Health Concerns In Aging Cats

It doesn't matter whether the cat joined your life as a lively kitten or was adopted as a senior cat. Once they hit their golden years, you need to keep a watch out for specific medical conditions.

When a cat is considered a senior, and when geriatric conditions become a health concern, varies from one cat to another. Just like people, cats of the same biological age can differ immensely when it comes to physical well-being and age-related issues. And so, while most vets consider cats seven years or older to be entering their seniority years, they are likely to assess each cat individually based on their individual state.

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For many cats, especially with today's high level of nutrition and veterinary care, signs of aging aren't visible before the cat enters their teens.

The conditions detailed below may show up in younger cats as well, yet they are significantly more prevalent among senior cats. It's hard to predict which cat will develop age-related illnesses and which will enjoy their golden age in good health. Genes play a major role in this, and more often than not, cat owners have little information about their cat's parents' and relatives' health.

Overall care matters too, and your first line of defense should always be providing your cats with good care, including balanced suitable nutrition and regular veterinary care throughout their years.

The Natural Effects of Aging

As your cat ages, his or her body goes through a natural aging process, affecting him or her in many ways. These are considered normal changes, and although they take their toll on each cat in an idiosyncratic fashion, they are not considered life-threatening and can be pinned down to aging itself, rather than to any specific medical condition.

Cats tend to lose sensory capabilities over the years. It may not always be noticeable, as the cat is well habituated to their environment, and not having to hunt for a living, doesn't rely on hearing, smell or sight as much as a wild counterpart would. Read more about deafness in cats and blindness in cats, and look out for symptoms in your aging cat.

Your cat's teeth are one area where aging may be more readily visible than others. Years of tartar buildup in cats who do not receive dental care, or even just accumulative cavities and overall tooth dental, all take their toll. Elderly cats are thus more prone to tooth infections and gum disease.

Other body organs age as well, and as the various systems slow down, it's best to have your cat seen by a vet for a general check-up twice a year instead of once.

Finally, weight fluctuations and changes in body form are also common in a cat's advanced years. While some cats become more sedentary and gain weight, others become thinner and gradually lose fat layers, making them more attracted to heat sources on cold winter days.

Common Geriatric Medical Conditions

Please keep in mind that these conditions below could affect younger cats as well. They are far more common among senior cats though.

Cancer and Tumors

As body tissues age, the likelihood for cancerous mutations increases. Tumors as a whole are a concern with older cats, and some of those prove to be cancer. Skin cancer, lymphoma, breast cancer, oral tumors and digestive-tract tumors, and bone cancer, are all relatively common in senior cats. Fortunately, many of these can be treated or maybe slow to progress, so a diagnosis of cancer is not a death sentence.


Also called osteoarthritis, this is a degenerative disease in which the cartilage -- that soft tissue that "cushions" the joints between the bones -- gradually wears out. This is a painful chronic condition afflicting many old cats, many of whom excel at hiding initial symptoms. If you notice a decrease in the level of physical activity, especially where the cat avoids stair climbing and jumping -- or you suspect that these activities may be painful to your cat, it's time to consult your vet.

Arthritis can also be the cause of litter box avoidance in senior cats, especially if they have to make a physical effort to get to the box.

Read more on Arthritis And Joint Pain In Cats.

Renal Failure

Age-related kidney (renal) failure can have a gradual onset making it difficult to detect at first. Keep an eye out for increased urination (and related litterbox problems), excessive water intake, lack of energy, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea or constipation.


This metabolic disorder prevents the cat's body from processing food into energy they can use. Symptoms include sudden weight loss, along with excessive drinking and urination. You can read more about feline diabetes here.

Heart Disease

There are several kinds of heart disease, and they all take their toll on the heart itself and the lungs. Affected cats tend to tire easily, and may react to mild exercise with labored breathing. A bluish tinge to the skin is sometimes visible. Long-term symptoms include loss of appetite and sometimes paralysis of the hind legs.


Increased production of hormones in the thyroid glands is not rare among senior cats, and can cause a chronic disease with a variety of symptoms. Symptoms may include overall poor physical condition, weight loss, increased appetite and excessive water intake, and changes in behavior.

Fatty Liver Disease

Also known as Hepatic Lipidosis, senior cats can be more susceptible to this life-threatening condition if they go without food for more than a day or two. Symptoms may include jaundice and loss of appetite, but your main concern here is with the trigger: pay special attention to your senior cat's eating habits, and avoid drastic dietary changes.

Weight loss diets need to be guided and supervised by your veterinarian.


Chronic inflammation of the pancreas causes enzymes from this small organ to affect it and sometimes other organs around it. This can be a tricky condition to diagnose, with symptoms flaring up in some stages and subsiding in others. They may include loss of appetite, dehydration, low body temperature, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Strokes and Seizures

Many medical conditions can cause seizures in cats, or it can be a primary seizure disorder (with no underlying cause). There are various types of seizures, but you're not likely to miss any of them should they occur in your presence, as seizures can be quite dramatic. While seizures are related to excessive electrical activity in the brain, actual strokes are caused by problems with the blood vessels in the brain.

A seizure can be a symptom of a stroke, or it may be expressed via milder symptoms such as dizziness, or even behavioral changes. Read more about seizures in cats.


Aging feline brains are susceptible to senility. Loss of memory and cognitive functions in cats can lead to disorientation, confusion, disrupted sleep patterns and litterbox problems. The cat may be display anxiety by yowling, crying, compulsive pacing, or other behavioral changes.

