Ageing is a natural process. While ageing itself is not a disease, cats will go through both mental and physical changes as they mature. As our pets age, there are two kinds of changes that can occur: physiological (i.e. normal changes) and pathological (i.e. abnormal changes).
Physiological changes are those we expect in ageing cats and commonly occur. These include losses to the senses (such as hearing, vision and taste), loss of muscle mass, changes to their weight (either weight loss or gain), and reduced activity.
Pathological changes refer to health issues that our senior cats become more prone to as they age, due to the progressive loss of the function of body systems and organs. The most common health issues in pets as they age are osteoarthritis, dental disease, heart disease, kidney disease and brain related changes that can result in unusual behaviour.
Each cat is an individual and the rate of ageing varies. Therefore, the age at which pets become classified as a senior varies between pets of different sizes and breeds.
It is best to speak with your veterinarian about your cat at their next check-up to understand when your pet may be considered a senior citizen. Once they are a senior, this may mean they require more regular check-ups and may benefit from a change to their diet, to help support this crucial phase of life.
Your cat will need different levels of veterinary care and nutrition at each stage of it’s life. As your cat enters its senior years, it will benefit from more regular check-ups with the veterinarian to help detect any health issues early, and to ensure they remain in the best health possible.
Just as with humans, the ageing process is an individual experience and different cats will show signs of ageing cat different times. Generally speaking, your cat will be considered mature and will start to show the first signs of ageing at a cellular level at approximately 7 years of age. From the age of 11 onwards, your cat is then classified as a senior as the signs of ageing more obvious, and then finally a geriatric from 15 years onwards.
Signs of feline ageing
Although each individual cat will display signs of ageing differently, there are some common ageing processes and signs to look out for.
- Changes to senses: Vision, taste, smell and hearing can all be affected in senior cats, some of which may be subtle. As your cat’s senses decline with age, so will their appetite. Appetite changes can also be a sign of dental issues and should always be checked. A combination of these problems can then lead to weight loss, especially in geriatric cats over 15 years of age.
- Behaviour: As cats age, it is normal for them to spend more time sleeping and become more sedentary. Other changes in behaviour, however, may point to an underlying health issue and should always be discussed with your veterinarian. Some abnormal behaviours changes include an increase in anxiety, increased vocalisation, lack of interaction, changes to grooming behaviour and house soiling. Cats can also experience a decline in their cognition that may result in unusual behaviour.
- Weight: Generally speaking, mature cats have an increased risk of gaining weight, and as they grow older and enter their geriatric years, they tend to have difficulty maintaining a healthy bodyweight. Diet can be an important part of ensuring your cat stays at an optimal bodyweight.
- Health issues: Generally speaking, the most common health issues in cats are osteoarthritis, kidney and thyroid issues. The signs of osteoarthritis in cats can be very subtle and may include a reluctance to jump up or jump down from a height, and an inability to groom certain areas of their body, especially their rear end. Any changes to your cat’s thirst, appetite and/or weight can be a sign of other health issues.
It is important to discuss any of the above changes with your veterinarian, as these may be an important sign of an underlying health condition, where early detection and management is always preferred and in the best interest of your cat.
Nutrition for Senior Cats
A critical part of supporting your senior cat is ensuring they are eating an appropriately tailored senior diet. Senior diets are formulated to help support senior cats through the inclusion of specific nutrients to help slow the onset of age-related disease and help alleviate the signs of ageing:
- Highly digestible protein, and the inclusion of specific amino acids, that help your cat maintain lean muscle mass
- Adapted calorie content to ensure your cat maintains an ideal bodyweight. This becomes especially important as they age – Royal Canin Senior Consult Stage 2, is relatively high in calorie to help senior and geriatric cats maintain their bodyweight even as their appetite declines.
- Reduced levels of phosphorus to help support healthy kidney function
- Rich in antioxidants to help slow down the ageing process
- Strong smelling diets to help entice older cats and support a healthy appetite
- Specific nutrients such as glucosamine, chondroitin and omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil to support joint health