Most cats begin to develop age-related changes anywhere between 7 and 10 years of age. However, by the time she turns 12, you will almost certainly have witnessed a noticeable change in your senior feline, particularly in her physical movements.
All animals naturally become more sedentary as they age. You may notice that she spends less time outdoors, is less willing to climb and jump and spends more time sleeping. While it may just appear that your cat is choosing to slow down, in many cases there are actually physical limitations that are forcing your kitty to re-evaluate how she moves around. This is because as she is getting older, her body and her body functions are deteriorating, and this can make it much harder for her to do the things that she used to. For example, joint pain caused by arthritis may make it impossible for her to jump as she once did, or you may witness a reduction in her stamina, noticing that she tires easily after playing.
Nevertheless, it is important that you ensure that your senior cat continues to get some exercise every day, even if you need to adapt exactly what physical activity she does to suit her advancing age.
The importance of exercise for senior cats
There are several reasons why exercise is as important for an older cat as a younger feline. One of the most important is that regular exercise will enable you to manage her weight.
As a caring and responsible owner, you are responsible for feeding your cat the right diet and the right amounts. Incorrect nutrition and portions that are too large can cause her to put on weight. So too can insufficient exercise. However, as your kitty gets older, her body will be naturally predisposed to gaining weight. This is because her metabolism (the rate at which she burns off calories) slows down. She will need to work much harder to use the calories that she is eaten and not be left with too much of a surplus. But, since older cats also slow down this only exacerbates the problem and makes putting on weight all the more likely. You can and should switch to a diet tailored to senior cats as these tend to have a lower calories content, but your furbaby will still need to do some physical activity to ensure that she doesn’t gain weight. Since obesity has been proven to be a contributing factor in a variety of health problems that could affect your feline, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer, you will undoubtedly want to do all you can to avoid her putting on weight.
Other important reasons to ensure that you cat gets enough exercise include the fact that regular physical activity will:
help to naturally trim her claws, preventing them from becoming overgrown and brittle and causing her problems with her grip.
provide mental stimulation to prevent her from becoming bored and adopting undesirable behaviors.
help to keep her joints supple.
improve her mood.
increase the flow of blood around her body, which is essential for organ health and healing.
reduce inflammation and pain.
help her to live longer.
The best way to ensure that your senior cat gets enough exercise is to make time to engage her in playtime several times each day – using bribery if necessary! While she may have lost some of her natural spontaneity, most felines will still happily join in with short but sweet play or training sessions during the day. By keeping them short you can ensure that you won’t wear her out too quickly, and that she isn’t too tired to participate in further sessions later that day. Play hide and seek with treats, use a laser pointer to encourage her to chase it, create a maze of boxes for her to explore or even just tease her with a feather! Up to 5 minutes of exciting play time a few times a day should be sufficient exercise for most older cats. However, your vet will be able to advise you if this is appropriate for your pet.
At Wilkinson Animal Hospital we are dedicated to ensuring that your precious pet enjoys the longest, healthiest life possible. If you are unsure what types of exercise are best suited to your senior cat, our experienced team would be delighted to offer their advice and support. Please contact our animal hospital in Gastonia, NC to schedule your appointment.