When do cats start to get old?
Middle age for most cats is now generally considered to start at seven years.
Many vets are now starting to provide “senior care” programmes and these are worth considering. Picking up early changes in your pet enables early diagnosis and treatment and may considerably improve quality of life.
As your cat ages, it’s kind to provide an indoor litter tray, even if your cat normally toilets outdoors. Because they must be slower on their feet, older cats may feel vulnerable outside and providing an indoor tray will help prevent toileting problems. Ones with low sides that are easy to step into are best.
Throughout its life, it is a good idea to weigh your cat every one to two months. If weight is steadily increasing after 12 months of age, you need to start reducing your cat’s food. Weight loss can be an early sign of illness, so check with your vet.
It is common for older cats to develop medical conditions that cause them to lose weight, such as kidney and thyroid disease. If your cat is losing weight, it is important to consult your vet as soon as possible. Other cats acquire a middle-aged spread and it is essential that this be kept under control. Overweight cats are unlikely to live as long and they are prone to serious illnesses such as kidney disease, diabetes and arthritis.
Cats vary in size from petite to large, so weight alone doesn’t tell you much. The only way to tell if your pet is overweight is to examine it carefully. Can you see an hourglass waist when viewed from above? Can you feel your pet’s ribs with light finger pressure? If the answer to these questions is “no”, it is time to reduce food intake. And if your pet has a potbelly as well, it is definitely time to go on a diet. However, crash dieting is dangerous for cats.
It may be better to follow one of the many senior diets, as they are lower in calories and reduce the likelihood of weight gain. Protein restriction has not been proven to be beneficial for healthy cats, but is helpful for cats with kidney problems. If your cat has kidney disease ask your vet for advice on a suitable diet.
Anti-oxidants and supplementation with polyunsaturated oils (as provided by some of the senior diets) may be beneficial, but again there is no proof. It’s best to seek the advice of your vet.
If your cat is losing weight you should consult your vet in case there is an underlying medical problem and discuss whether following a senior diet is advisable. The vet may suggest special foods and, if appetite is poor, it may help to feed little and often, warm the food or add a small quantity of pilchards or sardines.
Adding vegetable oil or margarine (in small quantities at first) may help weight gain, provided that the extra fat does not cause diarrhoea.