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Home > Cats > 8 Signs Your Cat is Aging: Vet-Reviewed Changes to Look For

8 Signs Your Cat is Aging: Vet-Reviewed Changes to Look For

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Veterinarian, MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Aging is an inevitable factor of any living organism in this life. But it is a hard pill to swallow regarding our domesticated pets. After all, our cats become ingrained in our lives, just like any family member.

If your cat is advancing in years, you might wonder just how they’ll change from the kitten you once knew. We will talk about the physical and mental signs your cat is aging, what you can do to help them along the process, and what the golden years have in store.

divider-catThe 8 Signs Your Cat is Aging

1. Slowing Down

Once your cat exits the teenage stage, it might seem like they already calmed down quite a bit. Younger cats naturally exhibit more energy, just like many other mammals. But when they start to age, things begin to mellow.

You might notice that your cat is just less active than they once were. Often this is not due to underlying pain, but just the natural aging process. Many older cats stop playing quite as much, exhibit less hunting behavior, and spend a lot more time napping.

But sometimes, it can signal an underlying health issue. Joint and back problems are more common in elderly cats after a lifetime of leaping about. Heart and respiratory problems are also a possibility.  Regular check ups with your veterinarian will help detect these problems as they crop up.

tabby cat sleeping outside
Image By: Ben Kerckx, Pixabay

2. Limited Mobility

Cats can start to have a limited range of mobility for many reasons. The primary culprits are joint disorders like arthritis, which inhibit the natural motion your cat is used to. Even if your cat does not have degenerative joint disease, their bodies might not be as agile or swift as they once were.

If you’ve noticed limited mobility in your senior, look for other signs that something might be amiss. If you pet or touch your cat, and they respond with aggression or irritation, it could be because they’re in pain. Hesitancy to jump up or down and go up or down stairs also gives clues of joint disease.

If you think that your cat is experiencing pain related to limited mobility it’s best to make a vet appointment to get the necessary examination as the first step toward pain relief.

Some issues due to aging can be resolved, but you often have to devise a long-term treatment plan alongside your veterinarian.

3. Lumps & Imperfections

As your cat ages, they might start getting tumors or unsightly blemishes. Some lumps that develop can be cancerous and problematic, others are nothing to worry about. These developing imperfections are a more common part of the aging process.

Any new lump or bump that you discover on your cat should be checked out by a veterinarian to see if removal or treatment is required. Look out for signs of increasing size, change in color, itching or bleeding of any lumps that you notice.

Cat with a lump epiplocele omentum hernia
Image Credit: Todorean-Gabriel, Shutterstock

4. Litter Box Changes

When your cat starts getting up there in years, it’s imperative to take more notice of the litter box. Your cat’s stool can tell you a lot about its current health. So if they are experiencing a problematic bodily malfunction, you’ll know.

Typically you can look for excessively hard or soft stools, abnormal color, diarrhea, and constipation.

Also, urine output is just as important. The most common health problems related to frequent urine output for senior cats include diabetes, kidney disease, and thyroid problems.

Senior cats may also have difficulty navigating the litter box as they once did and may need it swapped to a design more suited to elderly cats.

5. Personality Changes

Personality changes go beyond how your cat behaves towards you and in their daily interactions. You might notice things like your cat’s changing their preferences, having less patience, showing signs of irritability, and so on.

But personality changes can also manifest as forgetfulness or confusion. You might notice that they don’t remember where the litter box is or spend time meowing and wandering around the house aimlessly.

This can be a sign of confusion in your cat and brain aging. They might have something such as feline cognitive decline. By the time the cat turns 17 years old, 40% of cats will have some level of cognitive decline. So it is a relatively common thing but can be distressing for owners to witness.

Typically this disorder starts with confusion and leads to a variety of other in-home issues, like clinginess, extreme vocalization, and forgetting certain locations. If you notice this confusion, you’ll need to get them to your vet for proper evaluation.

close up of an angry cat
Image Credit: Mikhail Shustov, Shutterstock

6. Cloudy Eyes & Blindness

If you’ve looked at the eyes of a senior cat before, you may have noticed that some of them have a milky look to them.

This doesn’t necessarily guarantee cataracts, but they are a possibility. Eye issues can significantly impact your cat’s vision, leading to partial or complete vision loss.

It isn’t uncommon at all for cats to go partially or totally blind as they age. If your cat does end up losing their vision, there are special accommodations to put in place to keep them safe.

Any changes to your cat’s eyes should be checked by a veterinarian as they can signal problems elsewhere in the body too such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

7. Poor Coat

As your cat ages, its coat might not be as shiny, vibrant, soft, or full as it once was. As your cat’s body slows down, not as many core nutrients nourish the fur as they did in their younger years.

The poor coat conditions can signal many underlying health issues, such as metabolic problems or hormone imbalances. Since there is such a broad spectrum of issues related to poor coat quality, it’s essential to look for other signs that point to problems to help reach a diagnosis.

