Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I adopted Tobias, a Siamese mix, 2.5 years ago from a shelter. I have Crohn’s Disease and PTSD, as well as a diagnosis of autism, so he acts as an “unofficial therapy cat,” offering unconditional companionship and love. When I adopted him, I was told he was 5 years old (which would now make him around 7, in theory). But multiple vet appointments have revealed he’s probably closer to 10 or 11 (and I’ve been told this is a “low” estimate), which would explain his kidney values, along with the condition of his teeth (he’s going under for dental surgery next Tuesday). Knowing he’s an older cat, what are some ways I can help him? Is there any thing extra I should keep in mind, or consider, caring for my cat as he ages? He’s enhanced my life so much. I adore him. He’s my best friend. I want to ensure his own quality of life is the best it can be, as we both move forward in life.
Thomas: Thank you for asking this question, Erica, because it’s a very important one. Senior cats do have some special needs, and as a senior cat myself (I’m 16), I’m able to give you some answers from experience.
Bella: And we also have the experience of living with our Siouxsie (may she frolic forever in the mouse-filled fields on the other side of the Bridge) to draw on.
Tara: So, let’s get started!
Thomas: First of all, it’s a great thing that you’re getting Tobias’s teeth taken care of. That will go a long way to keeping his kidney values stable. Dental disease can contribute to kidney disease. I know that when I had my sick teeth removed, it helped me feel better!
Bella: Another thing that’s important is to bring Tobias to the vet for checkups twice a year, if you can possibly afford it. If you’re on a fixed income due to your disability and you can’t afford twice a year, we’d encourage you to at least take him in once a year.
Tara: Once a cat reaches the age of 10 or so, they age the equivalent of four human years for every one year of life. For example, at the age of 16, Thomas is the equivalent of an 80-year-old human. (Check out this cat age chart if you want to see how old your cat is in human years.)
Thomas: As cats age, they tend to develop some of the same age-related diseases as humans. Arthritis is pretty common in senior cats, but there’s a lot you can do to keep arthritic cats comfortable. A nice heated cat bed is great for creaky cats. I know I love mine!
Bella: I like the heated bed, too, and I’m not even a senior cat! But I’m a super-nice kitty and I let Thomas have the bed when he wants it.
Tara: Now, here are some other things you can do to help your senior cat age well.
Thomas: First, feed Tobias the best quality food you can afford. Cats are obligate carnivores–they need to eat meat to survive–and the best easily available source of meat is canned cat food. As a bonus, canned food is easier for cats to eat if they’re missing teeth.
Bella: Second, get educated about illnesses senior cats can develop. It sounds like Tobias may have kidney disease, and the best website for kidney disease information is Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Feline Chronic Kidney Disease. There’s all kinds of info there about the illness itself, treatments that are common, and support for people with CKD cats.
Tara: There’s also a Facebook group, Feline Chronic Kidney Disease, that is a great resource for support.
Thomas: The Cornell Feline Health Center has information about all aspects of cat health, including diseases that senior cats (or cats of any age) could encounter. It also has advice on dealing with behavior issues.
Bella: Now, another thing to keep in mind is the litter box. All cats have different litter box needs, and this is especially true now that your Tobias is a senior cat.
Tara: We recommend an open litter box rather than a covered one. Cats tend to prefer open boxes because they can see what’s going on around them when they’re in a particularly vulnerable position. Also, it’s easier for you humans to remember to clean the box. Tee hee hee!
Thomas: If you’re inclined to read books, we think Amy Shojai’s Complete Care for Your Aging Cat is a great choice. It’s newly updated with the latest info, and Mama learned so much from this book! In fact, Mama says Amy is one of the people who inspired her to help us write this blog!
Bella: She says it really helped her as Siouxsie aged and dealt with age-related health concerns.
Tara: Most of all, keep alert for any changes in appetite or energy level, because that could indicate a problem needing veterinary attention. Cats are really subtle about not feeling well, and if you’re not really tuned into Tobias, you could miss those tiny signs.
Thomas: But it sounds like you’ve got a deep connection to Tobias, and we know you’ll be aware when he needs your help or the help of a veterinarian.
Bella: So, long story short: You’re doing everything right. We hope our tips will help you to continue to keep Tobias happy and healthy for many years to come!
Tara: What about you other readers? Do you have some tips for Erica on caring for a senior cat? Please share them in the comments!