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How old age affects cats

Your cat will need different care at each stage in their life—but what makes a cat senior, and how can you care for them at this age?
Aging cat lying down outside.

Throughout each stage of your cat's life, it needs different care to support its well-being—whether that's the growth stage during their life as a kitten or supporting their health as a senior cat. But when does your cat become senior, and what changes might you notice?

Your cat's age in human years

Just as with humans, the aging process is an individual experience and different cats will show signs of aging at different times. However, in general your cat's body will start to show the first signs of aging cat a cellular level at seven years old—but you may not see outward signs until your cat is older. When you cat is considered a “senior” at age 11, the cells in their body are slowing down and their bodily functions are less effective, including their digestive tract and immune system.

The veterinary classification of your cat's age is:

At seven to 10 years, your cat is mature
At 11, it's considered senior
From 15 years upward, it is classified as geriatric
To understand this in terms of human years, a 10-year-old cat would be the equivalent of a 56-year-old human. It's not uncommon for cats to live up to 20 years—that's the same as a 96-year-old human.

The signs of aging in your cat

Although each individual cat will display signs of aging differently, there are some common aging processes which happen to every cat. Their smell and taste become less acute, which has an impact on their appetite. This can also be affected by dental issues, such as the teeth showing wear, gum disease, or tooth loss. Some dental problems can lead to weight loss.

Their joints are less flexible, especially if affected by osteoarthritis, which can result in severe pain and mobility issues. This inflexibility also affects their ability to groom themselves properly, which in turn has an impact on their coat and skin. The coat itself may become whiter and you might see decline in its quality as the sebaceous glands—which produce nourishing oils for the skin—are less productive. The natural ability to produce an immune response tends to decrease with age, exposing the cat to more risks of infection and disease. Several metabolic processes like digestion are also altered as the ability to process fats and proteins decreases as the cat grows older. 

Senior cats may exhibit altered behaviors including a lack of interaction or making noises at unsociable times. They may sleep more, but less deeply, which can interrupt their routine and cause behavioral issues.


Signs of illness in senior cats
Sometimes, these signs in an older cat aren't simply a sign of "getting older'; they may also be a sign of a bigger problem. 
Cats tend to hide any illness, limiting their movement or activity which may exacerbate the problem, rather than indicating pain through noticeable signs such as limping or making noise. For this reason, it's important to take note of any subtle changes in their behavior—such as refusing to eat or no longer jumping up to their favorite spot—and take them to your vet for a check-up. 
There are some common signs to look out for in a senior cat which may indicate an underlying issue:
  • Loss of appetite or weight, which can indicate a digestive or dental issue
  • Increased urination or thirst; potentially a sign of urinary or renal problems
  • Stiffness, limping, or difficulty getting up, which may be arthritis
  • Appearing disoriented, anxious, or exhibiting unusual behavior
By making sure you visit your vet regularly, you'll be able to catch any serious conditions before they develop and ensure you provide the best care possible for your senior cat.
1 2021 AAHA/AAFP Feline Life Stage Guidelines

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