Six Great Reasons to Adopt a Senior Cat and Ten Tips to Keep Them Happy and Healthy

At 15-years-old our beautiful Zee is the purr-fect model to champion senior cat adoptions.

2020 will forever be known as the year of COVID, redefining life as we know it. Hardships, challenges, tragedies, and more became part of the landscape. Social distancing changed how we participated in milestone moments in life – births, deaths, and holidays to name a few. It changed how we worked, how we shopped, how we communicated and so much more, often making it difficult to find the silver lining in any of it. But silver linings did exist – one for me – my relationship with Zee, our 15-year-old Maine Coon cat. Working remotely from home since March I’m able to spend more time with him than I ever would have before and I’m grateful, especially as I’m painfully aware my time with him is no longer measured in infinite possibilities of days ahead, but of finite moments that are coming closer to an end.

Our relationship also earmarks one of the most important aspects I have for coping with the pandemic – the love and devotion he feels for me along with the love, care, and companionship he receives from me in return. With November Adopt-a-Senior-Pet Month the rationale is even more compelling. I’m not alone in my difficulties coping – many people across the world are wrestling with the emotional effects of living in self-isolation – severe loneliness, heightened fears and anxieties, and depression to name a few. What better way to quell the unease and fill the heart and home with joy than by adopting a senior cat?

According to the ASPCA, among the 3.2 million cats entering U.S. animal shelters every year, there are countless senior felines—those 10/11 years and older—who are often overlooked by potential adopters due to their age. There are several reasons, such as believing senior cats are less healthy than younger cats, more aloof, and harder to train. As someone who has blessedly lived with several senior cats over the course of my lifetime, not just Zee, I’m here to tell you there is something very special about these wise and experienced creatures and the reasons to consider adopting an elder feline friend are countless, not just in November, but any month of the year. Here’s six of my favorites: 1. Save a Cat’s Life. Save Your Life. It’s been proven cats can decrease our depression and stress levels, lower our blood pressure, and decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke by having them around. The power of the pet and purr so to speak. With our current COVID landscape, defined by stress and anxiety, coupled with the number of senior cats in shelters in need of a good home, what better time than now to adopt a senior companion.

2. Keep it Calm. With our nerves frayed from the constant barrage of bad news and COVID statistics, a stable environment is more important than ever. Mature cats are generally calmer than kittens and younger cats, making day-to-day routines easier to manage. For those working from home, that can mean a friendly and steady companion to keep you company without too much fuss. Older cats are also capable of staying content for endless hours, often on your lap, allowing you to binge-watch your favorite shows uninterrupted.

3. Single, Family, or Senior Friendly. Whether living alone, or with family, or if you’re a senior yourself, senior cats are adaptable. According to Petfinder.com, before ending up in shelters, senior pets often come from some sort of family life, sometimes including other animals and children, allowing the adjustment to a new home environment much easier than it could be for younger cats who have less experience. Raising a child with a senior cat can be a wonderful lesson, teaching your child boundaries and respect for animals. Older cats can also help foster a sense of self-esteem and confidence in children which in turn encourages the kids to be more responsible, such as sharing in chores like changing the water and feeding the cat. And for senior citizens, older cats with their low-key, mellow nature can make a great fit to a more sedentary lifestyle.

4. It Is What It Is. With a senior cat adoption, you know exactly what you’re getting because personalities have already been developed and you will know right away if the cat will be a good fit for you or your family. Size, energy level, temperament, and health status are already established so you know what to expect with your new pet and can accommodate as such.

5. Commitment Issues. Unlike rambunctious younger cats and kittens, senior cats are typically not a 24-7 commitment unless they have health needs to attend to. Many new pet owners underestimate the energy levels and insatiable curiosity of younger cats and the time and commitment it takes to keep them occupied, out of trouble, happy, and healthy. While senior cats still require some exercise and have other needs, they typically don’t require the constant attention and supervision that comes with younger pets.

Nothing is more special than spending time with my beloved senior cat, Zee.

6. The Feline-Human Bond. Nothing is better than the bond shared between a cat and those he loves. Story after story suggests that senior pets adopted from shelters are especially grateful for their new home. They seem to know they’ve been rescued, and owners often notice an extra special sense of love and appreciation from their senior pet. One of my favorite stories was from Adriene Buisch, former NFL Baltimore Ravens cheerleader, who I interviewed for my book, Makin’ Biscuits – Weird Cat Habits and the Even Weirder Habits of the Humans Who Love Them.

