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Caring for Older Cats

The average life span of cats is about 10-15 years, but 20-year-old cats are not uncommon, and some even live to 30 years of age! Cats grow old gracefully -- they often sleep more and may need some extra attention, but age comes on gradually and mildly for cats.

Slowing down
Making your cat comfortable
Feeding your senior cat
Regular veterinary check-ups

Slowing down
As your cat ages, her vital organs may gradually deteriorate, and she may become more prone to diseases. Her digestive function may deteriorate, and she may not be able to utilize her food as well as in previous years.

When you groom your cat, inspect her as well -- check the condition of her coat and skin, and look for wounds or any evidence of fleas and other parasites. Also, check her eyes and ears. Feel all over her body for any new lumps or bumps, and report any unusual swelling to your veterinarian -- it should be checked promptly, especially if it is growing quickly.

Periodically check your cat's nails. Because a less active cat won't wear her nails down with scratching and climbing, you may need to trim them. If they grow too long, they may curl around and grow back into the pad.

Also, take time to examine your cat's mouth. Her teeth may have deposits of brown or cream-colored tartar that cause bad breath and can lead to gum disease, infections, loose teeth, and mouth pain. To help prevent plaque and tartar build-up, feed your cat small amounts of specifically designed dry food or snacks to exercise her teeth and gums, in addition to regularly scheduled cleanings at your vet. You might also brush her teeth with a special cat toothbrush -- she may not cooperate, however, especially if she hasn't been introduced to the toothbrush before. Finally, talk to your veterinarian if you are concerned about your cat's oral health.

Making your cat comfortable
Because your senior cat is less mobile, she may spend longer periods of time simply lying down in one place. Make sure that she doesn't lie in a cold, damp spot -- or in the hot sun -- for any great length of time. Make her a bed in a warm, draft-free, and accessible location.

Your older cat may go outside less often. She'll want to use an indoor litter box, particularly when the weather outside is cold or wet, and may need several litter boxes in different rooms. Remember to clean her litter box regularly.

Feeding your senior cat
Cats typically become less active with age, and her ability to digest and assimilate energy and fat may decline. She needs a high-quality and highly digestible food suitable for senior cats, whose body conditions may begin to change as early as 7-8 years of age. If she has particular medical problems, she may need a special diet for that condition.

Often, when an older cat has an impaired sense of taste and smell, she will also lose her appetite. In such cases, try warming her food to near body temperature -- and never offer her food straight from the refrigerator.

As always, have water available for your cat.

Regular veterinary check-ups
Annual booster vaccinations are just as important, possibly even more so, in old age: older cats are less resistant to disease and cannot easily fight off infections.

Many older cats don't eat for short periods, but if your cat persists in not eating her food -- especially if she is acting abnormally -- call your veterinarian. Remember that if your cat looks sick, she probably is, and needs veterinary help as soon as possible.

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