Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Looking after your elderly cat

Why should my elderly cat have regular veterinary examinations?

Well it's simple, your cat CANNOT tell you when they are feeling unwell and although to you their primary carer they may look fit and healthy on the outside things are changing on the inside and by having regular examinations it may be possible to detect an illness in the early stages, therefore it may be possible for your vet to start treatment if required.

Blood/Urine testing

A simple blood or urine test is a great way of finding out how your cat's kidney's functions are and in most cases can be done at your own vet's in house laboratory. There are more extensive blood test available so it is better to get the advice of a qualified Veterinary Surgeon.

When should I get my cat blood tested?

It is always best to consult your own Veterinary surgeon as each practice has a different protocol for such things but blood testing can be done at any age as it gives your vet something to go on in the future. It is also recommend that they be done on a regular basis but each animal is assessed individually at the time.

Isn't all this going to be costly?

Yes, consultations, blood and urine testing can all be very costly but in my opinion is worth it if it means you getting peace of mind knowing you have done the best you can for your elderly cats.

Some Veterinary practices offer nurses clinics for their clients which means the consultation may be at a reduced rate or free although if you are wanting blood and urine tests you may need an appointment with the veterinary surgeon. Please ask your own vet on charges of such things as they will vary but most are covered by pet insurance, this again would need to be checked with your vet and or pet insurance company as policies may vary.

What changes should I be looking for in my elderly cat?

Weight loss – if the weight loss is sudden it could be an indication that there is a medical problem especially if the cat is eating well.

Drinking – always make a note of how much your cat is drinking prior to taking them for a consultation with your local vet as they will almost always ask if you have noticed a change in you pets drinking. This will also apply to the amount of food the cat is eating each day.

Coat condition – some elderly cats stop grooming themselves so may become matted especially around the tail area, this can be an indication that they are no longer able to turn around to reach the back end so regular grooming is always a good thing and is a good way of interacting with your cat. Some cats may not like to be groomed especially if they are in pain or a bit thin so please be gentle and if your cat is agitated by it (I'm sure you know when your cat is upset) stop for a while and try again later. I always find a grooming mitten is good for elderly cats and doesn't pull at their coat as much as a regular brush or comb might and they just absolutely love it.

Claws – as your cat gets older their nails may get stuck in the carpet,so examine the paws regularly to make sure the nails are not over grown, they can grow so much that they start to go into the pads which is painful and may cause your cat to limp. Your vet will always be happy to trim the nails for you (unless your cat is like Clary and hated having her paws touched), if you are brave enough you could ask your vet/nurse to teach you how to clip the nails especially if they grow quickly as this would save your cats the sometimes stressful journey to the vets.

Toileting – if your cat has always gone outside to use the toilet then please be aware that as they get older it may be necessary to provide a litter tray indoors. Some cats as they get older prefer to go in a area that is safe (this is usual at home), as they are in a vulnerable position anyway. Just imagine how you would feel if you were an elderly cat expected to use the outdoor facilities knowing you were no longer able to run or defend your self as you once did in your younger years.

Cats can also get a little forgetful as they get older so please be patient with them if they have the odd accident around the house and always contact your veterinary surgeon if it becomes an ongoing problem. They will be able to give you advice or put you in contact with someone who may be able to help.

Night time howling – I was once told that cats do not go senile in the same way that dogs do, well I must disagree. I share my home with a number of elder cats and from my own experience senility applies.

You may hear your cat howling at some awful hour of the morning and if your anything like me you'll immediately without a second thought jump out of bed, put all the lights on to check the cats (who by the way will be sitting somewhere looking at you as you fall down the stairs),only to find out that all is well and no-one is hurt.

Cats may wake up from a deep sleep and get confused, its dark, quiet and the person they rely on to keep them warm and safe is no where to be found (or so they think). Just by giving them a bit of re-assurance will often calm them down, I have been know to leave a little light on just in case the little ones need to get up during the night.

Please be careful in these situations!!

Miss Clary may have been senile but she was also very clever and knew that if she started howling no matter what time of day somebody would always go running to her rescue when all she wanted was a cuddle on her terms.

I didn't mind as every minute I spent with her was a huge bonus and I'd decided that as long as I had cats in my life there would always be no or very little sleep most nights.

What other changes will I need to make?

