Senior Cats’ Health Issues

As a cat ages, changes in physical and mental health occurs as is the case with people. Older cats will generally sleep more and they usually sleep more deeply. They may not be as athletic and they may lose or gain weight, depending on their metabolism.

Owners often find that their cat needs to visit the veterinarian more frequently the older they get. It may be more beneficial to prevent health issues from becoming serious by seeking veterinarian’s advice early. It is easier to treat a disease in the early stages.

It can be a mistake to assume that slowing down is just age related. There may be a completely treatable medical condition causing your cat to not want to play or be petted. If you see a sudden slow down it is important to seek medical advice as something insidious may be developing.

A trip to the veterinarian is warranted if a cat:

1.     Isn’t grooming itself or has greasy hair

2.     Has bald patches

3.     Has a decreased or increased appetite or thirst

4.     Has lost weight

5.     Is drinking/eating more but still losing weight

6.     Has blood in its urine

7.     Is unable to urinate

8.     Is unable to defaecate

9.     Is coughing or has difficulty breathing

10.  Has a lump


Vision, hearing and taste can be affected in older cats. Changes may be very subtle and difficult to detect, as cats often compensate for these variations. If cats lose vision, it may not be a big problem unless they also become deaf. Making a sound behind your cat when they are looking the other way to see if there is a response is a simple test to check hearing. If the cat’s sense of taste and/or smell are altered food may not seem as attractive. Heating the food up a little will generally increase the smell and taste of the food making it more appetising.


Cats will generally mellow with age and are more interested in lounging around in the sun and having a nice pat. If a reversal in behaviour is observed, a veterinary assessment may be required. A relaxed cat that suddenly becomes cranky, or a grumpy cat that is unusually mellow should be investigated.


Senility can affect both dogs and cats, although it’s a bit more common in dogs. Vets call senility cognitive dysfunction and may be able to provide some treatment. Cats may pace, toilet inappropriately, or become disoriented.


As a rule of thumb, two of the most common health issues for older cats are thyroid and kidney issues. Hyperthyroidism is the most commonly diagnosed hormone disorder in cats and is an over production of thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone stimulates metabolism and can result in cats having a ravenous appetite but still losing weight. They may look poorly kept and become crankier. Heart, liver and kidney issues are sometimes also identified with this disease. A variety of treatment options are available for managing this problem.


Kidney disease is common in older cats and may be treated with a combination of drugs, prescription diets and surgery. If you notice your cat drinking more or drinking from unusual places a simple blood and urine analysis may identify this problem.


 Bad breath, stained teeth or red gums may be a sign of dental health issues. Many issues are readily treatable with a dental procedure. This can generally be performed at your local vet hospital.


Arthritis is more commonly identified in dogs but many cats benefit from treatment for osteoarthritis. Older cats may need assistance getting into bed or the litter tray with the use of ramps or a set of stairs. Litter box sides may be better if they are lower and positioning of the tray for easier access may make your cat happier. You don’t see many 80 year old people having to climb a ladder to get to the bathroom!


Each cat may age differently and show different changes, but regular assessment by a vet may extend their life and give their remaining life better quality. Once cats pass the age of 8 years old, they may benefit from biannual visits rather than annual visits to the vet. It can be good to identify problems early and this may involve a physical exam, blood and urine tests or other diagnostics.


Some cats may live past the age of 20 years old in today’s environment. They may require more attention and prefer more cuddles but this is a time that is to be treasured with our furry feline companions. Your veterinarian will be happy to discuss how to make their lives comfortable and content.


Adapted from an Article by Becky Lundgren, DVM
Senior Cats’ Health Issues
Published 8th July 2008