Most cats glide gracefully from middle age into old age, simply slowing down their pace of life. You will notice that an elderly cat tends to become thinner and its spine and shoulders become more prominent as it loses the insulating layer of fat on its body. It may become a little more rickety or unsteady on its back legs. A little more grey hair may appear around the muzzle and its coat. Its senses become less acute and its pace of life slows down. These are signs that your old cat is now a vintage cat and should be treated with the respect his advanced years have earned him.
Popular belief has it that one year of a cat’s life is equivalent to 7 human years. In fact, kittens mature faster than human children and the rate of aging slows down to one year equalling only 4 human years after only 2 years as the equivalence chart below shows.
2-3 months » 9-12 months weaned
4 months » 2-3 years “talking” (adult communication)
6-12 months » 12-15 years sexual maturity
2 years » 24 years could have raised children!
3-6 years » 28-40 years human career-making
6-9 years » 40-52 years middle age spread
9-13 years » 52-65 years menopause, retirement
13-17 years » 65-85 years active but aging
17-19 years » 83-92 years old
19-22 years » 92-100 years amazing
over 22 years over » 100 an exceptional individual
(These figures are based on veterinary and behavioral research, though as with all individuals there is a wide degree of variation. Some individuals mature earlier or later than average and some remain active while their age-mates are taking life easy.)
As a cat ages it tires out more easily and will take things easy. Games will become shorter and less energetic for both of you. High-speed acrobatics and daredevil feats will be a thing of the past. Cats are often at their most companionable in these later years. They need and enjoy your attention, but are unlikely to pester you continually for games. They are content to sit with you and take things easy. This can be a very rewarding time for an owner to indulge their nurturing instincts.
Cats have a remarkable ability to adapt their lifestyle to cope with any incapacity caused by advancing years. A cat’s pace of living slows down gradually and it will seek out warm, comfortable spots and will spend a greater proportion of its time asleep. Older cats also tend to sleep more deeply, so it is not a good idea to disturb a sleeping cat as it will be startled, especially if its hearing is not as good as it once was. This deep slumber also shows that the cat feels safe and secure with you.
In extreme age, some cats become forgetful, staying outdoors in bad weather or wandering and becoming lost. Cats that wander and become lost should be confined to indoors or only allowed out in an escape-proof garden in good weather. It may fail to use its litter tray. A veterinary check-up can ascertain whether this is due to a physical problem. Providing several litter trays around the house may help for a while, but if the problems of extreme age become too acute you need to consider the cat’s quality of life and possible euthanasia.
A cat that becomes senile has probably lived a comfortable life far beyond the lifespan it would have had in the wild. Few feral cats grow old enough to develop senility and this fact may be of some comfort if you decide to have a cat euthanized because of senility and related problems.