Senior cats—those over the age of 10—are unfortunately likely to experience several illnesses as they age, and the gradual loss of effectiveness of their bodily functions. However, some signs of these common conditions respond to a mix of diet, medical support, and environmental changes.
Loss of mobility in senior cats
Older cats can often suffer from arthritis and joint pain, as their joints and cartilage have worn down over the years. This leads to a lack of mobility, including unsteadiness, difficulty with jumping, and even difficulty with grooming themselves properly as they are no longer as flexible. Sensitive joints can also mean they're less willing to get involved in play or come when they are called, as it can be painful to move.
Caring for your cat's joints can be done through their diet; for example, the inclusion of long chain omega-3 fatty acids in their food helps support joint health. Similarly, nutrients like chondroitin and glucosamine can help support the health of their cartilage.
You can also alleviate any discomfort your older cat may have when moving by providing them with ramps to their favorite high perches, swapping their litter box for one with shallower sides that's easier to access, and making their bedding more comfortable.
Aging cats and diabetes
Diabetes mellitus affects around1 in every 500, but it can be more common in some cats1, particularly among older cats and is directly associated with obesity. Therefore, one of the best ways to protect your cat against the onset of this condition is by maintaining healthy body weight.
Cats with diabetes have cells which fail to respond to insulin properly, with some cases leading to their body not producing enough insulin to function. This means they may have to receive insulin through injections, most commonly once or twice a day. A combination of insulin therapy and diet change is commonly recommended.
The signs of diabetes in older cats include excessive urination and increased volumes of urine, increased thirst, and increased hunger, as well as obesity as a predisposing condition. If you notice your cat displaying any of these signs, make sure to visit your vet.
Older cats and weight loss
Weight loss is a very common but non-specific sign of illness in older cats, so it's important to make an appointment with your vet if you see your cat losing weight—that way, they can identify the likely cause and prescribe appropriate treatment.
Some systemic diseases which have weight loss as a sign are chronic kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism and intestinal inflammatory disease. Your senior cat may also have lost weight due to a drop in their appetite, which can be caused by:
- Dental problems which make eating painful
- Deterioration of smell and taste, reducing their desire to eat
- Digestive disorders which prevent nutrients in their food from being properly absorbed
Your vet will be able to give you information on the best way to take care of your cat, depending on the underlying cause of their weight loss. However, you can also try giving them a softer-textured food which may be easier to warming their food up so the aroma is enhanced, which can stimulate their appetite.
While these ailments are common in older cats, they don't have to cause them unnecessary pain or stress. Visit your vet if you believe your cat is suffering, and they'll be able to advise you.
1 Sallander M et al. Acta Vet Scan 2012; 54: 61