Nowadays, cats are living longer than ever! Because of these extended lifespans, it’s important for cat owners to learn about the health conditions that are common in aging cats. In this article, you’ll learn about a few health conditions that you should be aware of, which symptoms to look out for, and preventative steps that you can take to maximize your cat’s lifespan and well-being. Each disease in the following article is typically treatable, and early action is important, which is why you’re doing an amazing thing for your cat right now by learning about it!

Is my cat a senior?


This can be a tricky question to answer, because each cat has its own unique set of factors that contribute to the answer. The American Association of Feline Practitioners classifies the senior range as 11-14 years (beyond that cats are considered geriatric). However, in a biological sense, one cat may age at a different rate than another because of genetics, environmental factors, and nutrition.

5 conditions to watch for



Until recently, feline arthritis was not commonly diagnosed or treated. Part of this is likely due to a cat’s survival instinct to hide signs of pain. But one study in 2002

[i] showed that 90% of cats over the age of 12 exhibit evidence of arthritis. Arthritis is characterized by the thinning of cartilage between joints. The cartilage acts as a shock absorber between your cat’s bones. As it is destroyed, the bones can begin to make contact with each other. This is very painful. The veterinary world is now beginning to recognize just how common arthritis is in older cats, which is wonderful news, as treatment can bring immense relief to silently suffering felines.


  • Decreased mobility – such as hesitance to jump up or down, preferring lower surfaces than in the past, or difficulty going up or down stairs.
  • Change in normal activities – such as increased resting, reduced exploration of their environment or once loved activities, and sleeping in different (easier to access) locations.
  • Change in grooming habits – you may notice a matted coat, reduced time spent grooming, or excessive licking of their joints.
  • Behavioral changes – your cat may become more irritable (especially when being handled) and spend less time with people or other animals.



Cancer is a leading cause of death in older cats. There are many different types of cancer, which is itself a blanket term for uncontrolled cell growth. When the cancerous growth spreads into surrounding body tissue, it begins to impede normal functioning in the body’s systems. Sadly, the results are often devastating and fatal.


  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lumps that increase in size over time
  • Sores that won’t heal
  • Bleeding or fluid discharge from your cat’s nose, mouth or anus
  • Difficulty swallowing, breathing, urinating or defecating



Thyroid hormones are responsible for many of the body’s essential tasks – such as regulating metabolic rate, heart and digestive function, muscle control, and even bone maintenance. Hyperthyroidism is caused by an overproduction of thyroid hormones because of an enlarged thyroid gland (usually due to a non-cancerous tumor). When left untreated, especially over a long period of time, hyperthyroidism disrupts and damages several important systems in your cat’s body. Untreated hyperthyroidism is a very serious condition, and can be life-threatening.


  • Hyperactivity
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased fecal volume
  • Increased urination
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Kidney Disease


More than 30% of cats will get kidney disease at some point in their lives, and it is especially common in older cats. The main function of the kidneys is to filter waste in your cat’s bloodstream into urine. As the kidneys progressively lose their ability to function, harmful toxins begin to accumulate in the bloodstream. Kidney disease is a progressive disorder, meaning it usually takes months or years to advance to its final stages. It isn’t reversible, but can be successfully controlled, especially if caught early.


  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting




Diabetes is common in older cats, and is especially common in overweight felines. Feline diabetes occurs when a cat’s body either doesn’t produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that plays a critical role in digestion. A diabetic cat’s body loses its ability to harvest energy from food, and begins to break down fat and protein stores as an alternative source of energy. This is why cats will eat more but lose weight – their body is struggling to find the energy it needs to power its biological functions. When left untreated, diabetes will shorten a cat’s lifespan.


  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination


Reader’s note: Aging cats are also prone to periodontal disease, which is painful and can increase the risk for dangerous health conditions like kidney or heart disease. You can read our article dedicated to periodontal disease here.

What to do


Early Detection

The symptoms of the health conditions in this article are often subtle and difficult to notice. They are also much easier to treat in their earlier stages rather than in their later stages, when the symptoms are more obvious. That’s why it’s very important for owners of senior cats to do two things: play close attention to any variations or deviations in your cat’s normal behavior, and schedule regular veterinary examinations so that trained professionals can carefully screen your cat for any potential health problems. Early detection makes it easier for us to treat a disease before it becomes serious, and is usually much less expensive to do so. If your senior (or geriatric) cat hasn’t had a veterinary exam in over a year, it’s a good idea to give us a call.


Overweight cats are more prone to serious health conditions, and on average have a shorter lifespan than cats at a healthy weight. Don’t make the mistake of overfeeding your cat – a good rule of thumb is 50 calories per kilogram a day. There is no universally recommended diet regimen for senior cats, because a cat’s nutritional requirements will depend on their unique health factors. If you have not spoken to a veterinarian about your senior cat’s nutritional requirements, we’d recommend making an appointment with us.

Comforts at home

Small adjustments can make a big difference in your cat’s quality of life, especially if they’re suffering from arthritis. Make sure they have easy access to very soft bedding. Easy access to water is also important, and can help keep your cat healthier. You may want to consider installing ramps to perches that your cat enjoys. Also, if your cat shows any difficulty with stairs, make sure litter boxes are kept downstairs.

[i] Radiographic evidence of degenerative joint disease in geriatric cats: 100 cases.