How to Care for an Aging Cat

Cats go through several phases of aging

gray-white tabby cat plays with a cat feather toy
by CaoWei / Getty Images

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.

Keys to a Healthy Cat

There are three main building blocks which form the foundation of a cat's potential lifespan. A fourth is essential to assure that lifespan is spent in the highest quality of comfort

  1. Consistent veterinary care
  2. Nutritious age-appropriate diet
  3. Responsible care
  4. Close bond with owner

These guidelines will vary somewhat as cats progress from one phase of aging to another.

Phases of Cat Aging

While it was earlier thought that cats go through three basic stages of age, It is now acknowledged that they actually develop through six stages:

  1. Kittenhood is 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.
  2. Junior, from 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.
  3. Prime, from 3 years to 6 years. This is young adulthood when cats are at their most virile.
  4. Mature, from 7 to 10 years During these years, the first indications of chronic disease can show up, such as feline diabetesarthritis, or heart disease.
  5. Senior, from 11 to 14 years. This age in cat years would correspond to humans aged 60 and older.
  6. Geriatric: over 15 years old

Cat Age and Veterinary Care

The importance of working in a partnership with your veterinarian can't be over-emphasized. Regular veterinary care is the foundation of increasing your cat's potential lifespan.

All adopted cats of unknown parentage, including kittens, should be examined, tested for FeLV (feline leukemia), FIV (the feline version of the HIV virus) and, in some cases, FIP (feline infectious peritonitis).

Newly-immunized kittens should be isolated from other family cats until they are cleared of the communicable diseases. The cats will also be tested for worms and checked for fleas, and initial vaccines will be given at their first vet visit.

Kittens should be seen by their vet three or four times during the first year, for follow-up vaccines, and to be spayed or neutered. During the maintenance years, which lasts until the cat enters old age, most cats should be seen annually, for well-check and booster vaccines. Senior cats may require more frequent vet visits depending on their overall health.

You should also learn when to take your cat to the vet for suspected illness and emergency treatment.

Senior Cats' Veterinary Care

All cats 10 years or older should be seen at least twice a year for well-check. If they have any of the chronic diseases common to older cats, your veterinarian will need to see them on a more regular basis. Although dental care is important through all life stages, it is increasingly important during cats' senior years.

By working closely with our veterinarians, knowing the signs of a healthy cat, and seeking immediate veterinary care when in doubt, we can go a long way toward increasing our cats' potential lifespan.

Cat Age and Diet

A nutritious, age-specific diet forms the second building block of increasing a cat's potential lifespan. Cats instinctively eat the most nutritious food available, and nutritionists use this model toward developing palatable, highly nutritious cat foods as closely aligned as possible to what cats would choose to eat in the wild.

Common Mistakes in Caring for Cats

While veterinary care and a nutritious diet are essential parts of responsible cat care, there are other considerations for keeping a healthy cat

  • Spay and neuter: Not only does this help the cat's overall health and curb its mating instincts, but spaying and neutering help reduce the number of feral and stray cats.
  • Keep cats indoors: Not only will it help with the aforementioned stray cat issue, it will prevent your cat from getting many communicable diseases. And indoor cats do not get hit by cars or injured by wild animals.
  • Don't declaw: There's no health reason for declawing a cat. It can do irreparable damage to a cat's foot and is extremely painful for the animal.