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Cats: Dealing With Old Age & Disability

As a cat grows older, its reflexes become less acute and its ability to bounce back from certain injuries is reduced. Though there is no need to become over-protective, it is worthwhile being aware of some problems which may afflict cats.

The loss of a leg through injury may sound catastrophic but 3 legged cats adapt well. A recent amputee needs time to adjust, but once recovered is as agile and active as any 4 legged cat and will soon resume all its previous activities with little sign of being handicapped. He will need some help grooming areas that were groomed by the now-missing leg, but will otherwise be as active and independent as before.

As a cat ages, its sight and hearing may gradually deteriorate. The change is often so gradual that many owners don’t notice anything until hearing loss or sight loss is total. A cat compensates by relying more on its remaining senses, especially smell, to guide it through its daily routine. Because older cats have a more relaxed approach to life, most appear unperturbed by failing hearing or sight. The problems of deafness and failing sight can be counteracted by a caring owner.

A deaf cat is easily startled because it can’t hear you approaching. Deaf cats can learn to recognize hand signals or the flashing of a torch to call them in for meals or at night. At close range, sharp handclaps might still be sufficient to gain a partially-deaf cat’s attention. Deaf cats cannot hear danger signals such as cars, lawnmowers or barking dogs. If he goes outdoors, make sure he is wearing an elasticated collar bearing his address and write ‘I AM DEAF’ on the collar to help people who find him on their driveway oblivious to car horns. A noisy bell on his collar will help you to locate his whereabouts when he is in motion. You may decide it is safer to confine a deaf cat to a safely fenced garden or indoors.

A cat that bumps into things may be losing its sight. A cat blind in one eye may be startled by sudden movements on its blind side. Blind cats are easily disoriented and should not be allowed to roam; indoors only or indoors with access to a safely fenced garden is best. He may enjoy walking in the garden using a harness and lead and these trips can be enjoyable for you both as you can observe what things attract the attention of your cat. Make sure he is wearing an elasticated collar stating his address and disability in case he escapes and becomes lost.

Blind cats rely on scent and memory to find their way around so keep furniture, food and litter in the same place and don’t leave obstacles in unexpected places where he could walk into them. Carrying a blind cat around will disorient it so if you do move it, place it at floor level somewhere it knows well such as its feeding or sleeping area so it can easily get its bearings. Sound is very important to a blind cat and many enjoy playing with jingly toys.

It is much rarer for a cat to lose both hearing and sight. Such cats are far safer indoors as they can easily become lost or hurt outdoors. Many adapt well and still enjoy life, relying mainly on their sense of smell. The fact that older cats are less active anyway means that they are less distressed by these problems than you might think. If you feel that your cat is distressed by its condition, you should discuss the matter with your vet who may recommend euthanasia, especially if the cat has other age-related problems as well.

Strokes are not very common in cats and those that do have them usually recover faster and more completely than humans though they may gain a slightly lopsided appearance. Many cats have lived very long, healthy, happy lives after suffering a stroke.

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