Quality of Life and End of Life Care

As a cat caregiver, you want to provide the best quality of life for your cat and this includes end of life care. While it can be uncomfortable to think about, end of life care is just as important as regular checkups and having a Cat Friendly home.

Discuss how to judge your cat’s quality of life (QOL) with your veterinarian so they can help you plan as needed. Analyzing your cat’s quality of life can include a series of questions that help you figure out if your cat is healthy, comfortable or in pain, and able to participate in or enjoy life events.


Cats and Pain

As your cat ages, she will likely begin to have some pain due to natural body changes, possibly from getting older, disease, or illness. It can be difficult to tell when your cat is in pain because they naturally hide signs of weakness. Your veterinarian is trained to notice these subtle signs, so it is important to bring your cat in for regular checkups. During the checkups, talk with your veterinarian and to help determine your cat’s quality of life.


Quality of Life (QOL)

Quality of life is a way to think about or determine if your cat is living a happy and healthy life. This can be difficult to determine, so veterinarians have created a series of open-ended questions for you to think about and answer based on your cat’s behavior. In order to answer the questions, it is helpful to know your cat’s normal behaviors. It is recommended to keep a journal or record of your cat’s normal behavior. Begin tracking your cat’s behaviors when you first bring them home, and update it throughout their life.

You can write this information down in a notebook or even a calendar. This can help you notice small changes that occur over time, which you can discuss with your veterinarian. Make sure to write down unusual behaviors, concerns, or questions you have for your veterinarian.

Here are some open-ended questions to explore with your veterinarian when thinking about your cat’s quality of life:


Adapted from “Shearer TS, ed. Palliative Medicine and Hospice Care, Veterinary Clinics of North America Small Animal Practice. 2011; 41(3):477-702″

DOWNLOAD CALENDAR

Here is a 12-month calendar to help you track your cat’s behavior. You can write down “good,” “bad,” or “average” on each day in order to figure out your cat’s quality of life and provide helpful information in making future decisions.

Your cat may act differently at the veterinary practice because it is an unfamiliar place. You can also make a video of your cat at home and record activities, such as jumping or eating. This video helps can help show how your cat normally behaves.


Making Hard Decisions and Creating an End of Life Plan

Saying goodbye to your cat is extremely hard, and creating an end of life plan may be even harder. However, taking these steps will help to provide a smooth transition for everyone including your cat. When creating a plan, it important to involve your veterinarian in all parts.

  • Consider end of life planning and decision-making before your cat’s health begins to decline.
  • Keep up-to-date records of your cat’s health, including test results from her checkups.
  • Prepare a back-up plan for holidays or when your veterinarian’s office is closed; check with local veterinary practices and animal hospitals for emergency services and protocols.
  • Speak with your veterinarian about the euthanasia process. There are several euthanasia methods that may be used, and it may help to understand and anticipate the unique steps involved in each.

The decision to euthanize will be very uncomfortable, unpleasant, and emotionally taxing. Pre-planning and preparation can make this decision a little easier. Remember to talk with your veterinarian and ask any questions you have about your cat’s quality of life and end of life care.


Frequently Asked Questions


“I don’t know if it is time to euthanize my cat.”

Making the decision to euthanize your cat is not simple, but you don’t have to make this decision alone. Talk with your veterinarian and go through the questions in the table above to figure out your cat’s quality of life. You want to think about what makes your cat “unique” and whether they are still acting like their normal self.

Please know it is natural to feel guilt when considering whether or not it is time to euthanize your cat. You want to make sure they are not in pain or suffering unnecessarily by delaying this decision. Having a compassionate discussion with your veterinarian and coming together with a decision that removes regret will help.


“Should children/family be present at euthanasia?”

It is important for everyone in the family to say goodbye and have closure, including children. Attending the euthanasia lets children be involved in the decision and can offer them valuable lessons about compassion, commitment, and responsibility. Be honest with your child(ren) about how sick their cat is so they understand why their cat is being euthanized. Parents or guardians should make the decision whether they should be present at the euthanasia.

