Caring for elderly cats

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This article includes some great advice on how to make life purrfect for elderly cats; as Carolyn Menteith, Agria's Behaviourist and Trainer, answers a question submitted by an Agria customer.

Q: My cat Maggie is 14 years old and I’ve noticed she’s not as active as she used to be. She still enjoys spending time in the garden but mostly just sunbathing. How can I make sure she is still enjoying life?

A: First of all, take Maggie for a check-up at your vet to give her a health check-up, make sure she is fit and healthy for her age, and to check she isn’t in any pain from any undiagnosed degenerative issues. Cats hide pain far more than dogs tend to, and often owners are totally unaware of their cats discomfort and just think they are slowing down due to age, where in reality they have a treatable condition that will give them a new lease of life once pain-free again.

After seeing your vet, think about how to make Maggie’s life more interesting but without stressing her. If she enjoys spending time in the garden, think about ways to make the garden more interesting and enriching. Give her places to explore, different textures to walk or sunbathe on, shady places to hide away and get out of the sun, and easily accessible higher areas so she can survey her kingdom! Cats enjoy having a variety of levels but may older cats may need a ramp to be able to access them.

If you have green fingers, plant things that she will enjoy – such as catmint (it’s probably best to avoid the more enticing catnip as you may well end up with a garden full of the neighbourhood cats – which she will not enjoy!) which also has the added advantage of being a natural insect repellent. There are other plants your cat may enjoy too – such as long soft grasses like lemongrass and catgrass that she can lie in or hide behind, or herbs like rosemary, valerian and many others. Just watch out for potentially poisonous plants – and details of these can be found on the Cats Protection website

Make sure your cat has fresh water available in the garden too, as she may be less likely to come in for water if she’s feeling a bit stiff or achy, so can get dehydrated, as well as in various places around the house. Some cats prefer moving water and so you could experiment with a cat fountain too.

Indoors, you can experiment with interactive cat toys (do an internet search and you will find lots of them) – or just simple games such as hiding bits of food around the house to encourage movement and to simulate the natural hunting/searching behaviour. Older cats still enjoy games and hunting, and enjoy social interaction with their owners, so keep playing with Maggie – just make the games are less physically demanding and make sure you give her lots of chances to succeed.

Feed her little and often – and in different but easily accessible locations. In the wild cats would have to work for their food, and continuing this in older age will help keep her mentally agile. When you start doing this, don’t move the food far until she gets the hang of it, then you can slowly be more inventive.

And don’t forget the feline favourites – cardboard boxes and large paper bags! Cats love hiding places and these can be filled with treats too.