Senior Cat Health: Addressing 6 Common Concerns For Optimal Wellbeing · The Wildest

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6 Common Health Concerns in Senior Cats

How to spot and how to treat them.

by Dr. Alycia Washington, DVM, MS
Updated July 21, 2023
Owner pets senior ginger cat.
Tanya Yatsenko / Stocksy

Your cat is your baby no matter how old they are, and no one can ever tell you differently. But you can’t ignore the fact that when they get older, you’ll need to pay attention to new health concerns and aches and pains that might pop up for your kitty as they enter their Golden Girls era.

When are cats considered seniors? 

Curious if your cat is technically elderly? Advances in veterinary medicine have led to an overall increase in the life expectancy of cats, especially those that receive regular veterinary care. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Senior Care Guidelines, older cats are classified as mature or middle-aged at seven to 10 years old, cats are senior at 11 to 14 years old, and geriatric cats are 15 to 25 years old.

How do i know if my elderly cat is suffering?

Wondering what old-age symptoms are in cats? Here are some of the signs that your cat is getting old:

  • One of the most common pain-associated behavior changes in elderly cats is a decrease in grooming and self-care. Osteoarthritis (OA) is common in cats as they age, and spinal arthritis makes it painful for them to twist so they can groom their body.

  • If your elderly cat starts missing the litter box or going to the bathroom elsewhere, that is another common sign that they are in pain. Lower back or hip pain makes getting into and out of the litter box hurtful.

  • Older cats who are in pain may not jump up on furniture anymore or might ask to be lifted up.

  • Your elderly cat might not want to be picked up or petted on certain body parts if they are suffering. They also might become aggressive when someone tries to pet them.

  • Other signs of painful aging include laying down to eat or drink, lethargy, excessive licking, and loss of interest in toys.

What should I feed my elderly cat?

There isn’t a lot of research to prove that the nutritional needs of healthy senior cats are different from those of younger adult cats. But some elderly cats can lose or gain weight as they get older, so portion control is important. The food you serve should contain a guaranteed analysis listing the percentage of the food that is crude protein, crude fat, moisture, and crude fiber. If your older cat has one of the common illnesses such as diabetes, however, consult your vet to see what they advise food-wise because certain nutrients may need to be supplemented.

Is dry food OK for senior cats?

Dry food may be more difficult for your senior cat to eat if they develop dental issues, and wet food can be easier for them to chew. Moisture content of the food is also important for elderly cats if they have digestion or kidney problems. Some health conditions make it harder for elderly cats to absorb certain vitamins or nutrients, so your vet may recommend a particular supplement. For example, gastrointestinal issues can prevent a cat to absorb vitamin B12.

What is the most common illness in older cats?

Let’s review six common diseases affecting senior cats, their symptoms, and some expected diagnostics and treatments for them.

1. Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed diseases in senior cats. The kidneys are responsible for eliminating waste products, balancing the body’s water content, and releasing hormones that control blood pressure, calcium levels, and red blood cell production. Kidney function often decreases with age, leading to dehydration, buildup of waste products, urine changes, high blood pressure, and anemia. 

Symptoms of CKD in cats include increased urination, increased water intake, vomiting, decreased appetite, and weight loss. Cats with CKD have trouble maintaining hydration, so increased urination and thirst are often early signs of this disease. Vomiting or decreased appetite may indicate a sudden increase in kidney enzymes. CKD causes weight loss due to reduced muscle mass and fat stores.  

Blood work, urinalysis, and blood pressure checks are used to diagnose chronic kidney disease and determine the stage of the disease. Ultrasound of the kidneys may be useful in differentiating CKD from other causes of kidney problems. CKD is managed, not cured, so treatment may include diet, fluid therapy, or medications, depending on the severity of the disease. 

2. Hyperthyroid Disease

We’ve all seen the cranky, skinny old cat. While some of these slender cats are just asserting their dominance over humans by being crabby, others have underlying hyperthyroid disease. Thyroid hormones help regulate body temperature, metabolism, and behavior. Hyperthyroid disease involves an overproduction of these thyroid hormones, leading to rapid metabolism, increased hunger, high blood pressure, and behavioral changes. 

