How to Care for your Cat

Cats go through several phases of aging

older cat looking at camera

 

Photography by Adri / Getty Images

There are three main building blocks which form the foundation of a cat's potential lifespan: Consistent veterinary care; a nutritious age-appropriate diet; and responsible at-home care. Maintaining a close bond with your cat is also essential to ensuring the highest quality of comfort possible during their entire lifespan.

Basic Cat Stages of Life

While it was once understood that cats go through three basic stages of age, it's now believed they develop through six stages.

  • Kittenhood: The growth period, which for most cats, lasts from birth until about six months. This is when cats are most vulnerable to disease but are also at their most trainable.
  • Junior: (6 months to 2 years) Though year-old cats may appear to be adults physically, they are still developing mentally and emotionally. Think of them as juveniles.
  • Prime: (3 years to 6 years) This is young adulthood when cats are at their most virile.
  • Mature: (7 to 10 years) During these years, the first indications of chronic disease can show up, such as feline diabetesarthritis, or heart disease.
  • Senior: (11 to 14 years) This age in cat years corresponds to a human age of 60 or older.
  • Geriatric: (15 years and older) The final stage in a cats life.

Preparing to Care for An Aging Cat

As cats progress from one phase of life to the next, their care needs evolve. While they may start to function at a slower pace, your cat's senior and geriatric stages have the potential to be some of their best years. Regular veterinary care increases your cat's potential to thrive later in life. Working closely with your veterinarian, knowing the signs of a healthy cat, and seeking immediate veterinary care when in doubt can go a long way toward increasing your cat's potential lifespan.

What You Need

As your cat transitions into older age, here are some key essentials to remember when caring for an elderly feline pet:

  • Proper nutrition: The nutritional needs of healthy senior cats are not much different from those of younger adult cats. But older cats with diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease will require special dietary changes. Check with your vet to see what type of diet is suggested for your cats unique needs.
  • Plenty of water: It's important for aging cats to drink lots of clean, fresh water to help improve kidney function and prevent dehydration. Older cats may sometimes forget to drink, so consider either adding wet food to your cat's diet or switching to wet food for all meals to help ensure she gets plenty of fluids. You can also take your cat to their water bowl on occasion to encourage more drinking.
  • Exercise: Despite their tendency to slow down as they age, all cats benefit from regular exercise—especially cats who may be suffering from arthritis or other joint issues. Just a few minutes with a ribbon or toy mouse can go a long way.
  • Comfortable resting spaces: Cats are sleepy creatures, and they especially need rest as they age. Make sure you cat's favorite spots are cleaned and comfortable. Try offering new pillows or create a cozy nook or cave help your cat feel extra safe.
  • Gentle grooming tools: As cats age, it can be more difficult for them to keep their coats clean. Extra grooming with a very soft brush is a nice way to keep your cat's fur in order. It's also another way for them to receive some loving attention from you.

Preventing Problems With Your Cat During Aging

While veterinary care and a nutritious diet are essential parts of responsible cat care, the following will help prevent many of the problems cats encounter as they age:

  • Disease Screening: All cats 10 years or older should be seen at least twice a year for well-check, and should be tested for chronic diseases common to older cats. If they do have one of these conditions, your veterinarian will need to see them on a more regular basis.
  • Dental care: Although dental care is important through all life stages, it is increasingly important during cats' senior years. Dental diseases and infections can endanger your cat's overall health if they're not treated. Take your aging cat for regular dental checkups and cleanings.
  • Movement and comfort: Offering massages and doing therapeutic exercises with your cat will increase comfort during later years.

General Cat Care

Although genetics may have the biggest effect on how cats age, there are many things we can do to maximize our cats' life potential, starting when they first come into care as a kitten.

  1. Take kittens to a veterinarian for a first visit. They will be tested for worms, checked for fleas, and given their initial vaccines. Keep newly-immunized kittens isolated from other family cats until they are cleared of the communicable diseases.

    Kittens should then be seen by their vet three or four times during the first year, for follow-up vaccines, and to be spayed or neutered.

  2. Take all adopted cats of unknown parentage, including kittens, to be examined as soon as you can. The cat should be tested for FeLV (feline leukemia), FIV (the feline version of the HIV virus) and, in some cases, FIP (feline infectious peritonitis).

  3. Take your cat to the veterinarian once a year, starting at age one, for well-checks and booster vaccines. Senior cats may require more frequent vet visits depending on their overall health.

  4. Spay and neuter cats. This helps the cat's overall health and curbs its mating instincts, as well as helps to reduce the number of feral and stray cats.

  5. Keep cats indoors. Not only will keeping your cat inside help with the stray issue, but it will also prevent your cat from getting many communicable diseases. And indoor cats do not get hit by cars or injured by wild animals.

  6. Don't declaw your cat. There's no health reason for declawing a cat and it can do irreparable damage to a cat's foot. It's also extremely painful for the animal.

  7. Familiarize yourself with signs of health or behavior problems, and know when to take your cat to the vet for suspected illness and emergency treatment.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.