Cat health: Spot the signs of your elderly cat is unwell

Become more mog-aware and recognise symptoms and illness in your ageing cat.
Cat health - Spot the signs of your cat being ill

When it comes to cat health, would you know if your pet was in pain? With dogs, it’s easy to tell, not least because your dog will make it all too clear if he or she isn’t well, and in any case you’ll notice if they’re limping when you take them for a walk.

But cats are different. They show little or no signs of pain and prefer instead to move about less and seem to be in a permanently bad mood. For some cat owners, this may understandably be hard to spot. In fact, they are suffering just as much, but have evolved to hide signs of weakness.

Worse, many cat owners may not realise this, even after having their cat for years. While nine out of ten cat owners say they would feel guilty if they didn’t realise their cat was in pain, more than a fifth of owners would misinterpret their cat’s symptoms, while three quarters admit they would not know the signs of chronic pain in their cat.

Common health conditions of older cats

Arthritis and joint pain

As your cat grows older, they may develop arthritis and experience joint pain. This can lead to reduced mobility and difficulty in performing everyday activities like jumping or climbing. You’ll notice a change in your cat’s behaviour such as:

  • Grumpiness and intolerance when being handled
  • Not using a litter tray if it is difficult to get to
  • Not playing
  • Unkempt and reluctance to groom properly
  • Slower movement and reduced mobility

Obesity and cats

Older cats are prone to weight gain or loss, and maintaining an ideal weight is crucial for their overall health. You should be able to feel your cats ribs. If you cannot, you need to put puss on a diet. Obesity affects cats in the same way it does humans with the increased weight putting additional stress on bones and joints. Cats that are overweight are at greater risk of developing arthritis later in life.

Dental health

Dental problems become more prevalent in senior cats, which can cause discomfort while eating and lead to other health issues if left untreated. look out for tartar build-up and red, inflamed gums.

Kidney disease

Kidney disease is common among older cats and requires careful monitoring of their diet and hydration – it is a condition that can be managed but is not curable.

Signs of kidney disease include:

  • thirst
  • more frequent urination
  • weight loss
  • vomiting
  • bad breath
  • ungroomed and scruffy coat


Hyperthyroidism is a common hormonal disorder in older cats caused by an overactive thyroid gland. My cat Purdy is 13 years old and was diagnosed with the condition around 18 months ago. She now has a prescription for a drug called Thyronorm, which has made her more like her normal self.

The thyroid gland produces excessive thyroid hormones, leading to symptoms such as weight loss despite increased appetite, restlessness and increased thirst.

Hyperthyroidism is a condition that can affect the heart, causing heart murmurs or rapid heart rate and if left untreated, it can lead to serious health complications. If your cat is displaying any of the symptoms above it is worthwhile having your vet run some tests. Early detection and proper management are essential to improve the quality of life of your cat.

Cognitive decline

Just like humans, elderly cats can experience cognitive decline, leading to confusion and behavioural changes. Your cat can seem disorientated and may stop using its liter tray.

cat health - sign of cat being ill
Cat health: Watch out for changes in behaviour.

Cat health: How to identify your cat is unwell

  • Is your cat moving less or avoiding jumping about?
  • Is your cat sleeping more, staying in the same place or moving stiffly?
  • Is your cat no longer grooming itself as much as it used to? Does it look scruffier?
  • Is your cat less tolerant than before, or becoming more withdrawn?

When it comes to cat health, you know better than anyone your cat’s personality and what is normal behaviour. So keep an eye open for the telltale signs listed above. If there is any doubt, take your cat to the vet – only 22% of owners take their cats for old age check ups.

So if your cat a little slower, less tidy or grumpier than usual? Be sure to spot the signs, and get them to the vets! Or as your pet might say, ‘Mrrrrreow!’

If you found Cat health: Spot the signs of your cat being ill helpful, you’ll find more tips for caring for older cats on our Pets channel.

Tags: , Last modified: August 4, 2023

Written by 11:23 am Pets