Your Aging Cat – Behavioral Changes to Expect and How to Help
In a recent post, we described physical changes you might notice in your aging cat – but what about behavioral changes? Can your aging cat’s changing behavior be warning signs you should be concerned about? Let’s explore what behavioral changes you should be aware of in your aging cat:
Behavioral Changes in Your Aging Cat
Like many physical changes, behavioral changes in your aging cat might happen slowly and subtly and over an extended period of time. Because of that, they can be easy to miss. Many of these behavioral changes will be natural for the aging cat, but if you have concerns that your cat is experiencing unusual or rapid behavioral changes, consult with your veterinarian.
As we mentioned in our post on physical changes to aging cats, they may lose muscle tone and strength as they age. Decreased mobility might also be due to arthritis or other ailments. Your vet can help you determine if diminished activity and mobility is a normal sign of aging or a symptom of something more serious. These physical changes will manifest themselves in decreased mobility, which will appear as a change in their behavior. As we noted before, try to encourage playful exercise for your cat, but understand that as their mobility decreases you might need to place a ramp or steps near their favorite elevated sleeping spots.
General Behavior Changes
Beyond the physical condition of aging cats, they may also experience changes in mental and emotional coping abilities. They may become less adept at coping with stress, particularly excess noise and changes in their environment. Older cats might show their stress by being more vocal or becoming more aggressive. They might even regress from proper use of the litter box because it is more difficult to get into it. Consider an uncovered box with low sides for easier access.
Always check their teeth since gum and tooth pain can be an underlying cause of behavior change. But be aware that it is not advisable to use any human medication for pain or mood, or supplements (like glucosamine) unless you have consulted with your veterinarian for proper dosage amounts. OTC (over the counter) medications like aspirin can be toxic to cats.
Activity Level and Food
Your cat’s energy needs remain fairly constant as she ages. In middle age, a cat may become heavier as her body changes and activity slows down somewhat. What’s more, an older aging cat may not digest and store fat as efficiently as it did when younger. The older cat may lose weight because of this. As the cat ages, you might need to adjust her diet and begin using food specifically formulated for an older cat. Ask your vet before making these dietary changes, as weight loss could be signs of a serious illness.
Activity Level and Hydration
As their activity levels decrease, aging cats might also drink less water, which could contribute to the increased likelihood of constipation and kidney problems. Paying attention to what is (or is not) in the litterbox can alert you to potential issues.
Since a cat’s physical makeup is 60 to 70% water, hydration is very important. Here’s how you can add more moisture to your cat’s diet:
Add water, chicken or beef broth (no sodium) to their wet food. If not already using wet food, this is a good time to start for the added moisture that all cats need. Always read the label and be sure it contains real animal protein, not grains. Cats need meat.
- Have more than one water bowl located in different places in the house where your cat spends time. Be sure to keep them clean with fresh water daily. Cats eating only a dry kibble diet need to drink at least one cup of water a day according to the Nutrition Research Council.
- Some cats love running water and wait on the sink counter for the faucet to be turned on for them. Once you start this behavior be prepared for a cat on the counter every time you use water. An alternative is a fountain made for pets to accommodate the cat who loves running water.
- Use glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowls, rather than plastic which can leach into the water. Fill the bowl to the top so the whiskers don’t get wet.
If using a high-quality dry food, it can also be moistened but should be discarded within a short time if not eaten. According to Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, cats are designed to get their water from their food rather than a water bowl.
The Bottom Line
Behavioral changes in your aging cat have underlying physical causes. Many of these will be normal signs of your cat becoming older. Some of these changes – physical and behavioral – will be so subtle and natural that you probably won’t notice. However, if you see sudden, severe or surprising changes in your older cat, consult with your veterinarian right away. And remember, if you need help caring for your aging cat while you are away from home we’re here to help. Just contact us at 317.224.5243.
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