It is extremely important to prepare everyone in the family ahead of time on what to expect if they are going to be present. For children, avoid using phrases such as “putting their cat to sleep” to help minimize anxiety and stress about bedtime, especially in younger children. Showing sadness and grief in front of children also teaches them that it is okay to cry. Encourage the sharing of positive, happy memories about their cat.


“Should my other pets be present at euthanasia?”

Bringing additional cats to the euthanasia appointment may depend on the nature of their relationship and your veterinarian’s recommendations. A study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals showed that many cats had a decreased appetite, prolonged periods of sleep, and increased meowing after the death of a companion.

Allowing housemates to see and smell the cat may be beneficial in helping them with closure. It is also important to understand that each animal is different in how they view a housemate that has passed. Some cats may hiss at the deceased pet, act indifferent, or they may sulk for days. Surviving animals may not show the same level of grief that you are exhibiting, and that is okay.


Grieving the Loss of Your Cat

Our cats are part of our family, and losing them can be heartbreaking. You may even begin to grieve once you make the difficult decision to euthanize.

Please talk with your veterinarian if you need assistance processing the grief. It is important to remember that grief is a normal process that comes with all of the emotions associated with death.

Do not be embarrassed by your emotions. Consider taking one or all of the following steps after your cat passes away to help you cope in this difficult time.


Remembering and Honoring Your Cat

There is no correct or incorrect way to remember or honor a beloved cat. Many people choose to remember their cat with physical memorials or jewelry. Others consider charitable donations or gifts in their cat’s name. Embracing any of these options can offer a significant step toward closure and offer some solace.

If you wish to create a physical memorial, consider the following:

  • Services that can create jewelry with your cat’s whiskers.
  • Necklaces or bracelets with beads that reflect your cat’s fur coat and eye color.
  • A lock of fur in a small glass vial or holiday decoration.
  • A keepsake box with a photo and favorite toy.

For non-physical memorials, consider the following:

  • Donating your cat to science and education facilities. Your veterinarian may have information, as well as access to these facilities.
  • Making a donation to a local research organization, shelter, or Good Samaritan fund in your cat’s name.
  • Arranging a memorial service at a local pet funeral home.

Resources to Help You Cope with Grief

There are many books that address the grief of losing a beloved pet, written for different age levels. These could help you and other members of your family cope with the loss of your cat. Consider the following:

  • Meng, Cece, and Jago. Always Remember. Illustrated, Philomel Books, 2016.
  • Poll, Van Wendy. Healing A Child’s Pet Loss Grief: A Guide for Parents. Center for Pet Loss Grief, LLC, 2016.
  • Potter, Shirl, and Koss, George. Death of a Pet: Answers to Questions for Children and Animal Lovers of All Ages. Guideline Publications, 1991.
  • Rigabar, Barbara Bareis, and Chris Sharp. A Rainbow Bridge for Gus: A Story about the Loss of a Pet. Barb Rigabar, 2014.
  • Rylant, Cynthia. Cat Heaven. Illustrated, Blue Sky Press, 1997.
  • Tousley, Marty. Children and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping. 1st ed., Our Pals Pub, 1996.

More Resources

There are other effective options available to help you cope with grief. Several national organizations offer grief counseling resources and services, including the following:

Lap of Love: Pet Loss and Bereavement Resource Line

  • Call 855-351-LOVE (5683) Monday – Friday. This is a complimentary national hotline available to those who are anticipating or grieving the loss of their cat.

AVMA Compiled Pet Loss Support Grief Counseling

The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement

Degenerative Joint Disease (Arthritis)

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Feline arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is very common in cats. DJD occurs when the cartilage (firm, connective tissue that protects the ends of bones) within a joint is worn away. This lack of cartilage in the joint can cause chronic unbearable pain and can lead to poor quality of life.

Cats with degenerative joint disease most commonly have pain in their lower back, elbows, knees, hips, shoulders, and hocks (the equivalent of our ankles). Studies indicate that as many as 92% of cats may have DJD. You may think that DJD only occurs in older cats, however even young cats can get it. You just might not notice it until their condition worsens with age.

Your Role in the Diagnosis

You are crucial in finding out if your cat has DJD because you know their normal temperament, disposition, routines, and activities.

