When Is A Cat Considered A Senior

According to the book, Caring for Your Aging Cat: A Quality-of-life Guide for Your Cat’s Senior Years, it’s an outdated and misinformed method to multiply your cat’s “human age” by 7 to determine the “cat age”. That’s what we’ve been told because it’s an easy number to remember, but it’s misinformation. So, a senior cat is not just age of your cat multiplied by 7. 

The short answer is that according to many vets, a cat is considered mature from age 7 and a cat is considered a senior from 11 years old. But every cat is different and their senior age may start a little later depending on nutrition, environment and other factors. The reason why it’s important to know when a cat is a senior is because the way you care for your cat will have to change to adapt to your cat’s needs.

Let’s dive in further from what I learned in my research to determine when to consider a cat to be old age.

When is a Cat Considered a Senior

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) provides an awesome chart that details the age range of a cat and when a cat is considered a senior. The chart groups a cat’s life stage into six stages, from kitten to geriatric.

when is a cat considered a senior

The distinction AAHA makes compared to what I found on pet resource websites is that they differentiate a cat’s life stage of mature and senior. A cat is considered mature when he/she is between 7 and 10 whereas a senior cat is between 11 and 14. That’s the age group when human equivalent age is 60 to 72.

Senior Cat Behavior

Typical senior cat behaviors are categorized into two buckets according to the book, Feline Behavioral Health and Welfare: serious behavior concerns and behavior changes associated with aging that is not concerning. For serious behavior concerns, the cat is experiencing health problems and in that instance, the cat should be taken to the vet and you and your vet should walk through how to care for your cat as they age more and display more health issues.

For the latter bucket, the author of The Cat Behavior Answer Book uses the acronym DISH to refer to senior cat symptoms. The letters stand for:

  • Disorientation: Cats get “stuck”, walk aimlessly, stare at the wall, lose balance and fall or seem like they’re lost in their own home.
  • Interactions: Their interaction with humans change, such as not greeting them at the door anymore and not being as playful.
  • Sleep: Their sleeping patterns change such as waking up in the middle of the night and pacing around meowing.
  • Houstraining: Cats can forget to use the litter box and soil themselves anywhere in the house.

It is so heartbreaking to see your cat display these senior cat behavior, and this is why it’s very critical that you have a discussion with your vet about a long-term plan to care for your senior cat over his/her remaining life.

How to Care for a Senior Cat

Experts encourage cat owners to be proactive about caring for a senior cat. That is why knowing when a cat is considered a senior is important in the first place. The first thing to do is to meet with your vet to understand what to expect and how to make your cat’s remaining years the best it can be.

Once you have a proactive plan to care for your senior cat, take extra care in each of the following the comprehensive guideline that the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and AAHA recommend which is based on 117 cited research studies. Below, I’ve summarized those steps in the guideline into an easy to follow format.

Routine and Wellness Care

This applies to cats in all stages of their life, but be more cognizant of how you can improve the quality of life and comfort for your senior cat in the following areas of wellness care::

    • Food and water – Provide food and water at floor level, raised slightly, to reduce the need for jumping or bending. Nutrition and Weight Management discussed separately below.
    • Litter box – Provide large litter boxes with a low entry for easy access, and high sides to help cats that cannot squat (eg, a dog litter box). A fine-consistency litter is easier on the paws.
    • Grooming – Clip nails regularly to avoid problems such as ingrowing toenails and brush regularly to avoid clumps of mat hair.
    • Social interaction – Provide attention and to your senior cat including plenty of social interaction but also pay attention to whether your cat’s behavior as it pertains to social interaction changes, so that you can accommodate to your cat’s comfort level when it comes to social interaction.
  • Resting/sleeping/hiding space – Provide a stable and predictable routine with a quiet, safe sleeping area. Add ramps or steps for easier access to their favorite sleeping area. Use deep, comfortable bedding.
  • Doctor’s visits – Visit to the vet should be more frequent – at 6 month intervals.

Nutrition and Weight Management

Nutrition guideline will depend on each cat’s body condition score (BCS) but the goal of a good diet for your senior cat is one that is palatable, provides complete and balanced nutrition, helps maintain ideal body weight, normal fecal character, and healthy skin and hair coat. In addition, consider these factors:

  • Feeding small meals frequently to allow for better digestion; i.e. feed 3-4 small meals per day.
  • Increase feeding canned food in order to increase water intake since older cats are prone to dehydration and constipation. Or use multiple water dishes.
  • If urinary stones are a problem with your senior cat, provide non-acidifed prescription diets.
  • A senior cat who is underweight or overweight is regarded as a disease that needs to be treated – don’t just ignore it. Especially if your cat’s weight has dramatically changed and has become underweight or overweight, take your cat to the vet and discuss what to feed him/her.
  • As cats become older, they should be fed a more high protein diet according to the National Research Council (NRC) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). In order to retain muscle mass and prevent muscle loss. How much to be fed depends on each senior cat’s state of health and their weight management, but as a guideline in terms of the typical senior cat, feeding 5.5 to 6g/kg/day of protein is ideal. An example of how to determine grams of protein for dry or canned food is as follows thanks to feline-nutrition.org Let’s say a can of cat food is 5.5oz.
    • Multiply 5.5oz by the conversion unit “28.3g/oz” = 155.6g
    • Multiply by dry matter (DM) content, which is 1 minus moisture content. E.g. moisture content is 75%, then DM is 25%. So, 25% x 155.6g = 39g of dry matter basis.
    • If protein percentage is listed as 12%, then the dry matter of protein is 12% /  25% = 48%.
    • Protein in dry matter basis is then 39g x 48% = 18.7g of protein.