Once your veterinarian treats the underlying issue, you can improve the coat in other ways, such as by offering treats or supplements that are high in omega fatty acids.

close up of an old calico cat
Image Credit: Sonja-Kalee, Pixabay

8. Tooth Decay

Looking at your cat’s mouth, you may find that all is not as it once was. It’s very common for cats, especially those without proper dental maintenance, to develop dental issues.

The good thing about dental issues is that you can easily detect them at home. Routinely look inside your senior cat’s mouth to see if there are any signs of tartar buildup, lumps, or gum bleeding that could point to a more serious issue.

Dental disease is painful and should be treated as early as possible.


Cat Life Stages

You might wonder at what age your cat is considered a senior in medical terms. Here is a chart showing the different life stages so you can better understand where your cat is in the range.

Age in Cat Years Age in Human Years
Kittens 0-6 months 0-10
Juveniles 6 months-12 months 10-15
Adults 1-6 years 15-40
Mature 7-10 44-59
Senior 11-14 60-75
Geriatric 15+ 76+

The first two years are considered equivalent to 25 human years and after that add 4 cat years for every human year.

How to Care for Aging Seniors

Often, you gradually grow with your aging friend, so it’s easy to make small changes along the way. You can help your senior cat maintain an excellent quality of life with a combination of environmental and dietary focus.

Proper Nutrition

Giving your cat a solid, nutritious diet is vital from day one. But things start to change as they get older. Once your cat enters senior years, it requires a diet supporting its aging body.

Adult cat food is perfect for bodily maintenance until your cat is roughly seven years of age. Then, they need to switch to a new recipe specifically formulated for older cats. Many times, you can stick with your trusted brand.

Dental, kidney, and joint issues are common in older cats, so their diet should reflect that. Ask your vet for a recommendation.

Regular Vetting

When your cat starts to age, it might need to see the vet a little more frequently than it did in its younger years. This is especially true if they develop any health issue that requires monitoring, treatment, or medication.

You might get lucky and still have to take your cat only annually as you did before. But if your cat develops any health problems they might want to see them biannually or even more often than that.

Until the years pass, it’s hard to foresee everything that could possibly go wrong. As your cat ages, their bones and bodies become less able to handle injury, illness, and many other potential problems. So, regular trips to the vet are definitely something to plan for.

veterinarian holding a cat with bandage on paw
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Decrease Environmental Stress

If your cat is a little slower these days mentally and physically, it’s best to decrease as much environmental stress as possible. They need to live a lackadaisical life. They need a spot to retreat where they can be completely alone if things get a little too chaotic around the household.

Naturally, this does not exclude exercise as it is still very important to your feline counterpart. Exercise provides physical and mental health benefits so try and encourage your older puss to wander around and play a little each day.

Respect Boundaries

We all change as we age. Our cats are the same. You might notice subtle changes in their personality over time. Other physical issues can influence overall behavior as well.

For example, if they are in pain due to arthritis or another health issue, they might not want to be held or handled like they used to. They might also just be tired and want to rest. That means any overstimulation might get an adverse reaction from them.

If you notice something vexing your cat, it’s best to avoid it entirely, even if that means modifying your behavior to match their needs.

hind legs of a cat suffering from arthritis
Image Credit: Roman Chekhovskoi, Shutterstock

Dental Focus

Our cats’ teeth can get downright nasty if you have not taken the proper measures to ensure excellent dental health. Like us, our pets very much benefit from daily brushing.

Daily brushing removes any plaque or tartar buildup on the teeth and gum line, preventing dental disease from developing later in life. However, this routine maintenance is not possible in all cats and dental treatment may become necessary.

Dental treats and foods that help to keep plaque and tartar at bay are available. Check the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) list for approved dental products.

Pay close attention to any changes you notice in your cat’s breath, mouth appearance, and eating habits. If your cat’s teeth give them trouble, they may suddenly develop difficulty eating dry kibble and other food items.

Importance of Pet Insurance

Pet insurance is an up-and-coming service that you can opt into for your pets. We want to highlight some critical details that might help you in the future.

For example, typically with most pet insurance companies, the earlier you opt for a policy in your pet’s life, the cheaper your insurance will be. Also, if you wait until your cat develops a long-term illness before getting pet insurance, they will not cover it.

Most pet insurance companies refute pre-existing conditions. So, if you wait to get pet insurance, it might not help you with the very real possibility of your cat already having a health issue.

So if you’re going to get cat insurance, the earlier, the better.


Final Thoughts

So as your wonderful cats meander through their lifetime, it’s best to educate yourself on the changes that will come with that. After all, our feline counterparts rely very much on us as their caretakers to help them manage.

While we can’t ever be prepared for everything life throws our way, you can help alleviate a lot of stress by preparing as best as you can.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Alex Zotov, Shutterstock

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