  • Any change in your cat’s normal behavior may be a sign of pain.
  • Keep a notebook and write down your cat’s normal behavior, any changes, and/or new behaviors.
  • To identify changes, compare your cat’s daily behaviors and reactions in various situations to when they were young adults.
  • Any changes in your cat’s normal behavior can mean your cat is either in pain, sick, or stressed. These are all reasons to speak with your veterinarian right away.

Signs and Symptoms

It can be very difficult to realize that your cat is in pain because the signs are subtle and difficult to identify. Cats have a natural instinct to hide or mask signs of pain or weakness. This is because cats are solitary hunters – who protect themselves from predators and perceived threats. Even cats that live solely indoors still have this protective instinct.

Cats with DJD rarely limp because the disease usually occurs in the same joint in both legs (e.g. both knees). This differs greatly from arthritis in dogs, who may exhibit more pain in one leg so there is a noticeable limp. Discomfort with walking is also easier to recognize in dogs because they are usually taken on walks outdoors.

If your cat displays any of the following changes, contact your veterinarian immediately.

  • Decreased jumping up or down, or not jumping as high as before
  • Difficulty or hesitancy going up or down stairs; slower on stairs
  • Stiffness
  • Less active and playful
  • Withdrawn, hiding, or increased “clinginess”
  • Decreased grooming or over-grooming a painful area
  • Aggressive when handled or towards another pet
  • House-soiling (not using the litter box for urine and/or stool)

Management of the Pain

If your veterinarian diagnoses your cat with DJD, there are excellent treatments for this condition. So don’t delay and contact your veterinarian if you notice any possible signs.

Please remember to NEVER give your cat any medication without direction from your veterinarian. This includes over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen (i.e. Advil or Motrin), acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol), or aspirin. Many of these drugs can be deadly to cats.

  • Once a diagnosis is made, your veterinarian will help you develop a treatment plan for your cat.
  • Treatment includes both medication and simple changes in your home to allow your cat to maintain their normal behaviors.

Routine Veterinary Care

catcheckup-infographicsYour cat needs preventive care examinations or check-ups at least once a year and more often for senior cats and those with chronic conditions.

These visits are important to your cat’s specific healthcare plan. Your veterinarian will discuss and assess topics such as:

  • Nutrition
  • Lifestyle
  • Environmental enrichment or physical and social surroundings
  • Disease and parasite prevention
  • Behavior

Why Are Preventive Care Check-ups So Important?

  • During the check-up, veterinarians can often detect conditions that may affect your cat’s health long before they become noticeable so they can be managed or cured before they become painful or more costly.
  • Cats age more rapidly than we do, so preventive care check-ups are a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle.
  • As a member of the family, your cat deserves the best possible care. Together, you and your veterinarian can best decide how to accomplish that by meeting at least once a year to talk about your cat and any changes that have taken place in their life.
  • With the information you bring and a good physical check-up, a plan will be created to meet the needs of your cat and the family.
  • You are an important member of your cat’s health care team. You can be helpful in helping your cat live a happy and healthy quality of life.

 

What Your Veterinarian Looks For?

Are you curious about what’s going on during your cat’s yearly check-up? It may seem like your veterinarian is just petting your cat, but she is examining your cat’s entire health and lifestyle during the checkup.

Don’t have a veterinarian? Find a feline practitioner in your area.

Pet Health Insurance

Did you know that 1 in every 3 cats will require unplanned veterinary care each year for conditions such as tooth infections, diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, heart disease, etc.? If your cat becomes ill, would you have $500 – $2,000 to pay for this unexpected and unbudgeted veterinary expense?

It is for the unexpected situations—accident and illnesses—that cat health insurance can have the biggest benefit. Ideally, your cat’s veterinary care should be not be based on what financial resources you have available when your cat unexpected becomes ill. Health insurance for your cat can help ensure she receives the care she deserves without any delay.

When considering cat health insurance, it is important to understand that each plan is different. Some plans cover preventive care such as vaccinations, deworming, and flea and tick prevention, but not all include this kind of coverage. Like human health care insurance, pet health insurance will have a monthly premium. However, a small monthly premium can be much more affordable than a large veterinary bill when your cat unexpectedly becomes ill.

