A senior cat can raise a lot of questions for pet parents: What is the best cat food for senior cats? What is the average life span of a house cat? How old is my cat in human years? These are all good questions that we’re going to help answer here. And if you’re considering adopting a cat, we’ll tell you why adopting an older cat could be a good decision for your family. But first, let’s find out when a cat becomes a senior.
What Age Is Considered Senior for Cats?
To help veterinarians ensure cats receive the proper care for their life stage, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) developed guidelines that define the life stages of cats. The 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines categorizes cats into four age-related stages as well as an end-of-life stage that covers all ages. The four age-related life stages are:
- Kitten: Birth to 1 year
- Young adult: 1–6 years
- Mature adult: 7–10 years
- Senior: Older than 10 years
So if your kitty is older than 10, they are considered a senior according to these guidelines. However, if your cat is 11 and has no medical problems (for example), your veterinarian may also use the mature adult guidelines while caring for them — it depends on the individual cat.
How Long Do Cats Live?
Similar to humans, there are many factors that contribute to cat life expectancy including nutrition, regular checkups, vaccinations, breed and genetics. Where your cat lives can also make a difference. The average life span of a house cat is about 15 years, while outdoor cats only tend to live about 4.5 years on average. The increased risk of injury and disease for outdoor cats contributes to their lower life expectancy.
You can help your cat live a long and healthy life by taking them for regular checkups with your veterinarian, including keeping their vaccinations up-to-date and seeking medical treatment if they are injured or sick. Feeding them a complete and balanced diet and watching their weight will also help them stay healthy longer.
If you’re wondering “How do you convert cat years to human years?” the AAFP can help you estimate your cat’s human age. You can see that when a cat has entered their senior life stage and is 11 years old, they’re age is equivalent to a 60-year-old person. That’s about when people are considered seniors, too (depending on who you ask).
Age Shouldn’t Limit a Cat’s Adoption Chances
Most people looking to adopt a cat probably go to the shelter looking for a kitten or a young cat and walk right by any older cats. But you should stop and consider mature cats because they do have some advantages over younger cats. And while age 11 is considered senior, don’t automatically think that they will only be with you for a few years. Some cats live into their 20s, and a cat called Creme Puff lived into her late 30s!
One of the advantages of a mature cat is that they have their personality figured out. Other than perhaps being a little less active and a little more needy as they age, the cat you meet in the shelter is probably who you’ll get. A kitten, on the other paw, is more of an unknown — a cuddly cutie now may turn into an aloof adult later.
Senior cats can develop health issues as they age, but a younger cat or kitten could also have health issues you’re not aware of. An older cat could also live a healthy and full life without any medical issues. Worrying about caring for a sick kitty shouldn’t put you off senior cat adoption — although you should be aware that they may need some extra care.
Tips for Managing Senior Cat Health Issues
Cats have distinct personalities and they can also have very different health concerns during their senior years. Some cats stay healthy all the way into their 20s while others can start having health issues earlier in life. To help your cat live a long and healthy life, we’ve got some senior cat care tips for you.
Keep an eye out for symptoms of common age-related diseases like hyperthyroidism, diabetes and kidney disease. Some of the early signs of these diseases are hard for pet parents to detect, so it’s important to take your cat for regular checkups with your veterinarian — at least every six months is recommended for senior cats. It’s important to go to the checkups even if they appear healthy since some of the disease symptoms may only be detectable through laboratory testing.
Help make life more comfortable for your aging cat by changing some things around your house. For example, use a litter box with low sides so your cat can get in and out easily and make sure you clean it regularly since they become more sensitive to dirty litter boxes. Raising food and water bowls so they don’t have to bend down can make it easy for cats with arthritis to stay hydrated and well-fed. A warm, padded bed and more petting time will also help your elderly cat stay happy and comfy.
The Cause of Senior Cat Weight Loss Could Be Hidden
Weight loss is a common occurrence in senior cats and there are a few reasons why it might be happening. If you’ve noticed that your cat isn’t eating as much as they usually do, it may be because their food is less appetizing for them. Their senses can decline as they age making food less tasty than before. Digestion and the absorption of nutrients from food can also decrease.
Medical issues can also cause weight loss in older cats, even though, in some cases, they may actually be eating more than usual. Some of the common diseases in elderly cats that can cause weight loss include kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and periodontal disease. A decline in cognitive function can also contribute to weight loss.
You can help your cat maintain weight as they age by making sure they have regular checkups and feeding them a diet that fits their health and nutritional needs.
Senior Cat Nutrition Tips
“What is the best cat food for senior cats?” is a common question cat parents ask, but it’s also a difficult one to answer. Some mature cats experience physical and health changes that affect their nutritional needs while others are healthy right to the end.
For example, some cats lose weight in their senior years (as we discussed above) so they may need more calories to maintain an ideal body condition. If your cat has a health condition they may benefit from a therapeutic diet to help manage the disease. However, if your cat is healthy, has an ideal body condition and they’re eating a complete and balanced diet, they may not need to change foods when they become a senior. Your veterinarian is the best person to determine which food is best for your cat.
Transitioning from a mature adult cat to a senior doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your cat’s life is near — some cats live for another 10 years or more. But it does mean that they may need some extra TLC and checkups to ensure they stay healthy and comfortable for as long as possible.
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