The Secret Life of Senior Cats. How They Spend Their Golden Years

Typical Daily Routine

Senior cats tend to have a predictable daily routine focused around resting, eating, and taking care of basic needs. Here is what a typical day may look like for an older cat:

Senior cats usually wake up several times during the night and early morning. They may get up to use the litter box or have a small meal before going back to sleep. Many senior cats are most active at dawn and dusk.

Upon waking up in the morning, senior cats will often spend time self-grooming. Regular grooming is important to senior cats to keep their coat clean and free of mats. Their flexibility may be reduced, so they may need assistance reaching certain areas.

After grooming, most senior cats are ready for breakfast. It’s best to feed senior cats several small meals throughout the day rather than one large meal. Senior cats have slower metabolisms and can better utilize nutrients from multiple smaller servings.

Shortly after eating, senior cats usually need to use the litter box. Monitoring litter box habits is important to identify any potential health issues. Constipation is common in older cats, which can cause litter box difficulties.

Napping and Resting

As cats age, they tend to sleep more than when they were younger. A senior cat may sleep up to 20 hours per day compared to 12-16 hours when they were younger adults ( This increased sleep is normal and helps senior cats conserve energy as their bodies slow down.

Older cats take frequent naps throughout the day in addition to longer periods of deep sleep. They may sleep more during the day and become more active at dawn and dusk when prey would be active in the wild ( Senior cats tend to sleep deeply and may be harder to rouse than when they were younger. Their sleep cycles also become shorter as they age.

While increased napping is normal, drastic changes in sleep patterns like vocalizing or restlessness while sleeping can indicate pain or illness. Let your vet know if your senior cat is sleeping much more or less than usual ( Overall, frequent napping and resting allows senior cats to preserve energy and maintain health as they age.


As cats age, their activity levels tend to decrease. Senior cats engage in less energetic play and may tire more quickly than when they were younger. However, playtime remains an important part of keeping senior cats mentally and physically stimulated.

Look for toys that appeal to your cat’s natural hunting instincts but don’t require a lot of activity, like feather wands, laser pointers, and toys that can be batted around or carried. Balls, toy mice, and catnip can entice them to play. Puzzle feeders and treat balls provide mental exercise along with snacks. Rotate toys to keep your senior cat interested.

Keep playtime shorter but more frequent, like two or three 5-10 minute interactive play sessions per day. Watch for signs like panting or hiding that may indicate your cat is done playing. Gentle play allows senior cats to enjoy exercise and enrichment at their own pace. And playtime is still an opportunity for important bonding between you and your aging cat. (

Social Interaction

As senior cats age, they often crave more affection and attention from their owners. It’s common for older cats to become more attached to their owners and want more petting, cuddling, and lap time. This is likely due to cognitive changes as they age as well as needing the reassurance of their human companions. Some signs your senior cat may be craving more affection include increased vocalizations, rubbing against you, trying to sit on your lap more often, or following you around the house (Levy et al.). Make sure to give your senior cat plenty of quality time and affection.

Senior cats can also become more anxious when left alone. Their limited mobility and sensory decline means they may feel more insecure when you are away. Leaving toys, catnip, or treats for them to interact with while you’re gone can help ease anxiety. However, nothing beats the comfort of your companionship. If possible, try to spend more time at home with an older cat so they don’t feel lonely or isolated.


As cats age, their energy requirements and ability to digest and metabolize nutrients changes. Senior cats need a diet specifically formulated for their age and health status [1]. It’s recommended to feed senior cats smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to aid digestion and nutrient absorption [2]. Senior cat foods have increased protein and moisture content, with reduced fat and calorie levels [3]. Owners should monitor their senior cat’s weight, energy levels, coat condition, and litter box habits and consult a vet if any changes occur. Providing the optimal senior diet helps cats stay active and healthy as they age.


As cats age, they often require more frequent grooming and dental care. Senior cats may have a harder time grooming themselves due to arthritis or other age-related conditions. Their fur can become matted or dull over time. Daily brushing helps remove loose fur and prevents hairballs. For long-haired cats, daily brushing is ideal but even short-haired seniors benefit from weekly brushing according to How to Groom Your Senior Cat. Matted fur should be addressed by a professional groomer or veterinarian as it won’t resolve on its own.

