It’s always fun to see playful kittens when you are at an adoption shelter (or anywhere, for that matter!). They are fluffy, adorable and hard to resist — but we also know that they require a lot of energy to raise properly. Sometimes, it’s the older cat sitting quietly in her cage who is the best choice for your particular household.
There are many good reasons to adopt an older cat. An older cat is not likely to tear up your house. Kittens are high energy and get into most everything, and they need to be monitored at all times. The older cat you adopt will most likely be very thankful to have been chosen and bond quickly with your family. Additionally, children may do better with an older cat, under supervision, because kittens — with their boundless energy and no limits — can easily be mishandled.
Good for quiet homes
Older cats can fit nicely into a senior citizens home, as well. The low-key companionship that an older cat provides can be the perfect match for a senior.
When thinking about adopting an older cat, it’s important to get as much information as you can about the pet’s background. What food does she eat? Are there any medications needed? What name does she answer to? (You can always add on a new name if you wish, but it’s probably a better idea to keep the old name so she can relate and feel more at home.) Keeping things much the same when the new cat is transitioned into your care should help her adjust more quickly.
Once adopted, your older cat will probably take a gander around your home and find her chosen spot. Pam Johnson-Bennett, best-selling author of various cat books, weighs in on adopting an older cat with some advice about preparing your home for your new addition. “From a behavioral standpoint, make modifications so the cat can still enjoy the things he did when he was younger. An older cat needs the joy of playtime, but arthritis or lack of mobility may make it difficult to move like he used to. If he can’t jump up to his favorite spot by the window or up onto the bed, create a ramp or pet stairs so he can still have access. Customize interactive playtime to fit his physical limitations but still engage in those sessions, even if it means he only paws at the toy. Older cats still need to have fun!”
Provide cozy bedding
Other important things to be aware of when bringing a senior cat home are things that may not be as obvious. “Because it’s common for an older cat to be less temperature tolerant, provide enough padded pet beds around the house so he always has soft and cozy places to nap, and move beds away from drafts,” says Johnson-Bennett. “If he has arthritis, he’ll especially appreciate having extra soft or orthopedic bedding. Heated pet beds are wonderful but if used, make sure the cat is mobile enough to be able to move away from the heat. The safest heated beds to use are ones that only get to body temperature. When it comes to litter boxes, be mindful that your cat may not be able to make the long trip to the box, especially if it involves navigating a stairway. Increase the number of litter boxes so the cat doesn’t have far to go to take care of personal business. Use lower-sided boxes for a cat with arthritis or joint problems or at the very least, cut a low entrance on one end of the box.”
Grooming your older cat can be a time of bonding. Senior and geriatric cats won’t be as likely as kittens to squirm and run away. “Do regular brushing to help keep his coat clean and to distribute body oils. Grooming time can also be a good time to check for any suspicious lumps or bumps,” says Johnson-Bennett. “Every cat is different, so each cat will age differently. The most important thing to remember is that any change in typical behavior should be viewed as a potential medical red flag. Never assume a behavioral change is just old age because the cat could be in pain.”
Make indoor life enjoyable
When in the adoption phase, it’s important to find out if your cat was an indoor/outdoor pet. “If your cat has been an indoor/outdoor cat all his life, this is the time to make him exclusively indoors, if possible. Since his senses, mobility and immune system may not be what they used to be, he deserves to be in a safe and comfortable environment,” says Johnson-Bennett. “An older cat needs your patience, tenderness and awareness now more than ever. With your TLC, these could be wonderful golden feline years.” And if you have an enclosed screened-in porch, that can be a perfect place for your senior cat to experience the outdoors with safety.
Another addition that you need to consider when adding a mature cat is her scratching needs. Horizontal scratch pads — rather than vertical ones — are the best for your older cat. This will help your senior cat’s nails stay in good shape in a comfortable way. Cat trees are often enjoyable for an older cat to stretch and sleep.
As you bond with your older cat, you can be happy to know you that you may have saved a sweet, deserving life from languishing in a shelter or worse. She will be a wonderful companion as she basks in the sunlight on your windowsill, knowing she is safe and loved. — Kim Cady
Health Notes for the Older Cat
As with all pets, health concerns are a priority. Although your older cat may not have any difficulties, it is important to be aware of potential chronic illnesses that are common.
Senior and geriatric cats will need bi-yearly geriatric exams. “Since we all want our older cats to live comfortably, happy and pain-free, it’s important to do our best to prevent medical problems or at least catch them in the earliest stages,” says Johnson-Bennett. “Our cats depend on us to be their voices and because they appear so stoic and are masters at hiding pain and illness, it’s our responsibility to maintain regular veterinary care. With senior and geriatric cats, twice-yearly veterinarian visits are strongly recommended. If you’re managing a health issue with your cat then your veterinarian will guide you on the number of visits needed.
“One of the more common diseases that affect older cats is kidney disease. Older cats are also susceptible to obesity, diabetes, arthritis, periodontal disease and cancer. It’s important to monitor appetite, water intake, litter box habits and normal daily activity so potential disease or pain can be addressed at its earliest stage,” says Johnson-Bennett. Cognitive dysfunction can also occur and that’s where an owner may notice the cat becoming restless, especially at night, vocalizing more or having trouble finding things such as the food bowl or litter box. Your cat’s appearance is also a clue to a potential age-related disease process. Signs such as a dull or greasy coat, noticeable body odor or bad breath, mats, weight gain or loss, change in gait or change in muscle tone could indicate a health problem.”