There is rarely the need to make drastic changes to the home to accommodate your cat as it gets older but small adaptations to the existing cat resources can make a significant difference to the quality of life.
If your cat is finding stairs difficult to negotiate, for example, then it may be spending prolonged periods on one level, either up or downstairs. Ensuring that all your cat’s needs are met on that one level will avoid any risk of being unable to access important resources.
In order to make activity and movement in general easier for your older cat, it is important that it feels comfortable walking. Laminate, tiled or wooden flooring can be slippery and old cats can become unstable on slippery surfaces making them less inclined to be active.
Equally, carpet can catch on your cat’s claws that overgrow easily without regular stropping and remain protracted as the muscles weaken.
Cut pile carpets are more comfortable for your cat than loop pile so if your flooring is the latter you can compromise by providing cut pile runners throughout the home to enable your cat to walk in comfort. This is also the ideal surface on which to play, particularly if your cat likes to lie down in the process.
Other special considerations are …
The cardboard box is a real favourite for the cat but the principle may need adapting for the elderly. Older cats may like the idea of investigating but lack the flexibility to jump in and move around. Placing a large box on its side with the opening facing your cat will enable it to walk in and investigate.
Carrier bags and paper bags can also provide opportunities for exploration, particularly if they crinkle, but handles should be removed to avoid any accidents as cats can easily get them caught around their necks.
Elderly cats are less likely to use the tall activity and scratching posts as the stropping action on vertical surfaces can put a strain on arthritic joints. Offering similar horizontal surfaces can satisfy those that still enjoy scratching and the action provides important exercise for the muscles of the forelimbs.
Cats love to view outdoors and most enjoy sitting on high windowsills but jumping up can prove difficult if not impossible for some elderly cats, so provision should be made for easy access up to and down from these favourite look-outs.
A series of shallow steps offer the best solution, ramps can be used but comfortably only if they are angled to represent a slight incline rather than a steep slope.
Litter trays should normally be located well away from other resources, such as food and water but for the very elderly or those cats suffering from cognitive dysfunction, it is appropriate for all its resources to be located in easy reach to avoid confusion.
Open trays with low sides are ideal and they should be firmly fixed to prevent them from being tipped up if your cat is clumsy when using a tray. Polythene litter liners should be avoided as they can catch in your cat’s claws and any indoor trays should be cleaned regularly.
If your cat is suffering from a condition that causes increased thirst and urination you may need to fill the tray to a depth exceeding the recommendation.
Many favoured locations for sleep are on raised surfaces, such as your bed or a window sill, so it may become difficult with time for your elderly cat to access these special places. The positioning of ramps, steps and platforms will enable it to reach the area in gentle stages rather than giving up due to stiffness or weakness in the joints.
If your cat uses your bed, chair or sofa you may wish to provide a thermal blanket that is warm and washable. If your cat likes to sleep on window sills or other narrow platforms it is advisable to place a soft padded object underneath to prevent injury as many older cats have impaired balance and could easily fall. Ideally, elderly cats should be encouraged to use secure or wider surfaces for sleep.
Your cat needs to be able to have uninterrupted rest so any areas chosen should be kept accessible and new ones created if lack of mobility prevents your cat from using those previously favoured.
There are a number of reasons why your cat may stop going outside as it gets older. A significant influence is undoubtedly going to be the presence of other cats in the territory and a sense that your cat is no longer able to actively defend its patch.
If you are able to secure your garden you can exclude other cats and contain your own cat within the safety of your own property.
Holidays and celebrations
If your cat has always gone into a cattery when you are on holiday then there is no particular reason to change the routine. However older cats don’t cope particularly well with changes to their routine so there may come a time when your cat may prefer to stay at home with someone visiting, or staying over, to provide the necessary care. Ideally, the cat-sitter should be someone with whom your cat is familiar.
Older cats can find parties and general festivities at home a little overwhelming so you may find your cat benefits from a secure and quiet place to retreat to, where it has everything it needs, while the activity is happening in another part of the house.
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