Health Insurance for your cat can help protect you from large, unexpected veterinary bills and ensure your cat gets the medical care he needs, when he needs it. – Dr. Apryl Steele, DVM

When selecting a health insurance policy, consider the following questions:

  • Do you need a policy only for unexpected or emergency expenses?
  • Is preventive care and checkup coverage necessary?
  • Does the policy cover accidents, illness, and/or preventive care?
  • Are hereditary conditions covered?
  • How are pre-existing conditions defined? It is possible to submit medical records to most insurance companies to determine what they would consider a pre-existing condition. Pre-existing conditions are ineligible for reimbursement, although some have a time frame at which they are no longer consider pre-existing.
  • Does the policy require you to pay the veterinarian and apply for reimbursement (most policies do)?
  • Can you choose any veterinarian?
  • If the premium changes, what are those changes based upon? Does it increase annually with age?
  • What is the maximum reimbursement amount?
  • Is there a deductible (amount due before policy comes into effect)?
  • What is the percentage of the total bill that is reimbursed? (usually 80% – 90%)
  • What is the average time it takes for reimbursement?
  • What is the policyholder satisfaction rate?

 

Health insurance for your cat can help protect you from large, unexpected veterinary bills and ensure your cat gets the medical care they need, when they need it. For information on pet health insurance providers, visit: petinsurancereview.com.

Diabetes

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

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Feline diabetes, known as diabetes mellitus, has become an increasingly common condition in cats. It often occurs in cats that are overweight and/or older. As in humans, cats have a pancreas that should produce insulin to regulate the sugar (glucose) in their bodies from their diet. Diabetes occurs when a cat’s body is not able to properly balance out the sugar in their bloodstream.

If your veterinarian diagnoses your cat with diabetes, you will need to work together to create a plan to manage this disease. You are an important part in creating a treatment plan for your cat. When diabetes goes untreated, you may notice increased signs and symptoms (listed below) which can progress leading to pain, nerve damage, muscle weakness, other diseases or conditions, or even death.

Risk Factors

The following factors could put your cat at higher risk for developing diabetes:

  • Male
  • Neutered
  • Over seven (7) years of age
  • Overweight or obese
  • Taking medications such as corticosteroids
  • Other conditions happening at the same time, such as infection, hyperthyroidism, and/or renal issues

Diagnosis

Feline diabetes is not always easy to diagnosis. Your veterinarian will need to conduct a thorough examination of your cat, obtain an individual medical history, and conduct laboratory tests. In the early stages of diabetes, you may notice that your cat “seems a little off” or “less interactive.”

Signs and Symptoms

If you notice any of the following behaviors or problems in your cat, contact your veterinarian. This information may alert them to the possibility that your cat has diabetes.

  • Weight loss
  • Drinking more water than normal
  • Drinking from unusual places
  • Begging for food/increased appetite
  • Decreased ability to jump
  • Walking on heels instead of toes (known as “plantigrade stance”)
  • Lethargy or decreased activity
  • Urine is sticky or difficult to clean
  • More frequent urination or urination outside of litter box

Testing

If your veterinarian suspects that your cat has diabetes, they will need to conduct blood and urine tests. These tests will allow them to rule out other diseases or conditions.

When they review the blood test, your veterinarian is looking for repeated abnormally high levels of blood glucose, referred to as hyperglycemia, and the presence of glucose (sugar) in the urine, referred to as glucosuria.

Treatment

Once your cat is diagnosed with diabetes, you will work with your veterinarian to create a monitoring and treatment plan. There are different options to treat diabetes. Also, many cats have other diseases or conditions which may complicate treatment. It is crucial to be honest with your veterinarian about your goals, time, and ability to monitor and treat your cat. So, try and maintain a frequent, open dialogue.

