The Senior Cat: Striving for Longevity
By Jaime Stephens
The Senior Cat: Striving for Longevity
The average life expectancy of an indoor cat is between 15-16 years, with females generally living one to two years longer than males. The Siamese and Manx breeds frequently surpass the average. This is why I was surprised when my ten year old tuxedo, the youngest in my household, was referred to by my vet as a “senior.” How could this be, I thought, and, like many parents of human and furry children alike, wondered where the time had gone.
According to The Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest cat ever was Creme Puff who was born on August 3, 1967 and lived until August 6, 2005 – 38 years and three days old. Creme Puff lived with her owner in Austin, Texas, who was also the owner of a Sphynx named Granpa Rexs (sic) Allen, the previous record holder, who lived 34 years and two months. Although not recommended, Granpa enjoyed a breakfast of egg beaters, bacon, and Folger’s (and only Folger’s, Mrs. Olson) coffee each morning. It should be noted that Granpa ate a more suitable and appropriate meal at dinner time.
What diseases are senior cats more prone to? (1) Chronic renal (kidney) disease; (2) heart disease; (3) Diabetes; (4) Arthritis; (5) Hyperthyroidism; (6) Dental disease; and (7) Cancer.
What can owners do to try to keep these diseases at bay and help their cats live a long and healthy life?
- • Feed a quality cat food high in protein and moisture content—cats are used to getting much of the water they need from their food. Avoid commercial foods with soy protein; it’s difficult for cats to digest. Look for real meat as the first ingredient, as meat is a cat’s main source of critical amino acids.
- • Provide fresh, clean water: Even with moist food, cats need fresh water. Many are picky and won’t drink stale water, so be sure to refresh their supply daily. Cats also love drinking fountains (my vet told me years ago that it was the best Christmas gift I could give my cats).
- • Keep your cat indoors. Indoor cats are at a lower risk of allergies, injuries, car accidents, fights, poisonings, and infections.
- • Stay current on vaccinations. Cats often die needlessly of diseases that can be prevented through vaccinations. Rabies is mandatory in most states. Other core vaccinations include those for feline distemper and upper respiratory disease.
- • Maintain a healthy weight: According to recent research by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 54 percent of cats in the U.S. are obese or overweight, which can lead to numerous health problems. Control food portions and engage the cat in regular exercise by rotating toys and scheduling regular play times each day.
- • Take care of their teeth: There are many dental treats, toothpastes, tooth sprays, and the like available today to take care of a cat’s teeth. The bacteria from dental and gum disease is not only dangerous to the cat’s mouth, but can travel to other parts of the body where it can cause other problems.
- • Spay or neuter your cat: It not only prevents overpopulation, it can protect the cat from reproductive cancers. Some studies have also found that pets that are fixed live longer than those who are not.
- • Groom regularly: Though cats naturally groom themselves, indoor cats especially may end up with extra hair that then shows up in hairballs. Regular grooming can cut down on excess hair both in your house and in your cat’s stomach.
Some Less Well Known Tips
Though doing all of the steps above will help your cat live longer, there are other less well-known steps you can take as well.
- • Use “green” cleaning products: The chemicals in cleaning products can be dangerous to your cat. They may pick them up on their feet or their fur then lick them off and swallow them. Use only non-toxic cleaning supplies and avoid using dangerous chemicals or pesticides inside.
- • Avoid poisonous plants: Many plants are poisonous to cats. Check the ASPCA’s list of toxic plants to be sure you don’t have any in your home.
- • Provide a heating pad to older cats: Older cats, like older humans like warm places. Try a heating pad on a low setting where your cat normally rests, or position a shelf by the window where he can catch the sun.
- • Consider supplements: Some supplements may contribute to optimal health. Try omega-3 fatty acids for keeping the cat’s coat shiny, probiotics, and enzymes to improve digestive health, glucosamine to help increase joint mobility, and milk thistle to detox. Avoid high amounts of garlic, onion, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin C—too much can be toxic to cats.
- • Change diet with age: Older cats need fewer calories, easier-to-chew and digest food, and more fiber and fatty acids. They also have a reduced ability to digest fat and protein. Take your cat for regular check-ups, and adjust feeding as he ages to target healthcare needs.
- • Consider herbs, but be careful: Herbs can contribute to optimal health. Catnip can relieve stress and nervousness, licorice root can soothe allergies and digestive issues, cat’s claw may help with itching, and goldenseal can be used as a natural disinfectant on wounds. Check with your vet, however, and use only small amounts. Avoid comfrey, tea tree oil, red clover, white willow bark, and wormwood as these can be toxic to cats.
- • Provide variety and stimulation: A bored cat may become stressed, act out, or develop depression. Provide a variety of toys that you rotate in and out so there is always something new to play with. Try shoelaces, paper bags, cardboard boxes, and toys you can use to play together. Change up the cat’s perches so she has a new point of view when looking out the window. Give her your old sweater to lie on or hide under. Make life interesting and your cat will likely be more lively and active!
Jaime lives in Alexandria with her husband and cats, including Jezebelle Stephens,
adopted from King Street Cats in 2005.