Since senior cats groom themselves less, they are also more prone to dental issues. Regular teeth brushing and professional dental cleanings help prevent plaque buildup and tooth decay. Annual vet exams allow for inspection of teeth and early detection of any dental problems.

Using the Litter Box

As cats age, they may need to use the litter box more frequently. Senior cats can develop medical conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism that result in increased urine production and urination frequency ( Providing easy access to the litter box is important for senior cats.

Vision loss or cognitive decline can also make it difficult for senior cats to remember where the litter box is located or navigate to it easily ( Place litter boxes in easily accessible areas without obstacles. Consider placing additional boxes around your home. Using lower-sided litter boxes can make it easier for arthritic cats to get in and out. Scoop waste frequently to encourage use.

Cognitive Changes

As cats age, it’s common for them to experience cognitive changes, similar to dementia in humans. This condition is sometimes referred to as feline cognitive dysfunction. According to one source, cognitive decline affects over 55% of cats aged 11-15 years and over 80% of cats aged 16 years and older (source).

The most common signs of cognitive dysfunction in senior cats are disorientation and memory issues. An elderly cat may seem confused about where they are in the home, get stuck in corners or under furniture, or have trouble finding the litter box. You may notice your cat pacing or vocalizing for no reason. They may also forget familiar faces or have trouble learning and remembering new routines. Cats with cognitive decline can seem anxious, irritable, or restless. Overall, their personality may change as their cognitive abilities deteriorate.

While there is no cure for feline cognitive dysfunction, there are ways to manage the symptoms and make your senior cat more comfortable. Providing routine, keeping their environment consistent, using pheromone diffusers, and supplementing their diet with antioxidants may help. Work closely with your veterinarian if you suspect your aging cat is experiencing dementia.

Common Health Issues

Senior cats often face an increased risk of certain health conditions. Three of the most common issues are arthritis, kidney disease, and cancer.

Arthritis, or degenerative joint disease, affects many older cats. It causes stiffness, difficulty jumping, and sometimes lameness. According to Cornell University, arthritis can often be managed with medication, dietary supplements, warm beds, and gentle exercise (Cornell Feline Health Center).

Kidney disease is another frequent diagnosis in senior cats. Kidneys become less efficient at filtering toxins out of the bloodstream. Symptoms include increased thirst, weight loss, poor appetite, and vomiting. Kidney disease is progressive but can often be managed with medications, intravenous fluids, and dietary changes (Coxwell Veterinary Hospital).

Cancer is unfortunately common in older cats. Some types, like lymphoma and mammary tumors, are more prevalent. Others, like feline leukemia virus-related cancer, are less common now due to vaccines. Symptoms depend on the type and location of tumors. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and palliative care.

Keeping Seniors Active and Engaged

As cats age, it’s important to keep their minds and bodies active to maintain health and quality of life. Some ways to keep senior cats engaged include:

Provide enrichment through interactive toys and games. Wand toys that allow cats to mimic hunting behaviors are ideal. Puzzles and treat balls stimulate cognitive skills. Laser pointers give chase time. Rotate different toys to prevent boredom.

Modify the environment to encourage movement. Place food bowls, water, litter boxes, and resting areas in separate locations so cats must walk between them. Install ramps and steps to allow access to furniture and windows. Grow kitty grass or catnip for nibbling.

Incorporate playtime and exercise. Schedule short, frequent play sessions to keep cats active. Get cats walking and running by trailing wand toys. Encourage climbing on cat trees and scratching posts. Brush cats daily to increase blood circulation and bonding.

Try food puzzles and games. Place portions of food inside balls, boxes, or tubes so cats must manipulate them to eat. Hide treats around the home and encourage hunting. This provides mental and physical stimulation.

Maintain routine veterinary care. Wellness exams and diagnostics help detect conditions affecting activity. Discuss options like joint supplements, pain medication, or physiotherapy if mobility becomes limited.

With enriching games, an engaging layout, and veterinary wellness care, senior cats can continue living active, fulfilling lives in their golden years. Keeping cats mentally and physically stimulated enhances overall wellbeing.

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