Goals of Treatment

  • Potential remission is the goal, but is not possible for all cats
  • Blood glucose regulation and stabilization
  • Stable, appropriate body weight
  • Reduction of signs and symptoms (noted above)
  • Good quality of life
  • Avoiding hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), ketoacidosis (cell starvation where fat breaks down to provide energy), or neuropathy (pain or damage to nerves)

Treatment Options

Monitoring

An important part of the treatment plan is monitoring your cat’s response to the insulin and making adjustments as needed. There are three different monitoring protocols – intensive, standard, and loose.

You and your veterinarian will determine the method that works best for you and your cat.

Many diabetic cats can live happy and normal lives. To help your cat live a long life:

  • Maintain recommended checkups
  • Work to keep their blood sugar level stable
  • Strive to maintain a healthy body weight
  • Manage other diseases

You are a key part of your cat’s diabetes treatment plan. Remember to be open and honest with your veterinarian about your ability to monitor and provide insulin therapy. Each cat is different and your veterinarian will work with you on an individualized healthcare plan for you and your cat.

Why You Need to Visit the Veterinarian

As a member of the family, your cat deserves the very best possible care. One of the best ways to ensure your cat stays healthy is by making sure they have an annual preventive care check-up, or more frequently for senior cats and those with chronic conditions.

During the check-up, your veterinarian will review your cat’s nutrition, lifestyle, environmental enrichment (key resources such as food, water, litter box, scratching areas, play areas, resting areas, etc.), disease and parasite prevention, and behavior. This is also the perfect time for you to ask questions and share any changes in your cat’s behavior. Even very minor changes could be a sign of a medical issue.

With a thorough physical exam plus the information you share, you and your veterinarian can create a plan to meet the individualized needs of your cat. Regular check-ups are key to a healthy and happy cat.

Here are the top 5 reasons routine veterinary visits are a vital part in helping your cat live a long, healthy life:

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1. Cats Age Much More Rapidly Than Humans.

A cat reaches the approximate human age of 15 by his first birthday and then the approximate human age of 24 by his second birthday. Each year after, your cat ages approximately 4 “cat years” for every calendar year. So your 8-year-old cat would be 48 in human years. Annual veterinary care is crucial because a lot can happen in a “cat year”.

2. Cats Are Masters at Hiding Illness.

Cats are excellent at hiding signs that they are sick or in pain. Your cat could develop a health condition before you notice anything is wrong. Veterinarians are trained to spot changes or abnormalities and detect many problems before they advance or become more difficult to treat.

3. Your Cat May Be Overweight.

Over 50% of cats are overweight or obese. Your veterinarian will check your cat’s weight at each visit and provide nutritional and enrichment recommendations to help keep your cat at an ideal weight. Just an extra three pounds can put your cat at risk for diabetes; heart, respiratory, and kidney disease, and more.

4. Preventive Care Is Better Than Reactive Care.

During a regular check-up you share information with your veterinarian about how your cat behaves at home. This history along with a thorough physical examination, allows you and your veterinarian to create a plan to help your cat remain healthy. Regular check-ups can help avoid medical emergencies by detecting conditions or diseases before they become significant, painful, or more costly to treat.

5. Kittens Have 26 Teeth, While Adult Cats Have 30.

That equals a lot of dental care! Periodontal disease is considered the most common disease in cats three years of age and older. Often there aren’t any obvious signs of dental disease. Most cats with dental disease still eat without a noticeable change in appetite. Discuss your cat’s teeth at their annual check-up.

Find a Cat Friendly Practice® near you. You are an important member of your cat’s healthcare team. You can help your cat live a happy and healthy life.

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Giving Your Cat Medication

Giving medication to your cat can be an intimidating task, but with some patience and proper instruction you can learn how to it. Here are a few tips and tricks that can help you:

  1. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to give your cat the medication.
  2. Do your best to remain calm. Your cat can pick-up on your stress, so take a deep breath and move slowly and confidently.
  3. Be prepared! Make sure you have the medication and any dropper ready and within arm’s reach.
  4. Tip your cat’s head back so her nose is straight up.
  5. If you are giving your cat a pill, make sure you place it back far on your cat’s tongue. It is easier for her to swallow and she is less likely to spit it out.
  6. Gently massage your cat’s throat to help her swallow the pill.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s videos provide step-by-step instructions for administering both liquid and pill form medication.

