Senior cats have a lot to offer a new family

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Older cats are often overlooked in shelters, as adoptive families tend to seek out kittens or younger cats. This is likely because potential owners are worried about how little time the cat will spend with their family or the increased cost that sometimes comes with owning an older cat. But older cats have some advantages over younger cats, and they can be with you longer than you think.

How old is “old”?

Before we start talking about senior cats, let’s talk about what “senior” actually means. There is no specific age at which a cat moves into the senior category, but senior cats are usually over 11 and are considered geriatric if they are 15 or older. And some cats can even live into their twenties! Cats are living longer than ever thanks to an indoor lifestyle, better nutrition and advances in veterinary medicine. So when you adopt a “senior” cat, he could stay with you for half his life!

You get what you get with an older cat

When looking for a new cat to join your family, it’s important that the cat’s personality suits the dynamics of your household. A cat that is comfortable being the only cat in the house and likes to snuggle up to its only owner may not do as well in a home with children or multiple pets. That’s why it’s a good idea for your whole family to meet the adopted cat before bringing it home, and also ask the shelter or rescue group how the cat interacts with other cats or dogs.

When it comes to determining a cat’s personality, an older cat has a distinct advantage: their personality has already been established. They know their likes and dislikes, and that usually won’t change. A kitten, on the other leg, can let you guess what its adult personality will look like. Will their kitten energy continue into adulthood or become an all-day-sleeping cat? Will the kitten who now seems friendly and cuddly actually despise any kind of cuddle when he’s older? With a senior cat, you know who you’re getting from day one, which can help you choose a cat with a personality that’s right for your family.

Keep in mind that some personality changes may occur as your cat ages. Older cats often reduce their activity level and sleep more as they get older. You may also notice them becoming more “needy” by meowing more or wanting more attention from you.

An older cat might have medical issues — or not

Like people, it’s normal for some cats to have more health issues as they get older, but there are also others who stay relatively healthy as they get older. There is no guarantee that an older animal will have health problems, just like there is no guarantee that a kitten will not have health problems. But it’s important to be aware of the most common health issues in older cats and understand that these might require additional expense to treat.

Some age-related changes and illnesses senior cats may experience include:

  • Reduced hearing and vision
  • Weight loss or gain
  • dental disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Arthritis
  • kidney disease
  • Diabetes

Veterinarians often recommend that senior cats have regular clinic visits (every 6 months, or more if necessary) even if they are in good health. Blood tests can help detect conditions like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and kidney disease, even before you notice signs of illness. Staying ahead of these diseases means greater success in managing or treating them, less discomfort for your cat, and less expense for you.

Good nutrition also helps maintain the health of senior cats and can help them manage certain age-related illnesses. Most senior cats who are healthy and not overweight or underweight can eat normal maintenance adult cat food or senior cat food. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your cat would benefit from a diet specially formulated for senior cats.

A comfortable home is essential

An older cat may need a few changes to your home to make her life more comfortable. Age-related conditions like arthritis, muscle weakness, or constipation can cause litter box problems in older cats. Therefore, to avoid accidents, it’s a good idea to use a litter box with low sides, keep a box on each level of your home, and increase your scooping and cleaning schedule if they become picky about using the litter box.

It’s also a good idea to keep food and water bowls at house level where your cat spends the most time. If you have stairs, your cat may find them easier to navigate with a ramp. Steps or a pet ramp can also be helpful if your cat’s favorite resting place requires a jump.

A senior cat shouldn’t be an automatic “no” when considering adopting a cat. They may need extra care, but they can give as much love in return as a kitten.

RELATED: Guest Column: Nine Tips for Adopting a Rescue Cat

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