Common Questions About Elderly Cat Behavior

Elderly cat

If your older cat is not eating much, has changed her sleeping habits, or shows other behavioral changes, it can be difficult to determine whether this is a normal part of the feline aging process or a sign of a more serious problem. Consider some of these common questions and concerns that come with owning and elderly cat.

Question - Behavioral Changes in Senior Cats

I have an indoor male cat that is almost 20 years old. Within the last six months, his behavior has changed significantly. His appetite comes and goes, and he usually only eats when the food has a lot of water. Even then, he may not eat all of the food. A couple of times he seemed to be constipated until he finally exploded on one of the beds in the house.

For the last few weeks, he has not gone to the bathroom in his litter box. He leaves droppings all around the house and urinates just about anywhere, with preferences towards plastics bags, books, and newspapers that have been left on the floor.

He now has trouble walking. He cannot climb onto beds or tables anymore, and he has even fallen down the stairs. He has also lost a lot of weight and is boney and fragile.

Any ideas on what may be wrong, or suggestions on what to do about his bathroom habits?

Thanks~~ Alew

Typical Senior Behavior

Hi Alew,

I'm sorry to hear your cat is having so many problems. It's always hard to see an old friend struggle.

Your pet's behavior is typical of many senior cats. Although I am not a vet, and therefore not qualified to diagnose your cat's health, I do believe he has something internal going on. If you haven't taken him for a recent checkup, I'd suggest scheduling one now. Not only will your vet look for the cause of his constipation and weight loss, he'll also be able to counsel you about the best care options as he continues to age.

Suggestions Litter Box Issues

As for the litter box issues, I have a few suggestions.

  • You mentioned your cat is becoming immobile and has even taken a tumble down the stairs. I think you should begin to limit his roaming range within the house. This may mean keeping him in one room, or limiting his access by putting up baby gates.
  • Make the area comfortable for him by including his bed, favorite toys and litter box there. You can even keep his food bowls there too, so he has everything he needs.
  • If your cat is experiencing senility, he may have been unable to remember where his box was, and this could have exacerbated the house soiling. I think confining him a bit with the box close by might help the situation.

Spend Time with Your Cat

By all means, still bring your cat into your favorite areas to spend time with you when you can supervise him. This will give you quality time together, and alleviate the rest of the problems currently taking place throughout your home.

Best wishes~~ Kelly

Question - Cat Stumbling and Disoriented

I have 17-year-old tortoiseshell longhair. She has suddenly started stumbling and acting as if she doesn't know how to maneuver around simple objects like walking on a comforter, or stepping over my leg on the bed to reach her water dish. At night, she's also started crying for me, sometimes even when she's on the bed right beside me. She also doesn't usually want to jump down off the bed anymore, especially at night, so we've gotten those animal stairs, and that seems to help some. I was wondering if you might have any ideas of what this might mean. She gets extremely stressed going to the vet, so I only want to do that as a last resort. Thank so much!~~Julie

Vision and Other Causes of Disorientation

cat with cataracts

Hi, Julie,

At her age, this behavior could be caused by any number of things. One thing that comes to mind is that she may be having some problems with her vision. Older pets often get cataracts. You will see a cloudy covering over the eye of a pet with cataracts. Although there are some surgeries that can be done, I probably wouldn't recommend it at her age. The trauma of surgery and anesthesia could do more harm than good.

There is a slight possibility she could have an ear infection, diabetes or some other feline health issue that is resulting in her disorientation. The vet will be able to rule these things out and tell you what might be going on with your cat. It may just be a sign of aging. The pet steps may become a regular part of your household as your cat moves into her final years.

See Your Vet

Hopefully, medications can ease some of the problems and your love and patience will help ease the rest. Even though it causes her stress, I really feel that you should go ahead and take her to the vet for a checkup. Put her into a kitty crate to protect her from bolting away from you and also to protect yourself while driving, especially if she grows agitated.


Question - Elderly Cat Is Ill

My cat hasn't been himself for a long time and has had many problems all at once. He is nearly 17, so I know that he is more prone to falling ill. It started when he wasn't eating and was being very quiet (which is very out of character). He had a blood test, and they found that he had an infection somewhere, so he was given antibiotics.

