Is Your Cat Slowing Down? Signs Your Feline Friend is Nearing the End

Changes in Behavior

As cats age, their behavior often changes. Some of the most common behavioral changes seen in senior cats include increased lethargy, decreased interaction, alterations in sleeping patterns, and differences in eating and drinking habits.

Many elderly cats start to sleep more during the day and become less active overall. A 2020 study found that lethargy and inactivity were reported in over 35% of cats aged 11 years and older. This lethargy may be caused by conditions like arthritis, vision or hearing loss, or cognitive dysfunction. Whatever the cause, owners often notice their once-active cats sleeping more and playing less as they age.

In addition to lethargy, senior cats often become less interactive. They may avoid being petted or picked up, stop jumping on laps for attention, and hide more often. One study showed that over 60% of elderly cats had decreased interaction with family members. This social withdrawal is likely due to the cat’s decreased sensory abilities and energy levels.

Elderly cats also frequently undergo changes in their sleep-wake cycles. It’s common for senior cats to become more vocal and restless at night. They may meow persistently or seem disoriented. Senior cats also often nap more frequently during the day. These disturbances in circadian rhythms can be frustrating for owners.

Appetite changes are another common occurrence in aging cats. Some develop increased hunger due to medical conditions like hyperthyroidism or diabetes. Others experience a decreased appetite that leads to weight loss. It’s important for owners to monitor their senior cat’s food and water intake for any concerning changes.

Changes in Appearance

As cats age, you’ll likely notice changes in their physical appearance. One of the most common signs is weight loss. Senior cats often lose muscle mass and body fat, leaving them frail and bony. This weight loss is usually caused by a slowing metabolism from inactivity, dental disease making eating painful, or an underlying illness like kidney disease or hyperthyroidism. Discuss any significant weight changes with your vet.

An aging cat’s coat can also become dull, matted, and oily from inadequate grooming. Older cats tend to groom themselves less due to arthritis or cognitive decline. Matted fur can be painful and trap moisture against the skin, leading to sores or infections. Gently brushing or combing an elderly cat can help remove mats and distribute skin oils. However, sensitive handling is needed if grooming becomes stressful. According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, a cat that has stopped self-grooming could be in pain from arthritis or dental issues. Veterinary exams help diagnose the cause.

Overall, monitor your senior cat’s weight, coat condition, and grooming habits. Drastic changes likely signify an underlying health problem requiring veterinary attention. With loving care and treatment, you can keep your aging feline looking and feeling their best.

Cognitive Issues

As cats age, they can start to experience cognitive dysfunction, similar to dementia in humans. According to a 2021 literature review published in the Wiley journal Veterinary Record, cognitive dysfunction affects over 50% of cats aged 11-15 years and over 80% of cats aged 16-20 years (Sordo, 2021). The signs of cognitive dysfunction in senior cats include disorientation, confusion, and forgetting previously learned behaviors like litter box training.

A 2011 study in the journal Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery found that 28% of cats aged 11-14 years showed at least one sign of cognitive decline, most commonly disorientation and altered interactions with owners and other pets (Gunn-Moore, 2011). Signs of confusion in senior cats can include wandering around the house meowing, getting stuck in corners, and not recognizing familiar people or other pets. Forgetting litter box training is also very common – senior cats may forget where their litter box is located or no longer associate it with the proper place to urinate or defecate.

Chronic Conditions

As cats age, they become more susceptible to chronic health conditions that can impact their quality of life. Some of the most common chronic conditions in senior cats include:

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease is very prevalent in older cats, with more than half of cats over 15 years old developing some form of it. Kidney disease leads to the gradual loss of kidney function over time. Clinical signs include increased thirst, increased urination, poor appetite, vomiting, weight loss, and poor coat quality [1].


Hyperthyroidism is caused by an overactive thyroid gland and is another common condition in senior cats. Symptoms include weight loss despite increased appetite, increased activity and vocalization, vomiting, increased thirst and urination, and unkempt coat [2].


As with humans, cancer is more common in older cats. Some of the most prevalent cancers in senior cats include lymphoma, mammary gland tumors, and skin tumors. Symptoms depend on the type and location of the cancer.


Arthritis from aging joints is common in senior cats, making it difficult for them to move around comfortably. Signs include decreased activity, difficulty jumping up or climbing stairs, and vocalizing when touched or petted.

Heart Disease

Heart disease like cardiomyopathy is more likely as cats age. This can lead to congestive heart failure. Symptoms include lethargy, labored breathing, coughing, and loss of appetite.

Increased Vocalization

As cats age, they often become more vocal and begin meowing, howling or crying out more frequently. This increased vocalization can be a sign that your elderly cat is in distress or experiencing cognitive decline. According to the ASPCA, excessive meowing or yowling, especially at night, is a definite distress signal in senior cats (

There are several potential reasons for this increased vocalization in older cats:

If your senior cat is meowing or vocalizing excessively, especially at night, take them to the vet to identify any underlying medical causes that may need treatment.