Keep an eye out for odd behaviors which may indicate the cat has trouble identifying family members, human or feline. This could trigger territorial aggression towards another cat in your household, for example.

15 comments on “Health Concerns In Aging Cats

Anne April 7, 2014
@Only1sandy it's best to keep questions to the forums, so I moved your question into a thread form here -
only1sandy April 7, 2014
I salvaged (sandy) from street .how can I tell her age?
maggie22 March 16, 2014
Thanks for writing this article. Maggie is 16.5 has just been through a rough patch, but we are on the way up at this point, to the best of my knowledge. very helpful article.
fyreflair December 8, 2013
I just took in two senior cats a few months ago and the only problem they've had so far is litter box problems but that was actually more due to being relocated so suddenly (they're 11 and were with their last family since they were kittens) than any health problems they're dong much better now.
white shadow December 2, 2013
"As your cat ages, its body goes through a natural aging process, affecting it in many ways. These are considered normal changes...and can be pinned down to aging itself...   ...weight fluctuations and changes in body form are also common in a cat's advanced years....some cats...become thinner and gradually lose fat layers..."   Skinny old cats are commonplace.........BUT DON'T NEED TO BE SO.   Weight loss and wasting in geriatric cats are commonly perceived as a normal part of the aging's a study showing how these CAN BE PREVENTED:   And, flee from the "Vet" who will prescribe "senior food"!!!!!!!!!!!!
    35 year catdad October 5, 2020
    Yes yes yes!!!! its NO NO NO to that junk prescription diet with corn and wheat gluten in it!! Hills and Royal Canin should be ashamed of what they sell as healthy kidney diets. Thanks for the skinny old cat article link! my 19 yr old is getting skinny and I have tried everything to put weight on her.
      35 year catdad October 6, 2020
      I read the study and just took 400 mg vitamin E myself! (A lady I once knew lived to 101 and took E every day). and will put some in kitties food. I wont use the acetate version just mixed tochopherals...Off to see if their Wysongs has chicory root. Imagine if they had added ascorbic acid? Sad thing about leaving dry food as seniors has LOTS of good things added that wet doesnt. At least the wet food I can afford. This summer heat and northern ca. smoke is not good for appetites and every hot spell for years now, the cats get leaner. Thanks again for the study link! E helps recycle C and it has much longer half life in presence of E. My 19 yr old Tortie promised my 22 yrs but I have my part in this for sure. She was running upstairs chased by a 3 yr old just 6 months ago but has slowed down a lot since.... dog gone it
        RexinMinn2 January 30, 2023
        What did you mean when you said, "Sad thing about leaving dry food as seniors has LOTS of good things added that wet doesnt." What's amazing is how many of these senior issues could be avoided if the cat was fed wet food, AND ONLY WET FOOD, all their lives. Why don't cat owners understand that cats are obligate carnivores? Whatever they might be adding to dry food to make it more nutritionally complete doesn't begin to compensate for the damage being done by the grain that comprises the basis of all dry food. Grain and cats are a NO NO!!
      john January 22, 2023
      I have had success with feeding my 16 yr old ,meat baby food in a jar.She loves it .I wait until she finishes eating her food when she decides she has had enough.then I put a large spoonful of baby food on top of her food and she goes back to eating it,Then when she is done with that I put a big dollop on my finger and she licks it off.then when she is done with that I take another finger full and wipe it on her tongue(she does not love that move) and she eats that too.This works for me.Worth a try!!
        RexinMinn2 January 30, 2023
        As long as you're leaving the dry food OUT of the equation I think it's great as cats are obligate carnivores. Careful of what's in that baby food though, because there could be ingredients in it that cause inflammation, such as sugar. Try a high quality wet food such as the Farmina N-D. You'll find a little goes a long way.
rdragonlady719 June 11, 2013
My 22-year-old cat, Aurora, has arthritis, is hard of hearing (except when food is involved) and her appetite has decreased (she's about 5 pounds). She is still the matriarch of our house though and our 2 11-year-old, 14+ lbs boys listen and obey her! LOL
mopseys 1st toy June 11, 2013
Have two 14 yr. old sisters with lymphoma. One of them refuses her prednisone chewy (smashed into a wet cat food ball). I`ve tried smashing it on her fur, aqueous prednisone, and shooting a pill with a pill gun. That latter is the method I`m using now. It takes between 1 to 1 1/2 hours to get it down her. The last session she slobbered 7 pills before the eighth stayed down. It drains both of us and is taking a toll on her attitude toward me. Help PLEASE.
    Sophia October 26, 2021
    You made the above comment years ago, but, just in case you still take care of any cats, please know that your vet can give you transdermal/topical steroids (i.e., prednisolone is usually preferred for cats, rather than prednisolone -- safer, as I understand it). Many other vet medications are available in this form (now?). In this case, the prenisolone is rubbed into the top inner ear. Usually alternating ears each day and wiping ear with a damp cloth prior to each dose. I hope that, if this doesn't help you anymore, that it will help someone else, especially because pilling cats can be extremely difficult.
traxwalker November 19, 2012
Smokey and Chloe are around seven or eight. They joined the household when they were two or three or thereabouts and have given me, their forever mom, all the love I can imagine.
angels mommy November 15, 2012
Good information!! Angel is 8 or 9yrs. old, most likely 9, so I guess that makes him a senior now. :(

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