By Jessica Remitz
Even though your senior cat may not move as well as she used to, there are still a variety of things you can do to keep their minds sharp, many of which you’ve been doing throughout their lives. Understanding their limitations and keeping these expert tips in mind will help keep your cat happy and healthy regardless of their age.
It can be difficult to realize that your once crazy kitten has turned into a more mature adult, but it’s important to accommodate your cat as she continues to age.
“One of the hardest transitions people make is from having a new pet to having an old pet,” Dr. Bonnie Beaver, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and veterinary behaviorist. “This is truly a treasured part of the family and has been for many years.”
If your cat is having trouble moving around your home — going up stairs or hopping up on her favorite chair, for example — help them by installing ramps around your home and furniture and try to keep them comfortable throughout the day.
“The type of mobility issue your pet has will differ depending on the animal,” Dr. Beaver said, “but a majority of senior cats experience some form of osteoarthritis, even if they aren’t showing it.”
“We have not appreciated how much [cats] are hiding their symptoms,” added Dr. Beaver. “Cats have evolved to live by themselves so they hide the issues they have or else they become prey. Owners may not notice it until the symptoms are quite advanced.”
Although jumping and running may be challenging, you should make sure your cat continues to get some form of exercise. This can include leash walking or chasing after toys at a slower pace.
From food toys to balls and string toys for your cat, there are a variety of games and activities to help keep their minds sharp without taking a toll on their joints. Dr. Beaver also recommends splitting up mealtime by feeding a portion of your cat’s meal in a food puzzle (especially if you use antioxidant-rich foods, which have been attributed with helping brain function). Using a food puzzle will help them slow down their eating and challenge them to use their minds for an extended period of time. Balls that make noise or another toy that moves will help get them up and moving at their own pace.
The alluring drip of the faucet that’s always fascinated your cat or hours spent watching birds outside can continue to entertain her. Invest in a pet faucet to keep her entertained (and hydrated!) throughout the day and a window seat with stairs or a ramp to give her easy access to her favorite spot. Dr. Beaver also recommends putting up a bird feeder outside to give your cat an extra-special something to look at.
“Many senior pets spend much of their days alone at home,” Dr. Beaver said, “so spending time with you is a high-reward activity for them.” Grab a toy and engage them in some light play. Time spent with you may be the most important mental enrichment your cat can get, even if it’s just a quick grooming session, belly rub or a little more one-on-one time at dinner.