Do you have an old cat that wakes you up at night or defecates anywhere other than in the litter box? Then it can be easy to get irritated as an owner.
But cat expert Bjarne O. Braastad believes it is important to find out why it happens and what you can do about it.
– Understanding the cat when it is old is just as important as understanding it when it is a kitten, says Braastad, who is a professor in University.
There can be many reasons why the cat changes its behavior when it gets old, both physical and psychological.
Older cats generally do not have more behavioral problems than younger cats, but they can develop new problems. For example, old cats often become more fussy.
– Just like old people, the cat sleeps for a shorter time at a time, and it can therefore wake up the owner at night. It may be because it wants social contact or because it feels lonely, says Braastad.
A cat can age as early as seven to eight years of age, and purebred cats, which usually do not live as old as regular domestic cats, are particularly vulnerable. Generally, a ten-year-old cat is the same age as a 60-year-old human.
Properly old cats are 14–15 years and above.
Braastad himself has a 16-year-old cat that wakes both him and his wife at night. Knowing that it’s completely normal, kitty gets both a little petting and cuddling.
More dependent on people
Cats tend to become less social with age, but when they get old, that changes. Older cats have a greater need for human contact again, says the professor.
They also often seek more contact with other cats they feel safe with.
Older cats also often meow more to ask for something. There could be something serious behind this, says Braastad.
– If the cat meows more, uses lure sounds, it may be because it has developed separation anxiety. If the senses fail, the cat becomes confused and life is not as good as before, then it can become anxious when the owner is not in sight.
The cat may also resort more to people because it has had a drop in status in its older days. Perhaps it meets other dominant cats that it can no longer deal with.
Will not be held fast
Older cats often become more reluctant to be held. And although aggressiveness tends to decrease with age, it increases again in old cats.
Other more serious changes in behavior can also occur, such as disorientation, where the cat wanders, stares and is restless.
A positive feature for the owner is that cats like to bring home fewer prey animals as they get older.
Your cat may become demented
An old cat is often not as good at thinking, concentrating and keeping attention. It may simply have suffered cognitive impairment. According to Braastad, this can cause your cat to behave differently than before.
Cognitive impairment can occur from the age of ten. Eventually, the cat can also become demented.
– The condition can resemble Alzheimer’s disease. If the vet can rule out that behavioral changes are due to diseases and defects or environmental factors, then it could be dementia, says Braastad.
He says that cats with dementia have the same changes in the brain as in humans. The brain shrinks a little and the brain cells die. The fluid-filled areas in the brain expand, completely parallel to Alzheimer’s in humans.
– Then it is reasonable to think that there are the same behavioral changes in cats as in humans. They may lose their sense of direction. They eventually do not recognize their social partners. Maybe they recognize the owner, but not the others. The owner is the last cat to forget, says Braastad.
Walking back and forth on the floor
Cats with cognitive impairment tend to repeat the same action many times. For example, the cat may walk back and forth on the floor, in and out repeatedly, or lick and lick the fur until the hairs break and there are hairless areas.
This is called stereotypic behavior and is unusual for cats. But demented cats can act like this because they are confused and can’t figure things out.
“Hyperslicking” can also occur in younger cats, but then it is due to social frustration.
– It is important to come in with tools in the early stages of cognitive impairment. Mental stimulation and environmental enrichment can delay the development of dementia, says Braastad.
It hurts to go to the bathroom
In addition to cognitive impairment and dementia, cats can also have physical illnesses that cause behavioral changes.
If your cat has been clean all its life and then starts going to the toilet outside the litter box, it is often due to medical reasons. Kidney diseases and urinary tract diseases are quite common in old cats. Then it can be uncomfortable to go to the toilet.
– The cat associates the discomfort with the toilet and then tries to go outside in the hope that it is less uncomfortable there, says Braastad.
Sick more often
Just like older people, cats are prone to many diseases. That’s why you should take your cat to the vet if it starts to change its behaviour, Braastad believes.
If, for example, the cat does not jump up and down from the sofa and table as easily as before, this may indicate that it may have joint problems or damage to the skeleton.
Or if you touch the cat in a particular place and it doesn’t like it, it could be a physical injury – or possibly a cancerous tumour.
– The feed is also important. Old cats do not need the same food as younger cats. And there is feed adapted to different medical conditions, says Braastad.
An old cat can get many different diseases, such as urinary tract disorders, high metabolism, kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, joint problems, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, impaired vision, hearing or other impaired senses.
Play with the cat
Not all cats become ill and demented when they get old, and many stay healthy – both mentally and physically – for a very long time. And you can help your cat stay healthy, says Braastad.
Research has shown that as much as half of all cats may have cognitive impairment by the age of 15. So the most important thing, apart from keeping the cat physically healthy, is to prevent cognitive impairment by keeping it active.
But it can be difficult because the cat’s desire to play and activity level decrease with age. So if you want to keep your cat in good shape for as long as possible, you should spend time with it, according to the professor.
When the cat is half-grown, eight to ten years old, it is important to be aware of playing with it. You can give it intellectual challenges, such as clicker training. You do this with a small hand-held gadget that you press to give a sound signal that the correct behavior has been carried out and that a reward is on its way.
Or a cat puzzle game, where the cat has to figure out what it has to do to get the go’bit. In this way, the cat is both physically activated and has to use its intelligence to remember what it did to get that pellet piece out of the toy.
– But do not exaggerate the activities and changes. And make sure you have a stable environment that provides predictability for the cat. Introduce one change at a time, says Braastad.