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Every cat has a unique personality – your cat might be sweet and cuddly, or it could be sassy with a big attitude. As your cat gets older though, you might notice little personality changes. Some of these are natural signs of aging, others might be the sign of a problem. Here are 7 normal signs that your cat is getting older, and what you need to look out for.
One of the most common signs your cat is getting older is if he or she becomes more talkative. Even if your cat was previously very quiet, he might suddenly become very chatting or whiny. There are a few reasons for this. It’s not uncommon for cats to begin going deaf as they get older. Because of this, it might be harder for them to hear their people in the house. They might be trying to get your attention.
In the same vein, cats also begin to experience cognitive decline as they age. Just like your grandfather might forget your name from time to time, your senior cat can forget if they’ve seen you recently if you’ve been out of the room. They also might wake up from a nap feeling disoriented and they might be a bit frightened. These meows will often sound a bit frantic. If your cat calms down once he or she sees you, that’s a likely case.
More meowing can also be a sign of anxiety. Anxiety meows are typically sad sounding, rather than harsh or angry sounding. Have you had any recent changes in your home? A move, a new family member (two or four legged) or noisy neighbors are all examples of things that might raise anxiety levels in a senior cat. Senior cats do tend to adjust to those things, but there might be some growing pains along the way. Some people really enjoy products such as Feliway to help with their cat’s anxiety, but most cats will eventually adjust to environmental changes.
Of course, it’s always important to check with your vet if there are any sudden changes, so a suddenly talkative cat is definitely something you should get checked out.
Litter Box Changes
Has your cat started using the bathroom all over the house? Your cat is not trying to be rude, there are lots of reasons why older cats might start using the bathroom on the floor. One common one is mobility issues. Just like people, older cats develop joint and muscle pain as they get older. Sometimes a high-topped litter box can cause problems. If this could be the case, try getting a litter box with lower sides (and a litter mat to go underneath it!). Often the bladder becomes weaker, and cats will have an urgent need to pee and won’t be able to make it to the litter box. If you and your vet find this to be the case, add a couple of other litter boxes to your home. The more litter boxes, the easier it will be for your cat to reach them.
Confusion, which is discussed further below, can also cause litter box issues. As your cat’s memory declines, he might forget where his litter box is. Again, more litter boxes in places where your cat spends a lot of time might help.
Litter box changes can also be a sign of a urinary tract infection, so check with your vet if you notice this occuring.
As mentioned above, cats can develop confusion as they age. This is called feline cognitive dysfunction, or FCD. This can be diagnosed by your vet when all other health issues are ruled out. Think of it like alzheimer’s disease – things that were once familiar and safe seem confusing to them. Your cat might cling to one person and hiss at anyone else. Your cat might get lost in a house they’ve lived in for years, or can wake up from a nap in a panic unsure of where they are. Around 55% of cats over the age of 11 will experience cognitive decline as they age.
While there aren’t medical treatments for cognitive decline, the best way to help your cat is to keep their environment and schedule consistent. Feed them on a regular schedule, don’t rearrange the living room furniture on a whim, and if he seems distressed have a familiar space you can bring him so he can feel safe and calm. When my 17 year old cat, Boots, was feeling anxious, he has a special cardboard box he liked to hide in. Yes, I kept a random Amazon box in my home for years just because it was his safe space. The things we do for our cats!
If anxiety becomes a real problem, there are anti-anxiety medications your vet can prescribe, so if nothing else it working check with your vet.
Changes in Sleep Habits
Cats sleep schedules change for a variety of reasons. The first reason that your vet should check out is issues with pain or discomfort. Joint probems can cause pain that will keep your kitty from getting a comfortable night’s sleep. There are medications and special pet beds that can help with this.
Another reason is because the loss of some senses can create disturbances in sleep. For example, if you live on a busy road and your cat has good hearing, she might get used to the sound of big trucks driving by and sleep right through them. Once your cat’s hearing goes, your cat might not hear the big trucks but she can feel the house shaking from the truck going by, which can wake her up and make her panic.
FCD and increased anxiety can also cause sleep issues. If your cat wakes for a moment and is confused or not sure where you are, that can make her panic and wander around meowing for you. Anti-anxiety medications can help if this is the case.
If you find your cat sleeping a lot during the day and not much at night, playing with her during the day can help tire her out and make her sleep more soundly thorugh the night.
There’s a stereotype of older cats being cranky and irritable, but this is just because older cats can develop pain. You probably aren’t easy to deal with if your joints are sore, your cat is the same way. If you suspect this is the case, ask your vet about medications that can help with your cat’s pain.
FCD, once again, can also cause irritability. In your cat’s confused state she might not want you to touch her or play with her as much.
Becoming More or Less Needy
FCD can cause numerous issues with how your cat interacts with you. She might become very distant, even aggressive, if you try to pet or handle her. On the flip side, she might become ultra-needy, constantly needing you by her side. Both of these can be signs of medical issues as well, so get her checked out by your vet. If you find your cat is suddenly becoming very cranky or even violent, these issues can be caused by changes in the senses. If kitty’s eyesight is poor and suddenly a shape starts coming toward her, that might send her into a panic and she might attack. On the other side of the coin, the same loss of senses could cause your cat to need you around as much as possible.
Decrease in Energy Levels
Just like people, cats start to lose energy as they get older. Your once playful cat might not want to play with you anymore, or play sessions might be much shorter. If this happens slowly ovver time this is fairly normal aging behavior. However, if it happens suddenly it might be the sign of an injury or illness, so get your vet to check your cat out.