Grumpy Old Cats. Do Felines Get Crankier With Age?

What is feline senior age?

Cats are generally considered “senior” once they reach 7-10 years of age (Chewy). By the time a cat is around 10-12 years old, they are typically exhibiting physical and behavioral signs of aging (Ferguson Animal Hospital). Some of the common signs of aging in cats include:

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Decreased activity levels
  • Increased sleeping
  • Graying fur
  • Dental issues
  • Changes in vision or hearing

While aging is a natural process, recognizing the signs early allows cat owners to adapt and make their senior cat as comfortable as possible.

Common personality changes

As cats reach senior age, which is typically around 8-10 years old, their personalities and behaviors often start to shift in noticeable ways. One of the most common changes cat owners report is increased vocalization. Elderly cats tend to meow, howl or yowl more frequently, especially at night. This may be due to changes in sleep patterns, disorientation or even cognitive decline.

Senior cats also often sleep more during the day but become restless and wakeful at night. They may wander the house meowing or crying due to disorientation. Cats can experience a form of feline Alzheimer’s that affects their memory and navigation. Owners may need to accompany them to food, water or litter locations until they re-learn the environment.

In addition, aging cats frequently become less playful and active overall. As their energy levels decline, they may not jump, climb or run like they used to. Favorite toys may be ignored in favor of napping spots. However, interactive playtime is still important to provide mental stimulation. Catnip or other scent toys can help spark their interest.

Potential medical causes

As cats age, they can develop medical conditions that may contribute to changes in personality or behavior. Some common age-related medical causes include:

Arthritis – Cats can develop osteoarthritis as they get older, which causes joint pain and inflammation. This may make cats less willing to move around or play, and they may become irritable or aggressive if their sore joints are touched.[1]

Hyperthyroidism – This condition, caused by an overactive thyroid gland, is common in older cats. It can lead to increased vocalization, hyperactivity, aggression, and other behavioral changes.[1]

Cognitive dysfunction – Similar to dementia in humans, this age-related decline in cognitive function can cause cats to seem confused, anxious, disoriented, or fail to recognize owners. They may have disrupted sleep patterns or lose litter box habits.[1]

Getting veterinary exams to diagnose and treat any medical conditions can greatly improve senior cats’ quality of life and minimize negative behavioral changes.

Vision and hearing loss

As cats age, it’s common for their vision and hearing to gradually decline. This is often a slow, progressive process. According to Cornell University’s Feline Health Center, hearing loss is common in older cats due to changes in the nerves or within the middle/inner ear [1]. Vision can also become impaired from haziness in the lens, increased pressure in the eye, or retinal issues [2].

These age-related sensory declines can affect a senior cat’s behavior. With impaired vision, they may seem more anxious navigating their environment and be more prone to startling. Hearing loss can make cats seem distant or unresponsive. They may no longer come when called or react to noises. Understanding these changes helps owners be patient and adjust expectations for their elder cats.

Increased anxiety/stress

As cats age, their tolerance for change and stress often decreases, which can lead to anxiety (PetMD). Senior cats tend to be less adaptable and more set in their ways. Changes to their routine or environment can provoke anxiety or stress. This can manifest as:

  • Dislike of change – Senior cats may resist changes in feeding times, litter box location, furniture arrangement, etc. They prefer consistency.
  • More hiding behavior – Anxious senior cats may hide more often, like under beds or in closets. It’s their way of coping.

If your senior cat is exhibiting new reclusive behaviors, consult your vet to rule out medical causes. Then gradually reintroduce changes to build tolerance. Make adjustments in small increments and reward bravery/exploration (Small Door Veterinary). With patience, you can help senior cats adapt.

Tips for managing senior cat behavior

As cats enter their senior years, their personalities and behaviors may start to change. Maintaining a consistent routine, providing enrichment, and getting regular veterinary checkups can help manage any issues that arise.

Having a predictable schedule helps senior cats feel calm and secure. Feed them at the same times each day and avoid abruptly changing the litter box location or furniture setup. Try to keep disruptions minimal and give your cat ample affection and playtime.

