Signs Your Cat Is Aging and When to See the Vet

Senior Cat
Getty - Blend Images / Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

Thankfully, due to improvements in veterinary care and nutrition, our feline friends are living much longer than they used to. With our cats living longer, it is important to know the symptoms of common heath issues and when to see your veterinarian. 

Many cats begin to encounter age-related physical and mental changes between seven and ten years of age and due to this, should see their veterinarian twice yearly for wellness exams and diagnostics. Bi-annual exams and diagnostics based on your veterinarian's recommendations are the best way to ensure your cat's health for various reasons including:

  • Cats are masters of hiding pain and illness
  • Subtle behavior changes can mean big problems
  • Preventive care is better than reactive care
  • Cats age much more rapidly than humans

Below are some common changes you may note as your cat ages, which are a sign you should contact your veterinarian. 

Behavioral Changes

Your cat may be more withdrawn and even start hiding. Our cats are bonded to us and like to be engaged and present where we are. When your cat is suddenly not greeting you at the door, not sleeping with you, or not engaging in its normal activities, it may be a sign that something's wrong.

Another common behavior change that can be indicative of an underlying medical issue is a change in social interactions. A previously social cat may begin hissing anytime another pet in the house is around. A sick cat may avoid contact with the other animals or humans in the home, despite loving to sleep and interact with them in the past. 

Cats can also uncharacteristically have episodes of aggression. A cat may begin to growl or hiss when people or other pets in the household approach it, may not be comfortable with being held, and may resent being brushed or combed. A painful cat may bite or scratch, especially if someone touches or moves the sensitive area or even if the cat anticipates that you may do it.

Less Activity and Low Energy 

You may notice that your cat has less energy or decreased stamina to engage in previously enjoyable activities, such as playing with toys or chasing that red dot. Your cat may just lay on its side and paw at the wand toys verses chasing the toy. Your cat may be reluctant to jump, walk up or down stairs, have difficulty getting up from laying down, exhibit restlessness, or have difficulty finding a comfortable place to rest. You may also notice changes in sleeping patterns—the cat may sleep more or less, or may sleep in unusual positions and places. These can be symptoms of chronic pain or other medical issues.

Litter Box Changes 

Your formerly fastidious cat may begin missing the box occasionally or not using the box at all. Cats commonly will miss the litter boxes due to the pain associated with going in and out of the litter box, as well as difficulty squatting. Getting into a litter box and holding the squatting position can be very difficult for a cat with sore hips or knees. Other medical issues such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and kidney disease can cause cats to have increased frequency or urgency to use the the litter box, which can lead to accidents outside of the box.

Changes in Appetite and Water Intake 

Some conditions can cause a change in your cat's thirst or hunger. You may notice that you are filling your water bowls and fountains more often, or that your cat suddenly is a finicky eater or seems to be eating food constantly without gaining weight. If you notice any changes in your cat's eating and drinking habits, be sure to alert your veterinarian. This could be a sign of pain or various other serious medical issues including kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. 

Your Cat Seems Disoriented

Some aging cats may seem lost or confused in a familiar environment. This can result in them becoming trapped in corners or behind furniture, vocalizing in the middle of the night, staring at walls or into space, or having difficulty finding their resources (food, water bowl, perch, or litter box). 

These can be symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which is a result of a decline in cognitive abilities as a result of aging changes in the brain. Cognitive functions include the mental processes of perception, awareness, learning, and memory, which allow an individual to acquire information about the environment and decide how to act. This is sometimes referred to as dementia, as in humans.

All of the above can be symptoms of a variety of illnesses and are often dismissed by cat caregivers as, “My cat is just getting older.” Changes in your cat's daily habits should not always be contributed to aging. Age is not a disease, but as your cat ages, it is more likely to be suffering from pain and other medical issues.

Cat Sleeping On Bed Against Window At Home
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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.