Small Changes to Help Older Cats Feel Fancy!
Dr Brittainy, one of Sunset’s Palliative Care team, shares her tips on senior cat care in our two part series this month. In Part One, Dr Britt has some fantastic ideas for environmental enrichment and keeping your kitty well-nourished with special dietary needs.
As our pets get older, they often need a little more TLC. We want them to experience the best quality of life possible, but sometimes we need to alter their environment to help keep them safe. For older, arthritic, deaf or vision impaired cats who like to spend time outdoors but may not be able to escape the everyday dangers anymore (cars, dogs, snakes) – “catios” are a great idea. They are enclosed areas, protected from the weather and dangers, full of plants, ponds/fountains and other sensory stimulation (sand, rocks, gravel) to give our precious pets somewhere safe to sun. They can be a very relaxing area for owners too. Catios are also suitable for blind cats, who can be lead trained if needed to allow them to get used to the new area.
Indoor cats also benefit from environmental enrichment, regardless of age. Potted plants – ie potted grass, catnip, rosemary, trimmings from non-toxic plants – give indoor only cats a taste of the outside. A scent board, infused with a variety of non-toxic oils/scents – catnip, dried valerian root, honeysuckle spray – can provide olfactory stimulation and hours of entertainment. Different scents can also be placed in different rooms – this can help vision impaired cats to navigate through the house. Pheromone diffusers (such as Feliway) can help reduce stress and inappropriate behaviours in some cats.
Toys, in their many forms can help keep older cats interactive – remember to swap them regularly to keep things fresh! If your cat is disabled in some way, the toy selection should reflect their strengths – ie if they can’t see well, provide toys with smells and sounds such as squeaky mice or catnip filled toys. If they can’t hear well, provide bright toys with different textures, flashing lights etc (ie laser pointers and toys that light-up when touched). For food driven cats (they do exist!), food toys and puzzles are a great addition to the house. They can be home-made and simple – paper wrapped around dry food, all the way up to very fancy, store-bought creations – ie treat balls and interactive feeders.
Special dietary needs
In regard to diets, there is no “one size fits all”. Older animals are recommended to be fed a high quality “senior” variety – these are often lower calorie (to reflect less activity) and include ingredients to support skin, joint and cognitive function. Many diseases we see in older animals improve with dietary modification – such as liver/kidney disease – your veterinary team will often discuss diet changes if they can help. There are a range of veterinary supplements aimed to help keep older felines feeling fabulous – including formulations for joint, skin, cognitive, GI, liver and behavioural concerns – which can be added to their food.
Cats often don’t like to drink as much as they ought to, so we can help to increase water intake by offering some variety. Some cats prefer running water – there are pet water fountains available to provide filtered, running water “on tap”. Other cats prefer cooler water – offering it in a ceramic or a cooled bowl can help these felines. Sometimes adding a small amount of “tuna juice” (the excess liquid from canned tuna with springwater) or kitty milk to water in a separate bowl can encourage cats to drink. It is important to ensure this is removed after an hour to prevent excess bacterial growth.
Often we will see older cat’s appetite drop if their sense of smell is declining, so adding warm water to food or warming wet foods slightly can increase their smell and help older animals to eat.
Dental health should be regularly checked and addressed if the teeth are causing pain. Many cats will “suffer in silence” with severe dental disease – often quality of life can be significantly improved (and an increased appetite returns!) once this has been corrected.
Part Two, coming later this month, will focus on Mobility and Grooming.
If you have questions about how Sunset Vets can help you keep your cat healthy and happy into the senior years, please contact our Patient Care team on 1800 368 768.