The most common problem in older cats is obesity. This is often brought on not by feeding too much food, but feeding low quality food throughout a cats lifetime. Many cat foods use filler, corn, wheat, and so forth as main ingredients, (and add fact to give the food flavor) forcing cats to eat more food to get any nutrition. Often times cats then get fat. Think of it as if people were forced to eat bags and bags of cookies just to get a bite of steak, with the difference in that cats are carnivores. Obesity is a concern, not only can it lead to Diabetes, but puts stress on the cats heart and limbs.
Other senior cats are thin, this often being the result of poor teeth, making it difficult for them to eat. Other cats lose interest in eating as they age. Some cats are just naturally thin and have been throughout their life, but as they enter the senior age category being underweight can be difficult as they will have a hard time staying warm and an harder time keeping weight on. A cat who has lost weight as it has gotten older may also be suspected of having Hyperthyroidism.
Diabetes is not only a problem in older cats but is more common in older cats, especially those who are, or have been, overweight. It is often the direct result of a cat eating a diet that is mostly carbohydrates with very little meat. (Meat should always be the number one ingredient in a cat food, however many cat foods do not even have a good meat source, you will note that by-products are not considered a good meat source). Symptoms are often increased thirst, and excessive urination. Diabetes is manageable with insulin shots, but avoiding this through proper diet is even better.
As with many problems, this is also often linked to cats being fed low quality cat foods, particularly those with chemicals. You will note that some of the chemicals used in low quality cat foods are also used as pesticides. As well studies have shown cats with Hyperthyroidism have also been exposed to a high level of chemicals used as fire retardants in carpets and fabrics, and even chemicals used in flea control products. Symptoms are often increased thirst, excessive urination, weight loss, and vomiting. Hyperthyroidism is treatable.
An older cat that was left with us when his owners moved away. He has passed on.
Kidney Problems and Renal Failure
In some cats, particularly those of certain breeds (Siamese, Maine Coon, Abyssinian, and Persians) this is a common problem especially as they age. Symptoms are often increased thirst, excessive urination, weight loss, and vomiting. Although not totally treatable it can be managed.
Loss of Hearing or Vision
It is not uncommon for cats to develop a loss of hearing or vision as they get older, although both are more common in dogs. Cats who are going through a hearing loss may start meowing more and more frequently, possibly to soothe themselves, or because they are experiencing ringing in their ears and are confused by this.
Failure to Use their Litter Box
If cats stop using their litter box it can be a sign of a health concern, so this should always be checked first rather than dismissed as an old age problem, however as cats get older their litter box habits tend to slip. Sometimes this is a physical problem they cannot control, other times it may be because the litter box is just too far and they don’t feel like walking (or going up/down stairs) to get to it.
Authors cat at age 10 (we think, as she was adopted from a shelter as an adult).
This can be a problem at any time during a cats life, but often becomes a problem as they age due to the build up of chemicals in their lifetime (from preservatives in low quality food as well as household cleaners and things used on the lawn). Cats who are not spayed or neutered are also at greater risk for many cancers.
As with most older mammals arthritis can be a problem for cats. There are several different forms of arthritis but it is mostly characterized by joint pain, and often swelling. Controlling a cats weight can help, additionally there are supplements and painkillers that can relieve the pain.
Older cats will often feel chilled and look for a warm place to sleep. Owners with senior cats should be sure to keep the cats indoors on cold days (cold weather can also make arthritis pains worse), and have warm beds for their cats.
Special Problems in Declawed Cats
Declawed cats often experience more problems as they age, failure to use their litter box being one of the best known problems, but chronic back pain is another. These cats are forced to walk unnaturally after the removal of their tip toes, and over the years this can result in back pain in the cats. This will show as cats are less mobile (something which may occur as cats age anyhow) and may be more cranky when picked up or patted.
Veterinarian Care and Feeding for the Senior Cat
If your cat is showing signs of aging, or symptoms of problems, please see your veterinarian. With a little care your cat can live many more years. Be sure to have the veterinarian check the cats teeth as well as they can be rotten and lead to infections or eating problems.
Be sure to feed the senior cat correctly. Many foods have senior cat diets but some are for cats who are overweight, others for cats who are thin, be sure to select the correct one. If the cat is thin, or not drinking enough, offering it a small amount of canned food with water (make a soup) once or twice a day is also encouraged.