Adriene heard of Tigger on Facebook, a cat who was abandoned by his owner at 20 years old. When Adriene read he was in need of a new home, she and her boyfriend made the split-second decision to adopt him as a companion for their younger cat, Stuart. Tigger was a sight—skinny and full of mats. Shortly after they brought him home, they discovered he had a large tumor and that his kidneys were failing. Rather than lament his condition, they embraced him as part of the family and created a bucket list of special adventures just for him, including trips to the beach, his favorite place to soak up the sun. He died peacefully at 22 years old with Adriene stating on Tigger’s popular Facebook page, “Witnessing the love and happiness of Tigger changed our lives. I hope his journey helps cat and pet lovers know how wonderful it is to not only adopt but to adopt older pets.” Clearly, the reasons to adopt a senior cat are compelling and plenty. But just what qualifies a cat as a senior? According to International Cat Care, feline ages and life-stages have been redefined. Cats are elderly once they reach 11 years with senior cats defined as those aged between 11 – 14 and geriatric cats 15 years and upwards. And due to improved nutrition, living indoors, and advances in veterinary medicine, it’s not unusual for veterinarians to have feline patients in their twenties. So if you’d like to adopt a senior cat, or for those that already have a senior cat do be aware they will require special care and attention relative to their age. After all, when we age as human’s our needs change and it’s no different for cats. Here are 10 basic tips to improve their comfort, health, and well-being: 1. Schedule regular veterinary exams for your senior cat in six-month intervals and develop a close relationship with your veterinarian while your cat is still healthy. This will get them to know your cat to help them detect subtle changes that may indicate a health condition or disease.

2. Reduce the stress of veterinary visits by bringing the carrier out several days prior to the visit so your cat can become accustomed to it. If he climbs into it, reward him with treats and put soft, familiar bedding into the carrier so he is comforted by the scent when traveling to the vet. With current COVID restrictions, contact your vet prior to the visit so you know exactly what to expect for drop-off procedures or if you can come into the office with your cat.

Having steps at the foot of our bed makes it much easier for Zee to get up and down.

3. Provide him with plenty of warm spots to rest and make sure his favorite napping place is not in a drafty area of the home. There are also self-warming cat mats and heated beds for cats available and if his favorite place is up high, help him up by creating box steps, ramps, or purchase pet stairs that allow him to safely reach that spot on his own.

4. Older cats are more prone to arthritis and may have reduced control over their bowels and bladder so it’s important to have easily accessible litter boxes on every floor of the home. If it’s difficult for your cat to climb into the litter box, use one with low sides, or put pee pads or newspaper on the floor around the litter box if he can’t quite make it. If he begins to have accidents around the house, there may be a medical issue, such as a urinary infection, constipation, arthritis, or muscle weakness and you should bring him to your veterinarian for an exam.

5. Provide easy access to food and water, putting bowls in more than one area of the house if necessary, especially in a home with stairs your cat might not be able to climb. Feed your cat in an elevated bowl, too – this will alleviate him from having to uncomfortably bend down to eat and will aid with digestion. And be mindful that fresh water and nutritious food are vital to cats of any age but especially so for older cats. Your veterinarian can offer advice on choosing a diet that provides appropriate nutrition and the right amount of calories for your aging cat. If you notice either unexpected weight gain or loss, the American Association of Feline Practitioners indicates this also requires a visit to the veterinarian, as it’s typically a sign in senior cats something is wrong.

Zee’s food dish is raised several inches off the floor, making it easier for him to eat without bending down too much.

6. Cats have great night vision, but as they age problems might develop, making it difficult for them to navigate around. Keep a nightlight on and if your cat is blind, keep his environment as stationary and consistent as possible. A cat’s hearing can also deteriorate, so approach your cat from the front rather than behind to avoid startling him.

7. Help to gently groom your cat if his grooming habits begin to wane, especially for long-haired cats who may become uncomfortably matted. Gently brushing or combing removes loose hairs and stimulates circulation and sebaceous gland secretions, returning luster to the coat. International Veterinary Sciences (IVS) makes a QuickBath® towelette developed specifically for cats to safely remove odors and bacterias from your cat’s fur. IVS owner, Ara Bohchalian states, “For senior cats that need help with grooming, this product fortified with Vitamins A &  E is ideal. Being hands-on with your cat enhances your bond and allows you familiarity with his body – this is particularly important if you notice any unusual lumps, bumps, or anything else which would necessitate a call to the vet.”

