth period lasts from birth until about six months. This is when cats are most vulnerable to disease but are also at their most trainable.
- Junior: (6 months to 2 years) Though year-old cats may appear to be adults physically, they are still developing mentally and emotionally. Think of them as juveniles.
- Prime: (3 years to 6 years) This is young adulthood when cats are at their most virile.
- Mature: (7 to 10 years) During these years, the first indications of chronic disease can show up, such as feline diabetes, arthritis, or heart disease.
- Senior: (11 to 14 years) This age in cat years corresponds to a human age of 60 or older.
- Geriatric: (15 years and older) The final stage in a cat’s life.
Preparing to care for an aging cat
As cats progress from one phase of life to the next, their care needs evolve. While they may start to function at a slower pace, your cat’s senior and geriatric stages have the potential to be some of their best years. Regular veterinary care increases your cat’s potential to thrive later in life.
Working closely with your veterinarian, knowing the signs of a healthy cat, and seeking immediate veterinary care when in doubt can go a long way toward increasing your cat’s potential lifespan.
What You Need
As your cat transitions into older age, here are some key essentials to remember when caring for an elderly feline pet:
- Proper nutrition: The nutritional needs of healthy senior cats are not much different from those of younger adult cats. But older cats with diabetes and kidney disease will require certain dietary changes. Check with your vet to see what diet is suggested for your cats’ unique needs.
- Plenty of water: Aging cats need to drink lots of clean, fresh water to help improve kidney function and prevent dehydration. Older cats may sometimes forget to drink, so consider adding wet food to your cat’s diet or switching to wet food for all meals to help ensure she gets plenty of fluids. You can also occasionally take your cat to its water bowl to encourage more drinking.
- Exercise: Despite their tendency to slow down as they age, all cats benefit from regular exercise, especially those with arthritis or other joint issues. A few minutes with a ribbon or toy mouse can go a long way.
- Comfortable resting spaces: Cats are sleepy creatures who need rest as they age. Make sure your cat’s favorite spots are cleaned and comfortable. Offer new pillows or create a cozy nook or cave to help your cat feel extra safe.
- Gentle grooming tools: As cats age, keeping their coats clean can be more difficult. Extra grooming with a soft brush is a nice way to keep your cat’s fur in order. It’s also another way for them to receive loving attention from you.
Preventing problems with your cat during aging
While veterinary care and a nutritious diet are essential parts of responsible cat care, the following will help prevent many of the problems cats encounter as they age:
- Disease Screening: All cats 10 years or older should be seen at least twice a year for well-check and tested for chronic diseases common to older cats. If they do have one of these conditions, your veterinarian will need to see them on a more regular basis.
- Dental care: Although dental care is important through all life stages, it is increasingly important during cats’ senior years. Dental diseases and infections can endanger your cat’s overall health if they’re not treated. Take your aging cat for regular dental checkups and cleanings.
- Movement and comfort: Offering massages and doing therapeutic exercises with your cat will increase comfort during later years.
General cat care
Although genetics may have the biggest effect on how cats age, there are many things we can do to maximize our cats’ life potential, starting when they first come into care as a kitten.
1. Take kittens to a veterinarian for a first visit. They will be tested for worms, checked for fleas, and given their initial vaccines. Keep newly-immunized kittens isolated from other family cats until they are cleared of communicable diseases.
Kittens should then be seen by their vet three or four times during the first year for follow-up vaccines and to be spayed or neutered.
2. Take all adopted cats of unknown parentage, including kittens, to be examined as soon as possible. The cat should be tested for FeLV (feline leukemia), FIV (the feline version of the HIV virus), and in some cases, FIP (feline infectious peritonitis).
3. Take your cat to the veterinarian once a year, starting at age one, for well-checks and booster vaccines. Senior cats may require more frequent vet visits depending on their overall health.
4. Spay and neuter cats. This helps the cat’s overall health and curbs its mating instincts, as well as helps to reduce the number of feral and stray cats.
5. Keep cats indoors. Not only will keeping your cat inside help with the stray issue, but it will also prevent your cat from getting many communicable diseases. And indoor cats do not get hit by cars or injured by wild animals.
6. Don’t declaw your cat. There’s no health reason for declawing a cat; it can do irreparable damage to its foot. It’s also extremely painful for the animal.
7. Familiarize yourself with signs of health or behavior problems, and know when to take your cat to the vet for suspected illness and emergency treatment.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet’s health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.