Senior cats are often overlooked in shelters, as adopting families tend to look for kittens or younger cats. This is probably because potential owners are concerned about the possibly short time the cat will be with their family or the increased cost that sometimes comes with owning a senior cat. But senior cats have some advantages over younger cats, and they may be with you longer than you think.
How Old Is “Old”?
Before we start talking about senior cats, let’s talk about what “senior” actually means. There isn’t a specific age when a cat moves into the senior category, but senior cats are typically older than 11 years and considered geriatric if they’re 15 years or older. And some cats can actually live into their 20s! Cats are living longer than ever now thanks to an indoor lifestyle, better nutrition and advancements in veterinary medicine. So when you adopt a “senior” cat, they could be with you for half of their life!
You Get What You Get with a Senior Cat
When you’re looking for a new cat to join your family, it’s important that the cat’s personality suits your household dynamics. A cat who’s comfortable being the only cat in the house and likes snuggling with their one owner may not do as well in a house with kids or multiple pets. That’s why it’s a good idea to have all of your family meet the adoptee cat before bringing them home, and also ask the shelter or rescue group how the cat interacts with other cats or dogs.
When trying to determine the personality of a cat, a senior cat has a distinct advantage — their personality has already been established. They know what they like and what they don’t, and that typically isn’t going to change. A kitten, on the other paw, can keep you guessing as to what their adult personality will be like. Will their kitten energy continue into adulthood or will they become a sleep-all-day kitty? Will the kitten that seems friendly and cuddly now actually despise any sort of snuggles when they’re older? With a senior cat you know who you’re getting from day 1, which can help you choose a cat with a personality that will fit with your family.
Keep in mind that some personality changes may occur as your cat ages. Senior cats often reduce their activity levels and sleep more as they get older. You may also notice them become more “needy” by meowing more or wanting more attention from you.
A Senior Cat Could Have Medical Issues — Or Not
Like people, it’s normal for some cats to have more health problems as they become older, but there are also others that remain relatively healthy as they age. There’s no guarantee a senior pet will have health issues, just like there’s no guarantee a kitten won’t have health issues. But it’s important to be aware of what the most common health issues are for senior cats and understand that these could require extra expense to treat.
Some age-related changes and diseases that senior cats may experience include:
- Reduced hearing and vision
- Weight loss or gain
- Dental disease
- Kidney disease
Veterinarians often recommend that senior cats have regular clinic visits (every 6 months, or more if needed) even if they are healthy. Blood tests can help detect diseases like diabetes, hyperthyroidism and kidney disease, even before you notice any signs of disease. Keeping ahead of these diseases means a greater success of managing or treating them, less discomfort for your cat and less expense for you.
Good nutrition also helps maintain senior cat health and can help them manage some age-related diseases. Most older cats that are healthy and not overweight or too thin can eat a normal adult cat maintenance food or a senior cat food. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your cat could benefit from a diet specially formulated for older cats.
A Comfortable Home Is Essential
A senior cat may need some changes in your home to make their lives more comfortable. Age-related conditions like arthritis, muscle weakness or constipation could cause litter box issues for senior cats. Therefore, to avoid accidents, it’s a good idea to use a litter box with low sides, keep a box on each level of your house and increase your scooping and cleaning schedule if they become persnickety about using the litter box.
It’s also a good idea to keep food and water bowls on the level of the house that your cat spends the most time. If you have stairs, your cat may find them easier to navigate with a ramp. Pet steps or a ramp may also be helpful if your cat’s favorite resting place requires a leap up.
A senior cat shouldn’t be an automatic “no” when you’re considering adopting a cat. They may need some extra care, but they can offer just as much love in return as a kitten.
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