When Do Cats Start to Slow Down? How Age Impacts a Cat’s Energy Levels


Cats can live healthy lives into their late teens and even early 20s. However, at some point in a cat’s life, owners start to notice changes as their pet gets older and begins to slow down. This article will cover the typical ages cats start to show signs of aging, the physical and behavioral changes that occur, and provide tips on caring for a senior cat.

First, we will define what it means for a cat to slow down. Next, we’ll outline the physical and behavioral shifts that happen as cats get older. We’ll provide the approximate ages cats tend to slow down and discuss signs it may be time for end-of-life care. Finally, we’ll go over making senior cats comfortable and the joys of caring for an aging feline.

Defining Slowing Down in Cats

As cats age, it’s common for them to start slowing down and becoming less active. This is a normal part of the aging process. Some key signs that a cat is slowing down include:

Sleeping more – Senior cats tend to sleep over 16 hours a day, sometimes up to 20 hours. They have less energy and need more rest.

Decreased playfulness – Older cats often lose interest in toys and games that they used to enjoy. They may no longer chase toys or pounce on objects.

Less jumping/climbing – With age, arthritis starts to set in and cats have a harder time jumping up on furniture or climbing stairs. They tend to stay grounded.

Moving stiffly – You may notice an elderly cat struggling to get up after lying down or hesitating before jumping down. Old joints creak.

Exploring less – Senior cats are often content to relax in their favorite spot rather than patrolling around the house out of curiosity.

Avoidance of interaction – An aging cat may start withdrawing from social situations and wanting more alone time as part of their slowing down process.

In summary, “slowing down” encompasses a decrease in overall activity levels, energy, playfulness, mobility, and curiosity. It’s a gradual process, but is quite noticeable compared to a cat in their prime.

Physical Changes in Senior Cats

As cats age, their bodies undergo a number of physical changes that often start in their 7-10 year age range. Senior cats tend to gain or lose weight more easily. Weight loss may be caused by dental problems making eating painful or things like hyperthyroidism speeding up metabolism. Weight gain tends to happen when an older cat becomes less active. Joint stiffness and arthritis can make exercise difficult and lead to obesity (Source).

Oral health issues like gingivitis, resorptive lesions, and tooth decay are common in senior cats. This can make chewing kibble difficult and painful. Vision and hearing also tend to diminish. Cataracts and retinal deterioration impede eyesight while chronic ear infections impact hearing. Older cats may seem more clumsy and run into things as their senses decline (Source).

Arthritis causes joint pain, difficulty jumping up to counters/beds, and a hesitance to groom hard-to-reach areas. Matted, oily fur is another sign of reduced grooming capabilities. Mobility issues like muscle weakness and balance problems also emerge. Treatment options include joint supplements, anti-inflammatories, pain medication, and gentle exercise (Source).

Behavioral Changes in Senior Cats

As cats age, many experience behavioral changes along with the physical ones. Some of the most common behavioral changes seen in senior cats include:

Altered sleep patterns – Senior cats tend to sleep more during the day and become more active at night. This is likely due to age-related changes in their circadian rhythms. They may meow more at night as well.

Decreased grooming – Older cats often spend less time grooming themselves. Joint stiffness and pain can make it difficult for them to reach all areas. Vision or cognitive decline can also contribute.

More vocalization – Senior cats are known to meow more frequently. This could indicate disorientation, anxiety, cognitive dysfunction, or an attempt to gain attention if their needs aren’t being met.

Confusion/forgetfulness – Just like humans, cats can develop cognitive decline and dementia as they age. They may seem lost or confused at times, forget where the litter box is, or have difficulty with learned behaviors.

Understanding these normal behavioral changes can help cat owners know what to expect and better care for their aging felines. Monitoring behavior is key to identifying any medical issues early on. Patience, routine, and gentle caregiving aid senior cats during this transitionary life stage.

For more on the behavioral shifts seen in older cats, refer to this article from ProjectPAWS.

Approximate Ages When Cats Slow Down

The age at which cats begin slowing down can vary quite a bit depending on the cat’s breed, health, environment, and other factors. In general, most cats start showing signs of aging between the ages of 8-12 years. Smaller cat breeds like Siamese tend to live longer and maintain their energy and playfulness longer, while larger breeds like Maine Coons may start slowing down sooner.

Indoor cats who are cared for properly with a good diet, medical care, and stimulation also tend to have longer, healthier lives than outdoor cats exposed to the elements and injuries. Keeping your cat’s mind engaged with play, training, and affection can also help them stay energetic and youthful longer.

By the late teen years (15+), most cats are considered senior or geriatric. At this stage, they sleep more, play and explore less, and may start developing age-related health issues. Their energy levels and appetite may decline gradually. Cats will likely need more rest between play sessions and have difficulty with agility or high-impact activities they once enjoyed.

According to a Reddit thread, most users reported their cats slowing down noticeably between 10-14 years old. However, many cats remain alert, sweet and active into their late teens and even early 20s. Knowing your individual cat’s personality and preferences will help you evaluate when they start “acting their age.” Frequent veterinary checkups can also identify any age-related issues to address.

Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/cats/comments/n6m19d/at_what_age_do_cats_start_slowing_downshowing/

Caring for a Senior Cat

As cats get older, their needs change. Here are some tips for caring for an aging cat:

Take your senior cat to the vet for regular checkups. Older cats are prone to diseases like kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and arthritis. Your vet can monitor your cat’s health and prescribe medications as needed. Annual bloodwork and urinalysis tests are recommended. Get dental cleanings for your cat every 6-12 months to maintain their oral health.

Adjust your cat’s diet as needed. Some senior cats benefit from diets tailored to their life stage, like Hill’s Science Diet Senior 11+ Age Defying Food. Wet food or adding water to dry food can help senior cats stay hydrated. Keep food bowls in easy to access areas.

Help your senior cat exercise and stay active. Short, gentle play sessions will keep their muscles and mind engaged. Cat trees, climbing platforms, and scratching posts help them exercise. Consider ramps if they have trouble with stairs. Engage their senses with catnip, toys, and treats.

Give your aging cat enrichment. Spend quality time petting, brushing and interacting with your senior cat. Keep litter boxes clean and easy to access. Cats feel more secure with consistent routines and familiar environments. Help them feel comfortable and loved.

Common Age-Related Health Issues

As cats age, they become more susceptible to certain health issues. Some of the most common age-related health problems in senior cats include:

Kidney Disease – Kidney disease is very prevalent in older cats, with more than half over 15 years old having some degree of kidney dysfunction. Kidneys weaken with age, making it difficult to filter out toxins. Symptoms include increased thirst, weight loss, poor appetite, and vomiting.[1]

Hyperthyroidism – This occurs when the thyroid gland produces excess thyroid hormone. It usually affects cats over 10 years old and causes symptoms like weight loss despite increased appetite, vomiting, increased thirst and urination, hyperactivity, and a fast heart rate.[2]

Cancer – Cancer is unfortunately common in senior cats. Some cancers like lymphoma and mammary tumors tend to affect older cats. Symptoms depend on the type and location of cancer but may include lumps, swelling, difficulty eating, and lethargy.[3]

Cognitive Dysfunction – Similar to dementia in humans, this causes personality changes, confusion, anxiety, and loss of learned behaviors. It affects over 50% of cats over 15 years old. There are medications and environmental changes that can help manage it.

Signs It’s Time for End-of-Life Care

As cats reach the end of their lives, owners may face difficult decisions about pursuing aggressive treatments versus focusing on comfort and quality of life. Signs it may be time to shift to hospice-type care in a cat’s final months include:[1]

– Persistent pain that is difficult to manage with medication

– Significant ongoing weight loss or declining appetite

– Labored breathing or panting

– Chronic vomiting or diarrhea

– Limited mobility even with assistance

– Lack of interest in water, food, or surroundings

– No longer able to groom themselves

– Recurring infections that have become resistant to antibiotics

If a cat exhibits multiple, irreversible medical issues that seriously impact quality of life, many owners opt for hospice care at home focused on comfort measures. This can include palliative medications, help with grooming and litter box use, mealtime assistance, and more tender loving care.

Veterinarians can provide guidance on assessing when the time is right for end-of-life care focused entirely on comfort versus further medical interventions. Quality of life is key – when treatments become overly burdensome and a cat’s declines outweigh any benefits, shifting to hospice can help preserve comfort and dignity.


Making a Senior Cat Comfortable

As cats reach their senior years, their mobility starts to decrease. There are several things you can do to keep an older cat comfortable in your home:

Provide easy access to food, water, and litter boxes. Place food and water bowls in multiple locations around the house so your cat doesn’t have to walk far. Use low-sided litter boxes that are easy to get in and out of. You may need to use multiple litter boxes on each floor of your home.

Offer comfortable places to rest. Try different types of beds and place them in warm, quiet areas your cat frequents. Heated beds or pads can soothe aching joints. Provide steps or ramps to beds or furniture if jumping is difficult.

Keep their surroundings familiar. Senior cats appreciate consistency and may become disoriented by changes. Try to keep furniture in the same positions and minimize loud noises or visitors.

Groom gently and regularly. Older cats may have difficulty grooming themselves. Help keep their coat healthy with frequent, gentle brushing. Trim nails carefully if needed.

Speak to your veterinarian. They can recommend medications or supplements to manage pain or other age-related conditions. Physical therapy or acupuncture may also help improve mobility and quality of life.

With some adjustments to their environment, you can ensure your senior cat’s golden years are comfortable and content.

The Joys of Caring for a Senior Cat

Caring for an aging cat can be incredibly rewarding. Senior cats tend to have calmer personalities and lower activity levels than kittens and younger cats. This makes them ideal companions for people looking for a lap cat to cuddle and relax with. Additionally, senior cats are often already litter trained and accustomed to living in a home, making the adoption process easier.

There’s also the satisfaction of giving an older cat a loving home in their golden years when they may otherwise struggle to find adoption. Knowing you are providing comfort, security, and companionship to a senior cat in need can be profoundly fulfilling. According to the ASPCA, senior pets are often the last animals to be adopted from shelters. By opening your home to an aging cat, you are literally saving a life.

Finally, senior cats can make wonderfully affectionate and grateful companions. They seem to understand you have provided them comfort and joy in their later years. The unconditional love and purring affection you receive from an aging cat is incredibly heartwarming. For more on the benefits of adopting a senior cat, check out this article.

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