Please Remember

  • To ask your veterinarian for help. They can show you how to safely give your cat a pill.
  • Avoid forcing your cat to accept the medication. Also, do not forcibly remove your cat from a hiding place or interrupt eating, grooming, or elimination for purposes of giving them medication.
  • Give your cat positive reinforcement (i.e., treats, brushing, and petting) for accepting medication. Favorite rewards for cats include delicious treats, catnip, interactive play, and petting or grooming. It is important to remember that the reward must be something your cat likes, and that preferred treats may vary between cats.
  • Unless your veterinarian says that medication must be given with food, do not use food as an aid to giving medications. It may cause aversion and reduce your cat’s food intake.
  • If you are having difficulty coping with this responsibility, ask your veterinarian for advice. He or she can also recommend resources to help you administer the medication.

Top 10 Tips for Your Senior Cat

1. Schedule Regular Wellness Checkups.

  • Work to develop a close relationship with your cat’s veterinarian while your cat is still healthy. This will allow your veterinarian to get to know your cat and detect subtle changes that may indicate a health condition or disease.
  • Cats needs to visit their veterinarian more often as they age, even if they appear healthy. Cats age much faster than people and a checkup every 6 months for cats 10-15 years old and every 4 months for cats over the age of 15 is recommended for optimum health maintenance and early detection of disease.
  • Find a Cat Friendly Practice or Cat Friendly Veterinary Professional.

2. Set Your Senior Cat Up for Success.

  • The start of your cat’s veterinary visit begins at home. Use Cat Friendly Tips to reduce the stress of getting your cat into his carrier and allow plenty of time to arrive for your appointment so you are unhurried and calm.
  • Ask the veterinary office if they have a cat-only waiting area, cat concierge service, or if you can go directly into the exam room when you arrive to further minimize stress.

3. Prepare Ahead of Time.

  • Bring a list of questions or concerns to ask your veterinarian at your cat’s wellness checkup.
  • Write down all foods your cat is eating including treats, brands fed, and amounts.
  • Provide your veterinarian with a complete list of any supplements or medications you are giving your cat including preventives.
  • Try to record smartphone videos of any concerning behaviors or mobility issues observed at home to show your veterinarian.
  • Complete any questionnaires your veterinarian shares with you ahead of time.

4. Learn Your Cat’s Habits and Pay Attention to Changes.

5. Be Alert to Changes in Weight.

  • Both weight gain AND unplanned weight loss requires a visit to your veterinarian.
  • Weight gain can make your cat more likely to get chronic diseases and have a shortened life span.
  • Weight loss in senior cats is usually a sign something is wrong. Some of the most common diseases causing weight loss – hyperthyroidism, intestinal disease, and diabetes – occur with a normal or even increased appetite.
  • Gradual changes in weight are hard to notice. Monitoring your cat’s weight is one of the most important reasons for regular wellness examinations by your veterinarian.

6. Be on the Lookout for Signs of Pain.

  • Pain can be hard to notice because cats try to hide signs of discomfort and illness from us.
  • Any changes in behavior, energy level or sleeping patterns may be a sign your cat is experiencing underlying discomfort or pain.
  • Degenerative Joint Disease, or arthritis, is present in most older cats. Your veterinarian can determine if your cat is suffering from arthritis and develop a treatment plan to make your cat more comfortable.
  • If your cat has difficulty going up or down steps, does not jump like he used to, or isn’t using the litter box, talk with your veterinarian.

7. Look When You Scoop.

  • Is your cat starting to miss the litter box and or have “accidents” around your house? There may be a medical issue causing him to house-soil.
  • Are your cat’s stools softer, harder, or changing color? Is he defecating daily? Not defecating or passing small amounts of hard stool are indicators of constipation, a serious medical issue. If attended to early, your veterinarian can help your kitty to feel comfortable again.
  • Has the amount of urine in the litter box changed?  Even small changes in or around the litterbox should prompt a call to your cat’s veterinarian as they can be indicators of serious underlying disease.