One of the most important things for any elderly animal is to make sure they have a warm comfortable place to sleep (though I'm sure most of your cats have already taken over your favourite spots), but in some cases they still prefer to sleep on cold surfaces which although may be what they want it isn't entirely good for them especially if they suffer from arthritis.

Providing a hot water bottle (safely wrapped in a towel of course) or a heat pad (these are easily obtainable from many shops) will give your cat both a warm and comfortable place to sleep with the option of getting off if things get a little hot. There are also special beds called fleck-ta-beds which reflect the bodies own heat.

A few of my elderly cats now find it difficult jumping onto the bed or sofa so by providing steps makes life a whole lot easier for them, all I have done is placed a few boxes (the sturdy kind) or wicker baskets (upside down or they fall in) around my home so that they can always sleep in their favourite places without feeling like they need to climb a mountain to get there. Alternatively you could just go out and buy low leveled furniture but that might just get a little expensive!!!

It may also be necessary to place food and water bottles on slightly raised platforms as they may find it difficult bending down to eat and drink, one simple way of doing this is to use an upside down litter tray.

My cat doesn't seem to be as active

It's only fair to expect elderly cats to slow down as they get older, or is it?

Just because your cat is getting older does not mean they should stop playing (unless of course their Clary's age and only play when no one is watching), one of my cats at 16 years of age still loves to play and I have heard of cats older that still run around like kittens (maybe not for as long as a kitten would) but still it is important for your cat to get regular daily exercise even if it's just a few minutes, so take the time for a little play, it would be good for both of you and make your friendship even more special.

If however your cat is no longer able to move around as they once would then please instead of putting it down to old age as so many people do, ask the staff at your local veterinary surgery for help and advice on what to do. There are a number of possibilities available for your cat; it may be a case of medication or a short course of physiotherapy or even massage

I know it seems like you have to make a lot of changes in your life to accommodate your cat when they get older but just imagine how you would feel if it were you!!

I hope all the information I have provided helps you and your cats have a long, happy life together.

In 1997 I started work in a different veterinary practice and was there for just over 8 years; it is my belief that if I did not change my job Miss Clary would never had lived for an extra 10 years. The support I received from everyone involved in the care of my "Little Angel" over the years was amazing.

If you would like to contact me please email me at

I will always be happy to talk to you even if it's for support but remember the staff at your local practice are always happy to help and it is always better to get a full medical examination even when your not able pin point where or what the problem is, don't feel as though your wasting the time of your Veterinary Surgeon or feel like your going mad, believe me I've done it many times myself.

You're the one that spends the most time with your cats so you know their behaviour better then anyone else.

Copyright 2005 Jenny James –


caroline said...


brian said...

excellent my beautiful princess.i think you should add a "very" in front of the mental for mousey.

Sarah W said...

Hi Jen, congratulations on creating such a loving website to your furry friends. It's very moving. And the practical info is great too. Hope to see you add more soon.
A mega mega big thank you for all the kindness and love you showed Barney in her final weeks - she trusted you totally from the first moment she met you, and she always was a good judge of character. Thank you too for all the friendship and support you gave me at the end.

Carolyn said...

I have just recently experienced the howling, forgetting where the litter box is, etc with my dear Katie, who is 15 years old. She is getting good care with the vet and with me. Considering I am an older gal, I don't think it is too much trouble to take care of a dear little cat sister. I ex[ect my family to do the same for me.

chris bradfield said...

Love your web site, its really a lovely idea and excellently written - well done.

I was looking around and spotted the site as I was looking for other owners who may have a similar age cat to my 'Henry'
He is our baby and true little friend of 19years. He has been with me and my partner Sarah from four weeks old. He is slowing up now and has difficulty walking about, we think it must be arthritis. He has a tablet morning and night for thyroid, otherwise hes fine. He also drinks a lot of water now of course. He enjoys his food and we feed him every four hours with his favourite Whiskas tipples or whatever we think he may enjoy - he deserves what he wants now. x

Henry sends his love to all his furry friends xx

Henrys daddy - Chris

Amy Misner said...

Thank you for the advise on what to look for in older cats. I have currently obtained a 12 year old female cat that I am trying hard to find a home. I have no idea how to take care of cats since I have always just owned dogs and fostered dogs. I never knew how hard it would be to find a good forever home for a elderly cat. So I have been reading on things I should be doing to take care of her until I can find her a home where she doesnt have to live seperate from the family. I have three dogs that dont like cats I found out so for her saftey I have her living upstairs where the kids bedrooms are.