I use the Quick Bath towelette from IVS once a week with Zee, followed by a gentle combing. With his fur being long, this helps keep him clean and the mats to a minimum.

8. Respect that your senior cat may have changes in behavior as he ages and you’ll need to adjust to those needs. Some may need more emotional support as they age, and others may prefer to be left alone. It’s important to pay attention to these habits because cats are masters at hiding illness and the signs are often subtle and easily missed. If you notice a difference in behavior, don’t ignore it – let your veterinarian know.

9. Keep your senior cat’s mind sharp and body fit with gentle play sessions, such as waving a wand toy, puzzle toys, or encouraging him to follow you around for exercise. Look for innovative items, too. Dezi & Roo makes a terrific product called the Hide and Sneak that is more than a tunnel or cat toy. It’s actually a therapeutic tool to help cats feel comfortable in a home of their own. Dezi & Roo owner, Dr. Lynn Bahr states, “It’s a known fact cats love sitting on paper and find it irresistible. It crinkles, feels fantastic to them, and brings them enrichment and joy. This is especially so for senior cats that may have reduced eyesight. They benefit from hanging out in the paper tunnel because it is dark enough to feel like they are hiding but light enough that they can see through it.”

After playing in the Hide and Sneak tunnel with his favorite Dezi & Roo cloud puff toy, Zee likes to nap on top of the tunnel!

10. Rather than lament your cat is getting older, take the time to really enjoy your moments together. Extra hugs, pets, loving words, and shared cuddle time will all help to let your senior know just how loved he is and enhance your feline-human bond.

hearts

If you decide the time is right to adopt a senior cat adoption is not as easy as it was pre-COVID, but it can be done. Check with your local shelters for individual social distancing and adoption guidelines for starters, with many of them offering virtual adoption applications, virtual ‘meet’ and greets, and adoption events hosted online or through social media channels. Many will also schedule phone or video chat conversations with adoption counselors to answer questions and facilitate adoptions and appointment-only adoption hours.

There are also many curbside pet adoption services, such as SASF Roadside Adoptions & Fosters, designed to get pets into forever homes in a sanitary, social-distancing-friendly way. Petfinder.com is also a great resource, allowing you to look at cats available for adoption in your area in one quick and easy website.

Once you’ve been matched with your purr-fect pet, get everything in order BEFORE kitty arrives. This is true whether you already have cats in your household or this will be an only cat. Prepare a safe and secure area for your new friend with a litter box, toys, food, cat beds, and more so she can get acclimated to her new life. Even with your best intentions, cats need time to ease into new circumstances, so give your relationship time to grow. If you and kitty aren’t BFF’s the first day, there’s no need to rush things – it’s a lifetime commitment for both you and kitty, but one that will be rewarding in so many ways.

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  1. A dear friend has a blog about his senior and special needs cats and foster cats; http://ihavethreecats.blogspot.com/.
    Having ‘adopted’ Sweetie this Spring, after she lived outside as a feral for a decade, we figure she is at least 12, and she is mostly deaf. However, having her in our lives is so wonderful, ’cause she’s a wee spitfire and we’ve set up boxes so she has ‘steps’ to look out the windows, or to get up on the beds.
    Great post!

  2. Leah says:

    Wonderful post! I adore the older kitties, they are just the sweetest ever.

  3. jmuhj says:

    In my family, adoption has always been for life. The most recent members to join our furmily were/are Sammi, adopted at 14 and leaving us at 21, and Elvis, adopted at 9 and going very strong at 13. Cats are FAMILY in my family, and family is definitely for LIFE.
    May your handsome Zee live long and prosPURR!

  4. Ellen Pilch says:

    Great post. I feel so bad for senior cats who lose their homes. XO

  5. Excellent tips! The shelter the mom volunteers with always has senior kitties. It’s sad because people tend to overlook them because of their age. But they can make the BEST companions.

  6. Brian Frum says:

    Those sweet senior kitties sure are loving and want nothing more than to share it with someone who cares.

  7. meowmeowmans says:

    Senior cats rock! PAWS always has more than a few, and we love when they get adopted. With the exception of Ava, we’ve always adopted older or senior cats. Gracie, bless her, is now 20 years old. XO