Friday, April 11, 2008

Your aging cat: what changes will I notice in my older kitty?

Geriatric Cats--the most loveable of all cats!

As a cat grows older, just like us, there will start to be signs that they are not as they used to be. For instance:

Physically - As they get older, they become susceptible to things like arthritis and general wear and tear on the old bones. This will make it difficult for them to get around as much as they used to and for a cat this can be very disabling. Especially as jumping and climbing is one of their main activities.

Behaviour - A senior cat, just like with us humans, may also degenerate mentally, causing symptoms similar to Alzheimer's disease or just changes in their normal behaviour that you may find strange.

As with any change in behaviour it is always important to rule out any other illness that may cause similar symptoms and so must be checked out by a Vet. But if the cat is pronounced healthy then general old age is the culprit. Vets call it cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).

You may notice that your senior cat starts to display some of these symptoms:

Excessive Meowing - this is more pronounced at nighttime and is generally put down to the fact that the cat may have become confused and is not sure of where they are. This can be very distressing for both the cat and the owner.
Try putting your cat into a separate room at night and play some soft quiet music, which may help to calm them, and feel more secure.

Pacing - Old cats may start to pace around in circles or just wander from room to room. Again this can be put down to confusion.
Try distracting them with string games or just some gentle stroking.

Change in behaviour towards you and other pets - This behaviour can go either way from behaving as if they don't know you and running away from your attentions to becoming over clingy and obsessive about being with you. Some cat owners have noticed that their senior cat may start to rub themselves excessively around other pets whereas before they would stay clear.
Sleeping habits - Old cats can also experience changes to their usual sleeping routines. This can mean that they either begin to sleep more and become less active generally or can be awake all night, pacing and meowing.
Litter Tray habits - A senior cat may begin to urinate outside their litter tray where before they always used it. Although this may be a sign of CDS it may also mean that they are finding it physically difficult to use the tray or that it may be painful to urinate and they associate the tray with the pain.
Appetite - As a cat grows older their sense of smell may deteriorate thus causing the cat not to want to eat their usual food. Also they will start to drink less water, unfortunately drinking less can add to their CDS symptoms.
How can you help your senior cat?
Firstly be sympathetic, they are old and it may not be their fault that they have urinated outside their litter tray. Treat them as you would an elderly relative and make allowances for them. Here are a few things to help make your senior cats life as comfortable as possible:

Feed fresh canned food as this has the strongest aroma, at regular intervals through out the day. Remember to only feed a little amount at a time to prevent over eating and the food going stale in the dish.
Change the brand of food regularly to stimulate the cat's appetite.
A little hot water can be added to food to increase the aroma.
Provide plenty of fresh water around the home for your senior cat.
Provide easy to climb into litter trays and perhaps provide extra ones around the home, so that the forgetful moggy easily finds them.
Place bedding on the floor or in easily accessible places. Some cats may even require ramps to help them get around the home.
Extra games - to help your cat's mental alertness play gentle batting games with a ball or a feather. It doesn't have to be too energetic just enough to keep them interested and alert.
Close off areas of your home that may cause the old cat injury. Stairs in particular will be difficult to climb with stiff joints and your cat may find itself stranded half way up.

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