Even after the medication, he still wouldn't eat and was becoming very thin. The vet gave him more antibiotics and a steroid injection. Shortly after that, his back legs started acting up, the vet thinks it is due to a blood clot which is causing him to lose feeling in them.

The day after another visit to the vet's (who now does not know why he is still continuing to lose weight), he had an upset stomach. Now, he sits in the same place, not purring when you stroke him, barely sleeping and he only eats and drinks small amounts when you take it to him. He has had kidney problems in the past.

I know that is a lot to take in, but do you have any ideas? Many thanks.


Body Shutting Down

Hi Tammy,

Did the vet test his kidney function? Is he using the litter box normally? I hate to say this, but with a 17-year-old cat, it is possible that his body is beginning to shut down. I've seen this happen with several of my cats in the past as they get older. I know this is probably not something you want to hear because he sounds like he has been a wonderful companion for many years, but you may want to read through the article, How to Know a Sick Cat Might Be Dying. While there are cats that live to be 20 and even older, most do not. Out of the six cats I've had that have passed on, only one lived to 20. The other five passed on between 15 and 18.

Cherishing the Time You Have Left

You may still have a few good years left with him, but you may also want to prepare yourself that the vet has done all he can do without causing the cat more stress and anxiety in his final months or years of life.

I would keep hand feeding him as long as he will take it, and make sure you feed him the highest quality cat food you can afford. Brush him several times a week too, as he may not feel up to grooming himself. I'm going to keep your cat in my thoughts and hope that he does get better and bounces back. Also, continue to see the vet, and if you aren't happy with the treatment options, don't hesitate to get a second opinion.

Sending hugs and well wishes your way,


Question - Older Cat Won't Eat

My male neutered cat is 15 years old. I've had him from birth. He is very skinny. He eats small portions throughout the day. He drinks water. He comes to me sometimes wanting to eat, but doesn't. He crouches low to the floor. I can't seem to get him to gain any weight. He is up to date on all his shots and has been recently wormed. What can I do to help him gain weigh? Why is he so skinny? What can be wrong with him? I'm worried about him as he is the only one left in that litter of hand raised cats. Thank you for your time and answer.


Why Your Cat Won't Eat

Dear Judy,

It sounds like this cat is very special to you. It's hard to watch our babies age in this way. There are any number of things that might be causing his weight loss.

  • Decaying teeth
  • Kidney problems
  • Sensitivity to food

Diagnose Causes of Underlying Pain

Since he is also crouching low to the floor, it sounds as though he may have some pain. Again, it could be any number of things. It could be something as simple as arthritis or something a bit more serious. Because of his age and your concern over him, I recommend you take him to the vet and get a complete diagnosis. The vet may be able to prescribe some medications that will help your cat's appetite increase or suggest a special food to help him gain weight.


Question - Changes in Senior Cat's Habits

For 14 years, my cat has been an indoor/outdoor cat. About three weeks ago she stopped coming inside, except to eat. What could have caused this, and what can I do about it?~~ Junta

Thinking About Why Your Cat Has Changed

Hi Junta,

I'm not sure what could have caused the change in your cat's behavior, but it sometimes happens when pets reach the senior age bracket. Some questions to ask:

  • Have there been any significant changes in your household over the last three weeks? New carpet, new addition to the family, new pet? Sometimes a big change can make an older pet feel out of sorts.
  • How's your cat's current health? Have you noticed any changes? If so, this could also cause a behavior change such as the one you're currently experiencing.

Suggestions for Addressing the Issue

There are a few ways to address the issue.

  • First, take her to the vet for a baseline checkup. This will help you understand her current health, as well as alert you if any changes come up.
  • If you want her to stay in more, try making her indoor environment especially inviting. Give her a nice fresh litter box and perhaps a few new catnip toys. She might also enjoy a comfy bed or a cat tree to mimic some of the activity she enjoys outside. You will probably have to gradually build up the amount of time she spends indoors so she doesn't protest too much.

Thanks for your question~~ Kelly

Normal Aging Process

You may have noticed that your aging cat's behavior has changed from when it was in its prime. Be reassured knowing that just like people, cats can slow down and change in behavior as they get older.

Common Questions About Elderly Cat Behavior