Trouble Jumping/Climbing

One of the most noticeable signs of arthritis in senior cats is difficulty jumping up onto furniture or other elevated surfaces. Arthritis causes stiffness and pain in the legs and joints, which makes jumping and climbing challenging or impossible for cats.

You may notice your cat hesitating before jumping up somewhere, or crying out when landing. Your cat may avoid jumping up altogether and instead vocalize for help. Cats with arthritis tend to become less active in general due to the discomfort of movement.

According to WebMD, arthritis usually affects the elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and back legs first in cats [1]. These areas bear more weight and stress. You’re likely to notice impaired mobility in the hind legs before the front legs.

Some signs of arthritis in the back legs and joints include stiffness, limping, difficulty standing up, decreased range of motion, and muscle atrophy over time. Your cat may also lick or bite at the painful joints more frequently.

To help your senior cat with arthritis pain, consider providing ramps or steps to access furniture. You can also place bedding in easy-to-reach areas and litter boxes on each level of the home. Keeping your cat at a healthy weight reduces stress on the joints. Medications and joint supplements can provide pain relief as well.

Changes in Interactions

As cats near the end of their lives, their interactions with humans and other pets often change. Many cats seek out more attention from their owners and want to be closer. They may follow their owner from room to room or meow more frequently for attention. Cats that were previously aloof may suddenly become cuddlier and want to sit on their owner’s lap more often. This is likely because the cat senses weakness and vulnerability, so it wants more comfort and reassurance from trusted humans.

Cats may also have changes in their relationships with other pets in the home. They may avoid contact with other animals when previously they coexisted fine. Or a cat may suddenly display unprovoked aggression towards another pet in a bid to assert dominance. This change in behavior may indicate the cat feels vulnerable due to declining health. A sick or aging cat perceives other animals as a threat and tries to protect itself. Owners should provide separate spaces for pets that no longer get along to prevent fights or injuries.

Overall, increased clinginess, neediness, and changes in multi-pet dynamics are common as cats near the end stages of their lives. Owners should provide extra love and attention to a sick, aging cat and try to accommodate their needs for more closeness. Consulting a vet can help if aggression issues arise between pets.

Increased Sleep

As cats age, it’s common for their sleeping habits to change. Senior cats tend to sleep more during the day, sometimes up to 20 hours a day according to sources like Heron’s Crossing Veterinary Services. This is because older cats can experience fatigue more easily and need extra rest. Their sleep cycles also tend to become irregular, with senior cats sleeping off and on throughout the day and night. This change in normal sleeping patterns is often caused by conditions like arthritis, thyroid disease, and kidney disease, which can make an older cat uncomfortable and restless. If your senior cat is sleeping more during the day but seems restless or unable to get comfortable, check with your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues. With proper care and management of any health conditions, many senior cats can maintain decent sleep quality and habits even as they age.

Loss of Litter Box Habits

As cats age, they may start to lose control of their bladder and bowels, leading to accidents around the house. This condition is known as incontinence or senile incontinence, and it’s estimated that around 55% of cats over the age of 15 may suffer from it to some degree.

Incontinent cats may urinate or defecate outside of the litter box, leaving puddles or feces on the floor. They may also leak urine while resting or sleeping. According to Purina, common signs of incontinence in senior cats include:

  • Urinating in places other than the litter box
  • Dribbling urine while resting
  • Having damp or wet bedding
  • Foul odor from leaking urine
  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Straining or crying when trying to urinate

There are a few potential causes for incontinence in senior cats. Weak bladder sphincters and muscle tone can lead to leaks. Conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, and cognitive dysfunction may also contribute. And some medications have incontinence as a side effect.

To manage the problem, your vet can run tests to pinpoint the underlying cause. Treatments like medication, supplements, and dietary changes may help. You can also make your home more accessible by placing litter boxes on each level, using pee pads, and cleaning accidents right away.

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to a beloved cat is one of the hardest things pet owners have to do. However, euthanasia may be the kindest option if your cat is nearing the end of life and suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses. It’s important to focus on making your cat’s end of life as comfortable as possible.

There are a few signs that can help determine when it’s time to say goodbye, according to PetMD. These include when your cat stops eating or drinking, can no longer move around comfortably, experiences chronic pain, or has mobility issues that affect quality of life. You may also observe behavioral changes like increased vocalization or restlessness. If basic care like grooming and litter box use become difficult for your cat, it likely indicates declining health.

Saying goodbye is part of the grief process. Give yourself time to mourn the loss of your pet. Consider creating a memorial, planting a tree, or making a donation to an animal charity in your cat’s honor. Although this is a painful time, cherish the happy memories you shared with your beloved cat.

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