8. Create a “Senior Cat Friendly” Home Environment.

  • Place resources (food, water, litterboxes, bedding) in multiple locations that your cat can easily access.
  • If your cat is having trouble jumping to favorite high surfaces add steps or ramps for access.
  • As cats grow older, they often need extra padding and warmth for comfort. Provide soft bedding at preferred sleeping and resting spots.
  • Provide raised food and water bowls so cats with degenerative joint disease don’t have to bend to eat and drink.
  • Help out with grooming by gently brushing or combing, and keep nails from becoming overgrown with regular nail trims. The nails of older arthritic cats sometimes overgrow into the paw pads, and this is painful.
  • Maintain a consistent routine.

9. Know How Much Your Cat is Eating.

  • Senior cats are at risk of becoming underweight due to a decreasing sense of taste or smell, which can cause a lack of interest in eating.
  • Make sure your cat has access to food resources. Place food where your cat spends the most time and, in an area where your cat can eat quietly and calmly.
  • Senior cats may prefer wide and low-sided food and water bowls that don’t touch their whiskers.
  • If your cat becomes picky about food or is not eating talk to your veterinarian right away.

10. Know Common Signs of Disease.

  • General signs of disease may be hard to notice at first. Be aware of some of the most common signs of disease and consult your veterinarian if any of these are noted:
    • Drinking more or less
    • Increased amounts of urine, passing small amounts of hard stool, straining in the litterbox
    • Nausea, vomiting, or constipation
    • Decreased appetite, weight loss, or muscle loss
    • Poor fur/coat and decreased grooming
    • Changes in behavior including hyperactivity (unusual activity), anxiety, tiredness, or not using the litter box
    • Abnormal swelling, skin masses (unusual lumps or growths)
    • Sores that do not heal
    • Bleeding or discharge
    • Difficulty breathing, urinating, or passing stools
    • Difficulty going up or down stairs, jumping or walking

11. (BONUS) Enjoy Your Special Bond.

  • Caring for your senior cat can be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have.
  • Continue to provide physical and mental stimulation by petting, playing, and interacting with your cat in your special ways.
  • We rely on our cats as much as they rely on us. Aging cats often crave more attention than they did earlier in life and spending extra time together will ensure you both get the most out of your cat’s senior years.

Senior Care

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What is a Senior Cat?

Cats go through four life stages as they age:

  • Kitten
  • Young Adult
  • Mature Adult
  • Senior

Cats are considered senior when they are 11 years old, which is about 60 in human years! Like people, cats’ needs change as they get older. It’s important to understand the physical and emotional changes your cat will go through as they age. Cats age more rapidly than people; the lifespan of a cat is five times shorter than of a human. You and your veterinarian can work together to meet your senior cat’s changing health needs and provide a good quality of life.


Senior Cat Checkups

Cats are masters at hiding signs of pain and disease. Part of being a responsible caregiver includes bringing your cat in for regular veterinary checkups. Senior cats 10 to 15 years old should have checkups a minimum of every 6 months, and cats over 15 years should be seen every 4 months. Cats with ongoing health issues may need more frequent checkups.

As your cat ages, it’s important to be aware of changes that may occur. Discuss these with your veterinarian to determine how to provide the best care for your cat.

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Common age-related changes include:

  • Changes in behavior and sleeping patterns
  • Increased ‘talking’ or meowing
  • Pain related to movement (jumping, using stairs, in/out of high-sided litter box)
  • Changes in sight and hearing
  • Decreased sense of smell and taste
  • Weight loss and loose skin
  • Brittle nails or nails that need to be trimmed more often
  • Decreased ability to absorb nutrients and increased need for protein

Is My Senior Cat in Pain?

Pain can be hard to notice because cats try to hide signs of discomfort and illness from us. This is another reason it is important to bring your senior cat for regular veterinary checkups. While it may be difficult for you to notice if your senior cat is in pain, your veterinarian is trained to identify subtle clues. Feline arthritis, or  degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a common cause of pain in senior cats. Studies show as many as 92% of cats suffer from DJD.

