Senior Felines: What You and Your Veterinarian Can Expect

Aging for cats, like people, is a natural life process. It is influenced by many factors such as genetics, environment, nutrition, disease and gender. Based on many studies, the age at which a cat is considered a senior is typically 7- 12 years.  As a cat ages, there is a slow decline in many body systems.

The Horizon Veterinary Group sees many Calgary and area felines and is skilled at assisting your senior pet.  The following are examples of changes that both you and your veterinarian may see in your senior loved ones as they age.

Decrease in the body’s water content. As they get older, many cats’ thirst decreases leaving them at risk for dehydration. In addition, there may be other disease processes occurring such as kidney disease, or diabetes – that can contribute to dehydration.  Increasing the amount of canned food, using cat water fountains, and offering your cat a larger water bowl are a few easy steps that you can take to ensure your cat is drinking enough water. If you think that your cat’s drinking habits have changed, contact your veterinarian.

Change in weight. As some cats age, their metabolism can slow down, causing them to become obese. On the flip side, some cats can lose lean body mass and become gaunt- looking. It is important to talk to your veterinarian about the best food options for your older kitty, as nutrition is very important at all ages.  The Horizon Veterinary Group has many therapeutic and senior feline diets – come in and visit our staff and they can review which food would be best for your pet.

Loss of vision and/or hearing. These changes may not be obvious until quite advanced, as they are often very gradual. Wandering or excessive vocalization at night may indicate a decline in vision that makes it difficult for kitty to navigate around your house in the dark.

Decreased sense of smell.This is particularly important for cats as they will sometimes stop eating their food if they cannot smell it. It may be necessary to enhance the odour of their food to encourage them to eat. To enhance the odor try adding tuna juice to the food or GENTLY heating their canned food in the microwave to release the aromas.

Stiffness/lameness. Cats, just like dogs can develop arthritis in their joints. It may be more difficult to notice since cats are not exercised in the same way as dogs. A common location for arthritis in the cat is the lower back or “lumbo-sacral” area. Cats with pain in this area will be reluctant to jump up on to high surfaces, may have difficulties rising, and may even start having accidents of urination or defecation (pain in the lower back can make it difficult to get in and out of the litter box, or painful to pass stool or urine).  If you suspect that your cat may be painful, it is important to have him/her examined by your veterinarian. Please do not give your cat any over- the- counter pain medications i.e. Aspirin or Tylenol, as these can be very harmful.

Changes in organ function.Three of the most common diseases diagnosed in older kitties include diabetes, kidney disease and hyperthyroidism (excessive production of thyroid hormone). In all three of these diseases, the cat owner often notices their cat drinking a lot more water and passing more urine in the litter box. In the case of diabetes and hyperthyroidism, a large increase in appetite coupled with weight loss may be observed. It is very important that your cat be examined by your veterinarian if you notice any change (increase or decrease) in eating or drinking habits. Very often, underlying diseases can be detected by performing blood and urine testing.



The most important thing is to have him/her examined on a regular basis by your veterinarian. It is recommended that senior pets be seen at least once, if not twice a year. During these visits, your veterinarian will give your cat a thorough exam to look for any signs of underlying disease. Your veterinarian may recommend a blood and urine screening test to assess their overall health. These tests have two main purposes: 

Detect underlying disease that your cat may not be currently showing signs of.  Early intervention is very important in many disease processes. If blood test results are normal, they will a baseline that can be referred to later if your cat begins to show signs of disease.

All four of our Horizon hospitals are feline friendly and would love to meet your cat(s).  Please call and book an appointment today to have your senior feline’s health reviewed and for tips on helping them sustain a long and purrfect life.  With proper care and lots of TLC, our feline friends can live well into their late teens, and sometimes, their early twenties!

Article by:  Dr. Mary Mackie