When Is a Cat Considered a Senior? What To Expect When Your Cat’s Aging

Ken Lambrecht, DVM
By Ken Lambrecht, DVM. Reviewed by Veronica Higgs, DVM on Jan. 5, 2024
brown and white tabby cat lying in person's lap

The average cat lifespan is 13–17 years, though many can live to be 20 years old or more. With such a long life, proper care is vital for each of a cat’s life stage—especially when they enter their senior years.

But when is a cat considered a senior, and what does being a senior cat mean? Here’s what to know about your aging cat and how to keep them healthy.

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When Does a Cat Become a Senior?

Cats are considered seniors after they turn 10 years old, according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP).

But many veterinarians may begin treating cats as seniors at 7 years old, meaning wellness exams increase from yearly to every six months. Those who work closely with cats are aware of how subtle the signs of illness in cats are and how well cats can hide their pain.

What Are The Signs of Aging in Cats?

Common signs that your cat is getting older include:

Physical Signs

  • Weight loss or weight gain

  • Trouble jumping, decreased mobility

  • Trouble eating

  • Dental disease

  • Decreased vision, especially at night

  • Decreased hearing

Behavioral Signs

  • Sleeping more and being less active

  • Decreased self-grooming

  • Signs of confusion, such as wandering around the house

  • Accidents in the house or trouble making it to the litter box

  • Increased hiding

Senior Cat Health Problems

Some of the common health conditions senior cats develop include:

  • Dental disease: Dental disease affects over 80% of cats over 5 years old. At-home toothbrushing and annual dental cleanings can help keep your kitty’s teeth healthy.

  • Osteoarthritis: Arthritis in cats is a degenerative joint disease that affects over 90% of cats 10 years of age and older.

  • Kidney disease: Kidney disease in cats is found in over 20% of all cats. Symptoms of kidney disease in cats can be as subtle as increased drinking or larger clumps of urine in the cat litter box, inappetence, or slight weight loss.

  • Hyperthyroidism: Weight loss, increased appetite, and vocalization are hallmarks of hyperthyroidism in cats.

  • Inflammatory bowel disease: Vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss are the most typical symptoms of IBD in cats. It’s a very common middle-age and senior cat problem.

  • Diabetes: This is a common disease of older cats, especially those that are overweight. Weight management is important for preventing diabetes.

  • Cancer: Intestinal, mammary, and oral cancers are all more common in senior cats.

  • Cognitive dysfunction syndrome: 80% of cats have cognitive dysfunction at 15 years of age and older. Signs of dementia in cats include disorientation, vocalizing (especially at night), having accidents in the house, hiding, poor grooming, and sleeping more than usual.

Caring for a Senior Cat

Keeping your senior cat healthy requires regular checkups with your veterinarian and proper at-home care.

Meet Your Cat’s Needs

Senior cats often benefit from a little extra TLC.  Sometimes they forget to eat and drink or find it to difficult to navigate up and down stairs to find their bowls. Be sure your aging fur baby has easy access to fresh food and water daily.

Cats also love warm places, and senior cats especially will seek out a warm spot. Consider getting your cat a heated cat bed. Additionally, your senior may benefit from some extra helping grooming with weekly brushing

Finally, keeping a litter box on every floor is helpful for senior cats who may forget where the box is or have mobility issues preventing them from going up and down stairs to get it to easily. A low, large litter pan can be helpful for their joints, too.

Keep Up With Regular Vet Visits

A complete physical exam is recommended every six months for all cats over 7 years old. If that seems like a lot, consider that biannual vet visits would be the equivalent of a human seeing their doctor every three to four years. Because cats are notorious for hiding their diseases, exams and wellness testing are the cornerstones of keeping a senior cat healthy.

During a basic wellness exam for older cats, blood work will likely be recommended by your veterinarian. This often includes a thyroid level check, a complete blood count, chemistry panel, urinalysis and heartworm, FeLV, and FIV screening.

Routine blood pressure checks are typically advised for all cats over 10 years of age and in cats with diseases commonly associated with hypertension (high blood pressure) such as kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. Additionally, abdominal ultrasound or chest or abdominal radiographs may be recommended to help screen for disease.

Observe Your Senior Cat Closely

Any physical or behavioral change in your cat can mean something is going on with their health. It’s important to take note of any changes and contact your veterinarian for guidance.

Regular weigh-ins at home can be helpful for keeping tabs on your senior cat’s health. Buy a good-quality scale to catch sudden weight loss early and easily. A scale that weighs accurately to an ounce or less is best.

Video cameras, like the Wyze® Cam Pet Camera or Petcube® Bites Treat Dispenser Camera, can help you keep an eye on your cat and give you peace of mind when you’re away.

Best Food for Senior Cats

Your cat’s annual blood work is a great way for veterinarians to determine if a change in nutrition is needed for your senior cat. Protein level and phosphorous levels are two of the most critical analyses that need to be considered.

Senior cats should be fed a senior-specific diet to meet their needs. Most veterinarians would recommend making the transition to a senior diet around 7 years of age.

The choice between over-the-counter diets versus prescription diets and dry kibble versus canned food will be based on a lot of factors, including your specific cat’s health and weight. Check with your vet about the best food for your senior cat.

In short, all of these things can help to create a cat-friendly care plan, diet, and home environment for senior cats. With this guide, you can catch problems early so your kitty will truly enjoy those golden years!

Featured Image: Adobe/DebraAnderson

Ken Lambrecht, DVM


Ken Lambrecht, DVM


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