Symptoms of hyperthyroid disease include weight loss (despite a healthy appetite), vomiting, and changes to behavior like hyperactivity and aggression. Feline hyperthyroid disease is diagnosed from a thorough physical exam (checking for enlarged thyroid glands) and blood work. Once confirmed, additional tests are often recommended to rule out secondary issues like kidney or heart disease.

Treatment involves regulating thyroid hormone production with medication, diet, radiation treatment, or surgery. Depending on the chosen therapeutic option, treatment may be long-term management or a one-time procedure. 

3. Diabetes Mellitus

Older, overweight cats are at increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus. Diabetes mellitus occurs when the body’s blood sugar levels are abnormal due to either a lack of insulin production (Type I) or inappropriate response to insulin (Type II). Cats are more likely to be diagnosed with Type II diabetes. Symptoms of diabetes mellitus include increased thirst, increased urination, poor appetite, vomiting, and weight loss. Diabetes mellitus is diagnosed with blood work and a urinalysis. 

Treatment involves dietary restrictions and insulin injections — often twice daily. Regular blood sugar checks are needed to ensure the insulin dose does not need to be adjusted. Cats with Type II diabetes mellitus can go into remission with proper treatment. Remission of disease has been reported in approximately 30 percent of cases with treatment, so early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can make a big impact. 

4. Arthritis

Senior cats may become less active with age, as cartilage wears thin, leading to joint inflammation and pain. Some of this may be due to a well-developed indifference to their surroundings, but sometimes it is due to underlying joint pain.

Symptoms of arthritis in cats include limping, reluctance to jump, stiff gait, and decreased activity. Radiographs are used to identify arthritic joints — hips, elbows, and knees are common sites of feline arthritis. Treatment involves pain control, weight management, and environmental changes like pet stairs and low-walled litter boxes

5. Dental Disease

Cats commonly develop dental disease as they age. Feline dental disease can vary in severity from tartar build up to tooth resorption. Untreated dental disease leads to oral pain and increased risk of infection. A tell tale signs of dental disease are when a cat has bad breath, difficulty eating, drops food, drools, and has poor appetite. 

Dental disease is diagnosed with a thorough physical exam and dental radiographs. Treatment involves dental cleanings, extractions (tooth removal) when indicated, and treating underlying infections.

6. Cancer

An unfortunate truth is that the risk of cats developing cancer increases as they get older. Common cancers seen in cats include lymphoma, squamous cell sarcoma, and mammary tumors. Symptoms seen in cats with cancer include poor appetite, lethargy, weight loss, labored breathing, changes to the skin, or fur loss. However, symptoms can vary widely, so regular check-ups are essential for early detection. 

Diagnosis is dependent on the type and location of the disease, but blood work, radiographs, ultrasound, and cytology are commonly used tools. Treatment options vary by diagnosis, but your veterinarian can talk you through all available options.

FAQ (People Also Ask):

1) What are signs of illness in older cats?

Signs of illness include decrease in grooming, not using the litter box, pain when trying to jump on things, loss of interest in being pet or playing with toys.

2) What is the most common disease in older cats?

The most common diseases in older cats are chronic kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroid disease, arthritis, dental disease and cancer.

3) Why do older cats stop drinking water?

Cats with health issues such as kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism are more likely to become dehydrated and need to be watched if they start drinking less water.

4) When should I be concerned about my elderly cat?

If your elderly cat appears to be in pain or their eating and drinking habits change, you should take them to the vet because they may have a health condition.

5) How do you keep senior cats healthy?

Make sure your senior cat stays healthy by taking them to regular vet visits, monitor their behavior, eating and drinking, help them groom, and eliminate stress.

6) What are the options for managing health problems in senior cats?

Feeding your senior cat a healthy diet is one of the main ways to manage health problems, but some conditions, such as cancer, require special treatment.

7) What are the best things for senior cats? 

Take them for regular vet visits, feed them a healthy diet, pay attention to their behavior, and learn the common signs of pain and sickness.


alycia washington, dvm

Dr. Alycia Washington, DVM, MS

Alycia Washington, DVM, is a small animal emergency veterinarian based in North Carolina. She works as a relief veterinarian and provides services to numerous emergency and specialty hospitals. Dr. Washington is also a children’s book author and freelance writer with a focus on veterinary medicine. She has a special fondness for turtles, honey bees, and penguins — none of which she treats. In her free time, Dr. Washington enjoys travel, good food, and good enough coffee. 

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