Monday, April 7, 2008

Senior Cats have Senior Moments Too!

by Kate Tilmouth

The increased availability and advances made in animal care and medication has now afforded our pet cats a much longer life than ever before. It is not so unusual these days for a cat to live well beyond 16 years of age and as much as we benefit from having our pets with us longer, it does give rise to some health problems associated with the older cat.

Just like us humans the senior cat will encounter general wear and tear on their bodies and general changes to their lifestyle, such as stiff joints, loss of appetite, sleep changes and other age related illnesses. These changes will start to become apparent to the cat owner after the pet reaches the age of 10 and often the first signs are general slowing down and becoming less active in their day-to-day routine.

However it is not just physical changes that could affect the senior cat, mental abilities may also be affected. A condition known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome or CDS can affect older cats and is similar to the human illness of Alzheimer's disease. Symptoms include becoming generally confused about where they are, who you are and forgetting where the litter tray is etc.

CDS can be quite a distressing situation for the cat and will often cause changes in the cat's behaviour. Examples of some of these behaviours are:

1. Pacing around a room as if they are unsure where they are and are exploring it for the first time, or going from room to room looking for food and or the litter tray. 2. Loud persistent meowing, especially at nighttime. Again this is thought to be because the cat is unsure of their surroundings and is calling out in distress or for your attention to reassure them. 3. Being either over clingy to their owners or becoming more wary or changing their behaviour towards their owners.

In these situations, medication may be able to be prescribed by the vet to calm the distressed cat, but also the cat owner can help by reducing the amount of rooms the cat has access to so that it is less confusing for them and playing soft quiet music in the room where the cat is may help to reassure them my providing extra reassurance especially at night time.

Cat owners also need to be aware of other changes to their elderly cats behaviour and needs to be able to provide the right care and comfort for their pet.

Litter Tray habits may change due to the cat's inability to climb easily into it as they once did due to arthritis or stiff joints. By making sure that several litter trays are provided around the home with at least one low side will make it far more convenient for the senior cat to use them.

Appetite issues may arise die to the fact that elderly cats may have a reduced sense of smell. This is important to a cat to stimulate their appetite and desire for a particular food. Changing food brands regularly and feeding only wet canned food, which is the most pungent is the best thing a cat owner can do for their old cat. Pouring a little hot water onto the food will also increase its smell. Sleeping patterns may change as well. These changes can either be an increased amount of sleep and activity carried out by the cat, or being awake all night pacing the house and meowing. In either case there is not much a cat owner can do but to try and encourage gentle play with a ball for the lethargic cat to try and increase their alertness or to be sympathetic with the night time cat and try to confine them to a cosy comfortable room during the night.

As with any change in cat behaviour old or young it is always advisable to get them checked by a vet to rule out any underlining illness that may produce similar symptoms. But if your senior cat is pronounced fit then just old age will have to account for their lifestyle changes and allowances will have to be made to make it easier for your cat to live a normal comfortable life.

About the Author
Kate and her partner co-write a site full of further cat care and cat health topics. As well as being a feline friendly community site for happy cat and a happy owner.

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