Make sure to give senior cats a little extra TLC

Cats need our help to stay healthy throughout their lives, but should be given extra attention in their senior years.

Thanks to better health care, cats are living much longer today, and they are generally considered seniors when they reach 11 or 12 years old.

If a cat has been a member of the family since she was a kitten (or at least for several years), it is easy to recognize which behaviors and habits are normal for her. Pay a little extra attention to these as the years pass.

Although older cats may sleep more and play less, behavior changes may signal signs of disease.

Cats are experts at hiding illnesses, and some changes can be subtle, so it is important to take geriatric cats for a complete examination every six months. (Remember, cats age faster than people, so six months in people time is almost two years in cat time.)

At the animal hospital, your cat will be weighed, given a thorough exam and blood tests. Diagnosing a common age-related illness early can dramatically improve the outcome and the quality of a cat's remaining years.

Cats that have had regular dental care throughout their lives have a paw up on those who haven't, but it is never too late to address her oral health. Dental disease can cause chronic pain and damage to her kidneys, liver and heart.

There are often few symptoms of dental disease, but if a senior cat has bad breath, a loss of appetite or if she paws at her mouth, be sure to discuss this during her checkup.

Older cats have unique nutritional needs and a veterinarian may recommend a food specially formulated for seniors. It is especially important to manage her weight, because obesity is a factor in a wide range of health problems.

It is also important that geriatric cats remain hydrated. Feeding canned food can help supply some of the additional water she requires. Placing additional bowls of water around the house and raising them to make it easier for her to drink are more ways to encourage her to increase her daily intake of water.

A senior cat may need extra incentive to eat as her appetite decreases with age. Serving several smaller meals throughout the day (instead of a large breakfast and dinner) can be easier for older cats to digest.

Offering new flavors or food at room temperature or slightly warmed might work, too. No matter what or how often you feed, do it in a quiet, stress-free spot.

Also, geriatric cats still need a stimulating environment. At any age, cats need places to hide, toys to play with and games to keep them active. Exercise keeps their mind and body in better shape.

Older cats may need more help grooming to keep them looking their best. Gently brush to keep their coat free of mats.

And, of course, the best thing you can do for a senior cat is to give her your time. She may not be able to play with the same energy as she did when she was younger, but she will appreciate all the love and attention you can provide.

• Diana Stoll is the Practice Manager at Red Barn Animal Hospital with locations in Hampshire and Gilberts. Visit, or call (847) 683-4788 (Hampshire) or (847) 426-1000 (Gilberts).

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