Q: My cat Sasha is healthy but she’s getting old. Should I transition her to a senior diet? What else should I know about senior cat care?
A: Thanks to good veterinary care, cats are living longer than ever. They are considered seniors by 11 years, geriatric at 15. Like humans, though, individual cats age at different rates.
As long as Sasha is healthy, and doing well on the food you’re feeding her, there is no need to change her diet. Senior diets often restrict protein and fat, even though a cat’s need for these nutrients doesn’t decrease with age, and impaired digestion of protein and fat is common in senior cats.
Older cats lose their sensitivity to thirst, so they drink less and may become dehydrated and constipated. To encourage adequate intake, add water to canned food, flavor one water bowl with chicken or fish broth, and offer Sasha a pet drinking fountain.
Schedule wellness veterinary exams every six months. Your vet can advise you about needed lab work, vaccinations and parasite control based on Sasha’s health and risk factors.
Weigh Sasha every month or two. If she loses weight, develops a poor appetite or becomes less energetic, don’t wait for her next semi-annual veterinary exam. Watch the litter box. If Sasha produces hard stools or more urine than usual, have her see her veterinarian.
Most senior cats have arthritis, and even though they don’t limp, they may be uncomfortable. Sasha’s litter box should have a low entrance, and at least one box should be available on each level of your home so she doesn’t have to negotiate stairs when she’s achy. Talk with your veterinarian about pain management.
Research shows that 33 to more than 50 percent of elderly cats experience cognitive dysfunction, or senile dementia. If Sasha starts vocalizing more (yowling), acts confused, alters her sleep-wake patterns, wanders aimlessly or stops using her litter box, make an appointment with her veterinarian.
Editor’s Note: Senior cats have a lot of love to give adoptive pet parents. Read more on how adopting a senior cat can also have some surprising advantages.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at email@example.com.