Environmental enrichment also benefits senior felines. Place cat trees, scratching posts, and toys around your home so they have engaging activities. Consider puzzle feeders for their kibble or hiding treats around the house for them to hunt. Just be sure to monitor their mobility and only provide enrichment they can safely access.

Lastly, veterinary checkups every 6 months become crucial for senior cats [1]. The vet can identify age-related conditions early and prescribe any necessary treatments or medications. Annual bloodwork, urinalysis, and dental cleanings will help your cat stay healthy into their golden years.

Meeting medical needs

As cats age, they can develop various medical conditions that require treatment. Two common conditions in senior cats are arthritis and hyperthyroidism.

Arthritis causes pain and stiffness in cats’ joints. To manage arthritis, veterinarians may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or joint supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin. Keeping your cat at an ideal weight reduces strain on their joints. Providing steps or ramps can make it easier for them to access their favorite places.

Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid gland that speeds up cats’ metabolism. This disease often causes weight loss despite increased appetite in senior cats. Treatment options include radioactive iodine therapy, anti-thyroid medications, prescription diets, and surgery. Regular bloodwork helps diagnose hyperthyroidism so it can be treated early.

As cats age, cognitive dysfunction syndrome can affect their thinking, memory, awareness, and social interactions. Talk to your veterinarian if you notice personality changes, disorientation, or lack of litter box training. There are supplements that may help slow cognitive decline. Providing mental stimulation with toys and activities also helps keep senior cats’ minds sharp.


Keeping Them Engaged

As cats get older, keeping their minds and bodies active is important for their health and happiness. There are several great ways to keep senior cats engaged:

Food puzzles: Feeding your cat with interactive food puzzles like treat balls or food mazes can encourage physical activity and mental stimulation. Food puzzles introduce an element of play into mealtimes, and the extra effort required to obtain food mimics natural hunting behaviors (Purina).

Interactive toys: Look for toys that encourage movement and problem solving skills in older cats. Some great options include teaser wands, treat-dispensing balls, electronic motion toys, and interactive play mats (Gus and Bella). Toys like these provide exercise, mental stimulation, and fun.

Cat trees: Cat trees give senior cats a place to perch up high, scratch, and play. Make sure to choose sturdy cat trees with ramps or low entry points for older cats. Multiple platforms encourage them to climb and explore (Gus and Bella).

Providing comfort

As cats grow older, their bodies become stiffer and they may struggle with everyday activities that were once easy. Providing a comfortable home environment can help senior cats continue to thrive in their golden years. Some ways to help cats be more comfortable include:

Soft beds – Older cats often have arthritis that makes hard surfaces uncomfortable. Providing soft, orthopedic beds both for sleeping and lounging can help reduce pressure on aging joints. Beds with high walls or sides provide additional security as cats grow less steady on their feet.

Litter box accessibility – Senior cats may have a hard time climbing in and out of litter boxes with high sides. Providing a low-entry litter box or cutting down one side can make it easier for elderly cats to comfortably access the litter box. Multiple boxes around the home reduces travel and accidents.

Massage – Gentle petting and massage can help soothe sore muscles and increase blood flow. Focus on areas prone to stiffness like the legs, back and neck. Always be cautious of any tender spots. Massage stimulates nerve endings to release endorphins which can improve mood.

Knowing when to let go

As cats age and their health declines, pet owners may need to consider euthanasia to prevent prolonged suffering. It’s important to discuss your cat’s quality of life with your veterinarian if you notice signs like behavior changes, mobility issues, chronic illness and pain, and weight loss. Your vet can help assess your cat’s health and whether euthanasia may be the most humane option.

According to veterinary experts, it may be time to consider euthanasia when your pet’s bad days outnumber the good. Making the decision involves weighing your cat’s ability to eat, move, and behave normally without severe anxiety or discomfort. In the end, euthanasia spares cats a painful deterioration in quality of life when age or disease cannot be overcome.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but choosing euthanasia can be an act of mercy when your feline friend is suffering. Focus on giving your cat comfort, love and peace as you near the end of your journey together.

Scroll to Top