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Aging cats: When Is a Cat Considered a Senior?

How Old Is A Senior Cat?

As a cat owner, it can be tough to recognize when your feline friend becomes a senior, especially if you spend every day with them. However, just like humans, cats undergo physical changes as they age. Aging cats experience these changes uniquely, and many begin to show age-related physical changes between 7 and 10 years old. By the time they reach 12 years, most cats will have experienced these changes. 

Contrary to popular belief, one "cat year" is not equivalent to seven "human years." Instead, a cat's first year is similar to the development that would occur in a human between 16 and 21 years old. Therefore, a two-year-old cat is more similar to a human between 21 and 24 years old. After that point, one "cat year" is equal to roughly four human years. For example, a 10-year-old cat is equivalent to a 53-year-old human, a 12-year-old cat is equivalent to a 61-year-old human, and a 15-year-old cat is equivalent to a 73-year-old human. 

If your cat is around 11 years old, you can consider them a senior cat. If they live beyond 15 years old, they're considered a "super-senior." It can be helpful to think of your cat's age in human terms when caring for an older cat.

What Happens As My Senior Cat Ages?

As cats age, they undergo various physical and behavioral changes, similar to humans. Although aging is not a disease, it is essential to inform your veterinarian about any changes in your senior cat's body and behavior to provide them with the best possible healthcare. It is crucial to keep an eye out for the following changes:

Physical Changes 

Grooming & Appearance

As cats grow older, they may become less effective at grooming themselves, leading to matted or oily fur. This can cause inflammation and skin odor, which can be painful for them.

Senior cats also require more attention for their claws, which can become thick, brittle, and overgrown. Additionally, an old cat's eyes and vision may change, and they may develop a slightly hazy lens and 'lacy' appearance to their iris.

However, this change may not significantly impact their sight alone. Unfortunately, several diseases, particularly those related to high blood pressure, can seriously and irreversibly affect a cat's ability to see.

Unintentional Weight Loss or Gain

If your senior cat is losing weight, this can point to any number of problems, from diabetes to kidney and heart disease. Dental disease is also extremely common in senior cats. As they age, dental issues can impair eating, causing malnutrition and weight loss along with causing significant pain in their mouths.

Physical Activity & Abilities 

Arthritis or degenerative joint disease often becomes a problem for older cats. This condition can make it challenging for them to access their food and water bowls, beds, and litter boxes, especially if they need to climb stairs or jump. 

Although changes in sleep are a normal part of aging, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep can be a cause for concern, and you should notify your vet. If you notice that your senior cat's energy level has suddenly increased, it may indicate hyperthyroidism, and you should have your cat checked by a vet.

Geriatric cats commonly experience hearing loss due to several reasons. If you notice your cat has lost hearing, you should visit your veterinarian to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

Behavioral Changes

Cognitive Issues

If you observe that your cat is becoming confused by tasks or objects that are a regular part of their daily routine, it may be a sign of memory or cognitive issues. Behavioral changes such as litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and appearing disoriented are also potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be examined by your veterinarian.

Issues Caused by Disease

A cat may become aggressive due to pain from health issues like dental disease or arthritis, so keeping an eye on your cat's mood is important because cats tend to hide discomfort. Diseases and disorders affecting urination (e.g. diabetes, kidney failure) can cause an increase in litterbox usage, which may lead to cats eliminating in inappropriate areas.

Cats experiencing mobility problems due to joint inflammation may have challenges accessing or climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also lead to your senior cat eliminating in inappropriate places, which should be addressed by a vet.

How Can I Help Keep My Senior Cat Healthy?

Your observations are some of the most important tools available to help keep your senior cat happy and healthy. Incorporating simple changes to your grooming, feeding and general interactions with your cat can be a low-pressure way to watch for any changes in your aging pet so your vet can provide geriatric care geared to your pet's needs.


Brushing your cat's fur, trimming their claws, and brushing their teeth are great ways to keep older cats clean and healthy while checking for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.


Many senior cats get heavy or even obese as they age, which can be controlled with diet and activity if the weight gain is non-medical. Other weight issues include elderly cats being underweight, which may be caused by a variety of medical conditions and should be assessed by a veterinarian.

Home Life

Older cats can be more sensitive to changes in routine or household, which can lead to stress. Patience and accommodations (extra affection, a favorite toy or blanket, a quiet room for them to stay in) go a long way to helping your senior cat adjust to upsetting changes. Don't forget to keep playing with your cat as they age; mental and physical stimulation is beneficial for their well-being.

Vet Care

Cats are masters at disguising their illness until it gets severe or advanced, so it's crucial to schedule regular wellness check-ups check-upsfeline friend, even if they appear healthy. Your veterinarian can also keep an eye on any existing conditions your senior cat may have and identify emerging concerns early on when they're more manageable. Regular vet check-ups for monitoring your cat's behavior and overall health.

How Can A Veterinarian Help?

Your knowledge of your cat's activities, health, and personality, and any observations you may be able to offer, will serve as an important guide for your vet. These should be paired with regularly scheduled routine exams. Depending on your senior cat's age, lifestyle, health status, and a few other factors, including any ongoing needs they may have in terms of medical conditions, your vet can tell you how often to come in for a visit and may recommend increasing the frequency of physical checkups.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. Always follow your doctor's advice regarding asthma or other allergy symptoms. 

Do you have questions about caring for your senior cat? Contact our vets in Jackson  to book a wellness check for your feline friend.

If you have a cat growing older and seems to be slowing down, you might wonder how to tell when your cat has reached their senior years. Our veterinarians at North Madison Animal Hospital have put together a guide to help you recognize the signs of aging and identify when your cat is considered a senior.

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North Madison Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of all companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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