Dental Care

Cats that become very thin, drop their food from their mouth or chew on one side, eat more slowly or become uninterested in food may be due to oral pain. Make sure take your cat in to the vet if you see symptoms of oral, dental pain. The vet can treat dental issues when your cat is stabilized with appropriate pain management after.

Choosing a good vet is crucial when you have a senior cat for procedures and treatments such as dental surgeries, which will include a vet that explains how your cat will be anesthetized and the pain management for your cat afterwards.

Common Elderly Cat Health Problems

Although the list below is not exhaustive, the most common health issues that your cat will face, and therefore you and your vet should pay particular attention to are:

    • Hypertension – Increased anxiety and blood pressure.
    • Chronic kidney disease – While most common in elderly cats, kidney disease may start to appear when your cat is middle-aged (i.e. between adult and mature life stages). So, trying to get your cat to have more water intake in their diet is crucial from a young age.
    • Hyperthyroidism – Enlarged thyroid glands due to overproduction of hormones. Notice if your cat’s urine or eating habits has changed.
    • Diabetes mellitus – Increasingly common disease, most prevalent in obese male cats.
    • Inflammatory bowel disease and associated diseases – Is a lifelong disease that needs to be monitored and managed.
  • Cancer – Weight loss, in the absence of other identifiable causes, is a common sign. Pursuing diagnosis before body condition deteriorates will be a significant help in saving your cat as many cancers are treatable if found early.
  • Osteoarthritis – Is a common disease but many often don’t isolate it as a disease and attribute it to old age. Management is ideally holistic as opposed to targeting the osteoarthritis in isolation. Signs are subtle. Some observations that may suggest osteoarthritis are:
    • Is less willing to jump up or down
    • Shows signs of being stiff
    • Is less agile
    • Cries when lifted
    • Shows signs of limping
    • Has more accidents outside the litter box
    • Spends less time grooming
    • Is less active
    • Has become more fearful
    • Cries for no reason

Providing a Better Holistic Quality of Life

I don’t know about you, but as a cat owner, we are under the spell of them, always continually trying to provide them a happier, healthier, overall better quality of life. When your beloved cat becomes a senior, it’s more crucial than ever to provide the most comfortable life you can.

Recognizing the symptoms of possible diseases is required on your part. And if your senior cat does need treatment and help, pain management is required on your part as well.

Above all, make sure you have the routine and wellness care mentioned above taken care of. This should be provided to your cat at any life stage, but particularly when your cat becomes a senior.

You can use the below set of questions to  ask yourself to make sure you’ve covered all your bases in terms of whether your cat has a good quality of life. Use it from time to time, with frequent intervals if your cat is a senior. You can found it here published by the wonderful people at Veterinary Practice News, and an excerpt below:

Quality of Life Scale

       The HHHHHMM Scale

(Source: Veterinary Practice News)

Pet caregivers can use this Quality of Life Scale to determine the success of pawspice care. Score patients using a scale of 1 to 10.
Score Criterion                                                     
H: 0 – 10 HURT – Adequate pain control, including breathing ability, is first and foremost on the scale. Is the pet’s pain successfully managed? Is oxygen necessary?
H: 0 – 10 HUNGER – Is the pet eating enough? Does hand feeding help? Does the patient require a feeding tube?
H: 0 – 10 HYDRATION – Is the patient dehydrated? For patients not drinking enough, use subcutaneous fluids once or twice daily to supplement fluid intake.
H: 0 – 10 HYGIENE – The patient should be brushed and cleaned, particularly after elmination. Avoid pressure sores and keep all wounds clean.
H: 0 – 10 HAPPINESS – Does the pet express joy and interest? Is the pet responsive to things around him or her (family, toys, etc.)? Is the pet depressed, lonely, anxious, bored or afraid? Can the pet’s bed be close to the family activities and not be isolated?
M: 0 – 10 MOBILITY – Can the patient get up without assistance? Does the pet need human or mechanical help (e.g. a cart)? Does the pet feel like going for a walk?  Is the pet having seizures or stumbling? (Some caregivers feel euthanasia is preferable to amputation, yet an animal who has limited mobility but is still alert and responsive can have a good quality of life as long as caregivers are committed to helping the pet.)
M: 0 – 10 MORE GOOD DAYS THAN BAD – When bad days outnumber good days, quality of life might be compromised. When a healthy human-animal bond is no longer possible, the caregiver must be made aware the end is near. The decision needs to be made if the pet is suffering. If death comes peacefully and painlessly, that is okay.
*TOTAL= *A total >35 points is acceptable for a good pawspice

I hope your found this post helpful. I researched thoroughly because my cats are still adults but they’re getting up there in age and I want to provide my readers and myself as helpful a content to provide the best life for your senior cats. Thanks for reading and good luck.