As we age, we undoubtedly experience behavioral changes. I, for one, am very much looking forward to the behavior changes that will come when my son outgrows his terrible two’s and three’s!

People aren‚Äôt the only ones who experience these changes. But when it comes to our pets, behavior that pet parents may chalk up to common ‚Äúgetting older gripes‚ÄĚ may actually be concealing medical conditions that need to be addressed. Cats, in particular, are excellent at hiding veterinary problems.

Below are some common kitty behaviors that could turn out to be symptoms of something more serious than a ‚Äúsenior moment.‚ÄĚ

Food and water intake

Changes in appetite and water intake are particularly common in older cats. Frequently, decreased appetite is noted, though in the case of hyperthyroidism, the appetite is actually increased (and voraciously so!). Decreased appetite can signal illness, such as kidney or liver disease, and should never be ignored.

Increased water intake usually indicates an underlying problem, as well, unless you notice it occasionally or on unusually hot days. Kidney disease and diabetes are two common causes of increased water intake.


Older cats may start urinating or defecating outside of their litter boxes, and there are many reasons that this may occur. Arthritis can make it difficult for cats to get to their boxes, especially if the box is upstairs or if the box wall makes stepping into it painful.

Another reason for going outside the box is that increased water intake will lead to increased urine production, and thus, a box that gets dirty more quickly. Your cat may balk at the idea of using a dirty box. Cats may also not be able to get to the litter box in time if they have a very full bladder.

Cognitive dysfunction can occur in cats, similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people. Cats may simply forget that they are supposed to use the litter box.

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As I just mentioned, cognitive dysfunction can cause general confusion. Cats may seem to be lost in familiar places or may forget basic commands. High blood pressure can also cause confusion, though, and should be addressed to prevent organ damage.


Many owners notice that their senior cat seems to howl more, especially at night. Older cats may suffer from hearing loss, which can lead to vocalization at an increased volume. However, hyperthyroidism is also a common cause of this increased chatter, so have your cat checked if he’s getting unusually talky.

Sleeping and play patterns

Sure, older cats will inevitably sleep more and play less, but is there an underlying cause? Up to 90% of cats over 12 years old have arthritis ‚Äď maybe a cat who sleeps more is doing so just to keep pain at a minimum. Cats with systemic illness will also naturally sleep more.

Before you chalk up odd behaviors to old age, check with your veterinarian to ensure that there’s not an underlying medical cause that should be addressed.

Sep 3, 2013

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