Cat walking up stairs One way you can help identify DJD-associated pain is by observing any changes in your cat’s behavior or normal routine. You can start by filling out the DJD questionnaire below and bringing it with you to your cat’s next veterinary checkup. Your veterinarian will discuss ways to manage pain and provide care recommendations. This could include adding ramps or stairs for east access to favorite spaces, night lights to see better in the dark, or litter boxes with a lower entry so your cat can get in and out more easily.

DOWNLOAD QUESTIONAIRE

Taking videos of your cat jumping and playing throughout the years can be helpful in order to notice small changes over time. Learn more at catfriendly.com/pain


Nutrition and Weight Management 

Keeping your senior cat at a healthy weight is essential. During checkups, your veterinarian will weigh your cat and feel your cat’s muscles. This information helps to determine your cat’s ideal weight and body condition. Slow weight gain or loss is hard to see. You can weigh your cat at home using a scale for lower weight levels (e.g., baby scale), and alert your veterinarian to any weight gain or loss.

Senior cats are at risk of becoming underweight due to a decreasing sense of taste or smell, which can cause a lack of interest in eating. Overweight cats are more likely to develop diabetes, arthritis (DJD), heart disease, and lower urinary tract disease.

If you are having problems getting your cat to eat, have your veterinarian make sure your cat is not sick. If your veterinarian determines your cat is healthy, try offering a different texture of food (e.g., finely ground food instead of chunky), strong smelling food, warmed or chilled canned food, or fresh food that hasn’t sat out too long.

cat eating our of elevated bowl Offer meals a few times throughout the day. Some cats like small amounts of flavoring, such as canned tuna juice or low-sodium, unseasoned broth. Place food where your cat spends the most time and, in a place where your cat can eat quietly and calmly. Senior cats may prefer wide and low-sided food and water bowls that don’t touch their whiskers. Providing elevated bowls can help those that may be in pain from bending down to eat. Hydration is very important for senior cats so consider providing multiple drinking stations, and speak to your veterinarian about foods or supplements that can increase water intake.


Managing Diseases and Conditions 

Many illnesses and conditions can occur as your cat ages, and sometimes several at a time. If you see a change in your cat’s behavior and habits, alert your veterinarian. Some common diseases affecting older cats are arthritis (DJD), cancer, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, dental disease, gastrointestinal disease, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, and cognitive dysfunction syndrome (effecting memory and awareness). General signs of disease which may be hard to notice at first can include:

  • Drinking more or less, and/or producing larger amounts of urine
  • Nausea, vomiting, or constipation
  • Decreased appetite, weight loss, or muscle loss
  • Poor fur/coat and decreased grooming
  • Changes in behavior including hyperactivity (unusual activity), anxiety, tiredness, or not using the litter box; changes to sleeping patterns and resting locations
  • Abnormal swelling or skin masses (unusual lumps or growths)
  • Sores that do not heal; bleeding or discharge
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating, or passing stools

Managing diseases can be stressful for you and your cat. Your veterinarian will discuss a treatment and management plan with you. Discuss your concerns, ideas, and ability to

follow through with recommendations so you and your veterinarian can create a plan that works for you and your cat. Continuing checkups is the best way to monitor your cat’s health, pain, and quality of life status.


Quality of Life and End of Life Decisions 

Even with regular veterinary care and treatment, many senior cats will reach a point at which their quality of life is severely affected by illness or pain. When this time comes for your cat, please discuss the best course of action with your veterinarian. Together you will work through a quality-of-life assessment that asks questions to help you determine the next steps. Your veterinarian can support you and your cat during end of life care. They can provide hospice care and teach you ways to help your cat be comfortable during the end stages of an illness. If euthanasia becomes necessary, they will help you understand what to expect during and after the process. Preparing for the experience will not take away the pain and grief, but will help ensure a calmer, more informed process. Read more at catfriendly.com/end-of-life.

We all want to grow old with grace and dignity, and we want the same for our pets. Fortunately, expert understanding of cat health and advances in veterinary medicine means cats can live longer, better lives than ever before. As your cat’s caregiver, there’s much you can do to keep your cat healthy and happy. We have additional tips for caring for your senior cat. Please download our Senior Cats Have Special Needs brochure for more information on senior cat nutrition and weight management, managing diseases, quality of life, and end of life decisions.