|| Supporting Your Senior Feline ||
Many elements that we often think of as inevitable aspects of getting older – decreased energy levels, stiffness and reluctance to move, general grumpiness – are in fact signs and symptoms of discomfort. This discomfort is neither necessary nor inevitable, and there are many steps we can take to help our companions age as gracefully as possible. As we veterinarians say, ‘age itself is not a disease.’ Senior cats can continue to be active, healthy, joyful, and pain-free. By supporting our cats well as they age, we can help keep this lifestyle a reality.
|| Signs of Aging ||
As your companion climbs in years, you may begin to notice some or all of the following tendencies and behaviours:
- Stiffness when getting up after longer rests
- Difficulty or reluctance to sit or lie down or difficulty getting up from a sitting or lying down position
- Difference in tail set (lower, off to one side, not as flexible or expressive)
- Hesitation going up or down stairs
- Hesitation jumping on or off furniture, tables, shelves, cat trees, etc
- Tentative or ginger when walking, careful foot placement
- Gait seems uneven, choppier or less smooth than previously
- Hesitation to use their litter box (especially if it has high walls)
- Choosing to sit or lie down when eating
- Becoming less responsive or interactive with members of the family
- Less inclined to explore their environment (indoors or outdoors)
- Spending more time indoors and staying closer to home, if an outdoor cat
- Changes in body weight (gain or loss)
- Reduced grooming, especially in particular areas of the body
- Behavioural changes – seeming more reserved, irritable, or low-energy
|| Noticing Signs of Osteoarthritis ||
Especially when you are used to seeing your cat every day, it can be difficult to notice incremental changes in their behaviour or activities. Here are a few additional points to help you determine if your cat is experiencing joint pain:
Image excerpted from: Zoetis Petcare – Cat Osteoarthritis Pain Checklist
It can be challenging to watch your companion start to have difficulty with activities and movements that were easier in their youth. Some helpful things you can do to make the home environment a little more comfortable for your senior cat are to place cushioned mats where your cat typically lands when they jump down from things, or use pet stairs or an ottoman to reduce the height they will need to jump up and down from a favourite spot. This allows your cat to continue to engage their muscles, but decreases the impact their activity will have on aging joints.
|| Make Safe Use of Stairs ||
Although it can seem best to help your companion avoid stairs completely, stairs actually provide a valuable exercise opportunity if approached safely. While it is a good idea to limit free access to stairs if your companion is not steady on them, offering them the chance to go up or down with supervision several times during the course of the day can be very beneficial – this will activate much-needed stabilizer muscles that support your cat’s balance and mobility. One thing to keep in mind with exercises like this is the principle of moderation; more is not always better when working muscles. Consistency, on the other hand, can never be overrated! Ensure that the stairs have good traction, like carpet or a runner mat – if your stairs are bare, there are several options of temporary stair treads available for both indoor and outdoor use.
|| Appropriate Diet Adjustments ||
It stands to reason that as your companion becomes less active with age, their daily caloric needs will change as well. Weight gain can be particularly problematic for older cats who likely already have some degree of joint dysfunction. In combination with loss of muscle, the excess weight places a greater burden on the compromised joints. Fat tissue also is known to spur the body into an inflammatory state, further aggravating arthritic joints. Maintaining a trim, healthy weight can help ease joint strain and discomfort and encourage your companion to remain active.
Your veterinarian can work with you to choose an appropriate diet that supports any systemic issues your companion has, provides adequate fat and protein to help them sustain or rebuild their muscle mass, while avoiding diets or amounts that are too dense in calories for a senior cat.
|| Reduce Height Barriers ||
As your cat gets older, they might have difficulty with some of the more acrobatic movements they were used to in their younger days. Keep an eye out for opportunities to remove height barriers, while still allowing your cat to enjoy their favourite spots. If they have a particular perch or shelf that they prefer, see if there is an option to lower the height or add some extra stepping points (as mentioned above) so that their joints aren’t absorbing as much impact each time they hop up and down. If their litter box is a high-sided one, try switching to one with lower sides (or even using the lid of a Rubbermaid bin if your companion is experiencing quite limited mobility). If the lower sides cause concern for mess on the nearby walls or floor, one protective option is to use disposable ‘puppy pee pads’ placed under key areas or secured to the wall.
|| We Can Help ||
There is much that can be done to support your companion as they age – the most important thing to keep in mind is that continued mobility matters. Rather than allowing your cat to transition to a more and more sedentary lifestyle, look for ways to keep them active and mobile while monitoring for any signs of increased discomfort.
Your veterinarian can play a key role in monitoring your companion’s health as they age, and in recommending activities, supplements, and complementary treatment options that will help your cat continue to live their best life. Regular wellness checks make it more likely that any emerging issues will be detected early, when intervention is likely to be most successful. Keep note of any changes in behaviour or habits that you notice, and never hesitate to ask questions or bring up any concerns – we’re here to help!