Aging Cats: What is Normal, What is Disease?


Aging is inevitable for cats and humans. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners Life Stage Guidelines, cats are considered “mature” between the ages of 7 and 10, “senior” between the ages of 11 and 14, and “geriatric” over the age of 15. Aging is a slow and gradual process, and it’s important to know the difference between normal aging and abnormal changes that could be indicators of an illness. This can be particularly challenging in cats, since they are masters at hiding illness.

Regular veterinary exams

This is one of many reasons why regular veterinary exams are so important. All cats should have an annual exam, and cats 7 years or older should be seen by a vet twice a year. Your vet will perform a thorough medical exam at each visit, and older cats should also have regular bloodwork and urinalysis performed.

Is it normal aging, or is it disease?

Cognitive and behavioral assessment

Assessing cognitive and behavioral health can be challenging during a veterinary exam, which is why it is so important that cat parents pay close attention to their cat’s behavior. Signs that something may be amiss include sudden changes in behavior, sleep patterns, elimination patterns, and activity. The more information you can provide to your vet, the better your vet can help your cat.

Skin and coat health

A healthy aging cat should not exhibit sudden or pronounced changes in her coat, any growth or masses, or wounds that won’t heal.

Weight and body condition

Gradual weight loss or gain can be difficult to recognize in cats. Consider that the average cat weighs 10 pounds. Weight loss of only 6% of a cat’s body weight is considered a clinical sign – that’s less than ten ounces. Depending on the size of your cat, visible changes to her weight may be too subtle to notice without actually weighing her. In older cats, muscle condition may be a better indicator.

Bone and joint health

A healthy cat should maintain her ability to perform normal activities of daily living, including playing and jumping, although the height of jumps and intensity of play may be decreased with health aging. Osteoarthritis, a common disease in older cats, is often not diagnosed because it is difficult to recognize even for the most dedicated cat guardian. The signs can be subtle, and since cats are such masters at masking pain, it often remains untreated. As many as 3 in 10 cats suffer from this debilitating condition, but only 7% of cats with arthritis receive treatment.

Dental health

A healthy aging cats should not have periodontal disease, oral inflammation, oral masses, fractured teeth or resorptive lesions. Staying on top of your cat’s dental health is important to your cat’s overall health, as untreated dental disease not only causes pain, it can also affect other organ systems.

Ear, eye and nose health

Healthy aging cats should have full command of their sense. Assessing changes in vision, hearing or the ability to smell can be challenging even for dedicated cat parents, which is why it’s important to note even subtle changes.

Gastrointestinal health

Healthy aging cats should have a normal appetite and no evidence of gastrointestinal distress such as frequent vomiting, diarrhea or constipation.

Cardiac and respiratory health

Healthy aging cats should have normal findings during their veterinary exams, which should include listening for heart murmurs and blood pressure measurements.

Urinary tract and renal health

A healthy aging cats should not show any signs of urinary tract disease such as frequent or increased urination or eliminating outside the litter box. Routine urinalysis should be free of protein deposits or other signs of urinary tract disease.

Thyroid health

Hyperthyroidism is a common disease that typically affects middle-aged and older cats. Cat parents often notice increased activity levels, increase in vocalization or activity, and dramatic weight loss.

Knowing what’s normal for your cat, and working with your cat’s veterinarian to address any changes, will keep your cats happy and health well into their golden years.

Source: Evaluating Aging in Cats, Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery

search close