geriatric medicine (care as your cat ages)

The life expectancy of cats varies considerably between individuals and with the kind of health care received throughout their lives. Most well- cared-for cats can be expected to live between ten and fifteen years, and many reach the age of twenty. A few cats have even been reported to have lived more than thirty years. The record is claimed to be 36.


In general the older cat is less adaptable to stress. Sudden changes in diet, routine, or environment are probably best avoided if they have not been part of the cat’s routine in the past. Many old cats do not adapt well to hospitalization and therefore need special care when ill. Good veterinarians are aware of this and provide special attention or make special arrangements for the care of such older animals.


If you have been feeding your cat a well-balanced diet throughout his or her life, few if any changes will be needed in old age unless special health conditions develop. Special diets need to be provided for older cats with degenerative changes of major organs such as the kidneys. Many other times the addition of a balanced vitamin-mineral supplement to the normal diet is sufficient to meet any special needs imposed by aging.

Sometimes strong-smelling foods, such as those containing fish or fish oil, stimulate a lagging appetite that is the result of decreased ability to smell or taste. Since each cat is an individual and ages as an individual, the need for a special diet should be discussed with a veterinarian familiar with your aging cat before any major dietary changes are made.


Most cats continue to exercise and play to the degree they have most of their lives well into old age. Only rarely is there a reason to restrict an older cat’s activity, and the best rule to follow is to allow your cat to exercise as he or she chooses. Watch carefully for sudden changes in activity and exercise intolerance; they can indicate illness.

Some conditions that are likely to develop in cats with age are covered in this section. Not all are disabling or progressive, and most, if recognized early, can be treated at least palliatively. To use this section for diagnosing signs, refer to the Index of Signs as well as to the General Index.