Kittens aren’t for everyone. Senior cats are a calmer alternative, with lots of love to give. Here’s what you need to know about bringing home an older cat.

By Austin Cannon
August 24, 2020
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A nice, cuddly lap cat. That’s what you’re likely to get when you decide to adopt an older cat, says Catherine Awad, executive director of Fancy Cats and Dogs Rescue Team in Virginia. “I don’t know why [anyone] wouldn’t want a senior cat,” she says.

Because cats live a long time (some up to 20 years), you’re likely to get many years of loving companionship even when you adopt a cat who comes with some birthdays under her belt. Awad herself took in a senior cat who was 13. The pet lived for another decade, despite dealing with kidney disease along the way.

Senior cats are generally more calm. And they’ve likely already been trained, so owners can avoid the pitfalls and accidents of kittenhood. Awad adds that senior cats are great for people who live in apartments or who are especially busy. The older cats are “a lot more laid back,” she says—more likely to jump up into your lap while you watch TV instead of wanting to play. “They like to be with you,” she says. 

Here’s what else you should know before adopting or fostering a senior cat: 

How to Adopt an Older Cat

Older cats already have established personalities, making it easy for shelters and other adoption providers to match families to cats. Whether your household needs a quiet lap cat who likes to curl up on your lap while you read or a nosy, curious cat who likes to be front and center, shelters are likely to have pegged an older cat’s personality and know which ones will fit your needs. Start your search by chatting with the adoption center about your household and the type of cat you’re looking for. 

When you’ve identified an older cat that seems just right for you, it’s time to take him home. The American Association of Feline Practitioners says there are three steps to successfully integrating your new cat: Be patient. Make sure your house is ready for the new arrival. And set up a visit with a veterinarian.

It might go without saying, but you should be ready to offer plenty of affection, too.  

You’ll still need all the cat essentials that you would get for a younger cat. And your new pet will need some time to get used to his new home. It’s probably a good idea to set up a safe place away from other pets for your new cat to get adjusted. 

Look Out for Health Issues

In its “Top 10 Tips for Your Senior Cat,” the AAFP tells new senior cat owners to learn their new kids’ habits so that they can keep a close eye out for any changes. Cats are masterful at hiding pain or discomfort, so even a small change in behavior could indicate a health problem. Knowing what’s “normal” for your new senior cat will help you identify changes quickly, before they become bigger problems.

Watch for your cat moving slower or having trouble climbing. (Nine out of 10 cats suffer from arthritis or degenerative joint disease, the AAFP says.) Owners should also keep an eye on their cat’s stool and urine to check for any changes in consistency or color. 

AAFP recommends owners of senior cats—cats between 11 and 14 years old—take their cats to the vet every six months to track their health. Six months of a senior cat’s life equals roughly two years in human terms. 

Owners should also look for changes in cats’ sleeping cycles, eating behaviors, nails, teeth, and more. Weight change in particular is a red flag. Gaining weight could leave the cat more vulnerable to a disease, while losing weight could be a sign of hyperthyroidism, intestinal disease, or diabetes.

While older cats might be more vulnerable to sickness, Awad says all owners should always be vigilant about their cats’ health, regardless of their age. 

Enjoy Each Other

Older cats want attention and affection, and it’ll be up to you to keep playing and petting them. 

If you have a busier lifestyle, your cat may just soak up the sun all day and wait for you to love on them once the evening comes around. 

As they age, cats will need extra padding and warmth around the house. They might also need assistance getting to their favorite sleeping spots, food, or litter box. That might mean putting a ramp or stepping stool nearby. 

At her rescue, Awad abstains from putting cats’ ages on their name tags. She doesn’t want potential adopters to be scared off by a high number, instead letting the cat and person bond first. She waives the adoption fee for senior cats, too. 

She doesn’t want anything to get between cats and a loving home to spend the rest of their lives. You shouldn’t either. After all, you could spend some of your best years with your new friend.