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Aging Cats: When is a Cat Considered a Senior?

Is your older cat starting to slow down? If so, you may be wondering if they are considered a senior. Today, our vets in Dallas discuss signs of aging and when your cat is considered a senior. 

How old is a senior cat?

If you've spent every day with your kitty since they were very young, it can be challenging to discern when they become a senior. However, your cat's body changes significantly as it ages, much like your own. 

Another similarity to their owners is that cats experience these changes uniquely. Many age-related physical changes start to appear in cats by the time they are between 7 and 10 years old. Most of these changes will happen by the time they reach 12 years old. 

People often estimate that one "cat year" is equivalent to seven "human years". However, this isn't quite accurate. Instead, your vet will telly ou that a cat's first year is similar to the development that would occur in a human by the time they hit 16 years old. So, a cat at two years old is more like a human between 21 and 24 years old. 

After they've reached this point in their development, one "cat year" is equal to roughly four human years (for example, you could think of a 10-year-old cat as similar to a 53-year-old human, a 12-year-old cat as similar to a 61-year-old human, and a 15-year-old cat like a 73-year-old human, etc.). 

By the time your four-legged companion is about 11 years old, you'll be the proud owner of a senior cat. A cat that lives past 15 years old is considered a "super senior". It sometimes helps to think of a cat's age in human terms when caring for older cats. 

What happens as my senior cat ages?

As they age, cats experience many physical and behavioral changes. While aging in cats is not a disease in itself, updating your vet about changes in your senior cat's body and personality will help your veterinarian provide comprehensive wellness care that's tailored to your pet's needs. Some changes to watch for include: 

Physical Changes 

Grooming & Appearance 

Aging cats may not be able to groom themselves as effectively as they did when they were young, which may cause their fur to become matted or oily. Painful hair matting can lead to skin odors and inflammation. Senior cats' claws also often become thick, brittle, and overgrown. Consequently, they will need more care and attention from their owners. 

You may also notice changes in your old cat's eyes and vision. The lens of a senior cat's eye may be slightly hazy and the iris (the colorful part of the eye) may take on a 'lacy' appearance. That said, there is little evidence that their sight will be significantly impacted by this alone. 

However, many diseases, especially illnesses related to high blood pressure, can seriously and irrevocably impact a cat's ability to see. 

Unintentional Weight Gain or Loss

Is your senior cat losing weight? This can indicate any number of problems, from diabetes or thyroid issues to kidney or heart disease. Dental disease is also extremely common in senior cats. Dental problems can cause issues with eating, leading to weight loss and malnutrition while causing significant pain in your cat's mouth. 

Physical Activity & Abilities 

Arthritis or degenerative joint disease often becomes a problem for older cats. This condition makes it difficult to access food and water bowls, beds, and litter boxes. This fact is especially true for a cat that needs to climb stairs or jump. 

While changes in sleep are a normal aspect of aging, a significant increase in sleep or depth of sleep is a concern and your vet should be notified. If you notice your senior cat's energy has suddenly increased, this may indicate hyperthyroidism and should be checked by a vet. 

Geriatric cats also commonly lose hearing for several reasons. If this happens to your cat, it's another reason to visit your veterinarian. 

Behavioral Changes

Cognitive Issues

If you notice that your cat has started being confused by tasks or objects that are part of their daily routine, this may be a sign of issues with memory or cognition. Behavioral changes such as litterbox accidents or avoidance, new or increased human avoidance, wandering, excessive meowing, and seeming disorientated, are also potential signs of mental confusion or feline senility and should be examined by your vet.

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 that are experiencing mobility problems due to joint inflammation may have challenges accessing or even climbing into their litterbox, especially if stairs are involved. This may also lead to your senior cat eliminating in inappropriate places and 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 also checking for changes in their fur, skin, nose, eyes, ears, and claws.


A lot of 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

Because cats are adept at hiding illness until it is advanced or severe, it's important to take them regularly to the vet for wellness checks even if they seem perfectly healthy. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor any conditions that your senior cat may have, and catch any potential or emerging issues early when they're more treatable. their behavior and 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 pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Seeking advice about caring for your senior cat? Contact our Dallas vets to book a wellness check for your kitty.

New Patients Welcome, New Hope Animal Hospital, Dallas

New Patients Welcome

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

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