Become familiar with what is normal for your cat's life stage, so you can anticipate what changes to expect as they grow older. Being aware of life stage changes can help you stay on top of your pet's health and keep them happy and healthy throughout their lifetime. Here's what to expect and what steps you should take as a cat owner in each life stage.
As expected, kittens are packed with all the curious energy their little bodies can contain! A rule of thumb is that the first year of life is devoted to kittenhood and after they become full-fledged cats. By 12 weeks old a kitten begins losing their baby teeth and by 9 months old a kitten will have their full set of 30 adult teeth.
At each veterinary visit during kittenhood your pet should have their heart listened to as part of their physical exam. While not as common as in puppies, kittens can have heart murmurs or abnormal blood flow sounds, and your vet will want to monitor the murmur to make sure it is not increasing in severity. Heart murmurs heard past 4 months of age may be investigated further by a veterinary cardiologist to make sure your cat does not need any early interventions or specialized care.
With boundless energy and curiosity, kittens should be engaging with family members daily and explore their surroundings with (sometimes) mischievous vigor! Interact with your kitten in fun ways by using extension toys that allow you to play at a distance and minimize confusion for your kitten. While it is completely natural for kittens to pounce and bite hands and feet, mimicking what they would do to prey, in a home setting you want to separate that confusion and use your hands for gentle pets while the toys sustain pouncing and swatting. Make sure your kitten has elevated resting spots, hiding spots where they can retreat to and feel safe, and food, water, and litter boxes - ideally all in separate areas that are quiet and have low foot traffic.
With all the development in the first year expect a vigorous appetite for most kittens. A sudden decline in appetite or energy levels warrants a trip to the vet to make sure there are no major issues. One of the most common reasons kittens can become lethargic is from eating an object they had played with such as string or plastic. If you suspect your kitten has eaten a toy or some other object, always steer on the side of caution and take them to the vet to make sure there isn’t a blockage.
Cats become adults from 1 to 10 years old. Typically most cats are done physically growing around one year of age but certain large breeds, like Maine Coons, may not physically mature until two years old.
A growing problem most adult cats face is obesity from overeating and lack of exercise. Your vet may recommend measuring out food and limiting treats- every calorie counts! Still engage your cat with play and provide enrichment opportunities for them to work out. While some may think of cats as lazy, they are great problem solvers and puzzle feeders can help them burn a few calories and also keep them mentally engaged.
The adult life stage is typically the longest life stage we will see our pets in with the average lifespan being 15 years. Preventative care including annual vet visits is important for all adult cats, even indoor cats.
A cat reaches their senior milestone at age 11 and remains there until 14. One of the biggest differences for caring for senior cats is that all seniors should receive twice a year vet visits and baseline lab work to check organ function, abnormalities in blood cells, and monitor thyroid levels. While they may not be receiving vaccinations at every exam, as they age things can progress quickly, and staying on top of any minor issues can help prevent more down the road.
Extra considerations regarding arthritis and dental disease should be noted for all seniors. Signs of arthritis can include a reluctance to jump up or down from favorite spots or a newfound reluctance to being pet in certain areas that once were not a problem. Adapting to more gentle pets can be in order for senior cats. The once agile and graceful cat may be a bit slower moving than previous years but that is to be expected to a certain degree.
A change in appetite may also happen, whether due to dental disease, decreased scent receptors, or gastrointestinal changes. Dental disease is extremely common in senior cats. Those 30 teeth are lasting a lifetime and old age can test its limits. Cats may need to switch to a canned version to make eating more comfortable but at your biannual vet visits, your vet can discuss if dentistry can improve your cat's comfort.
Cats that have reached the milestone of 15 and beyond are bestowed as geriatric. Their considerations are as senior cats but amplified. Changes that are less specific can be how older cats communicate with you and interact with their environment. Is your cat more vocal than in previous years? Naturally fastidious groomers, older cats may become unkempt for a number of reasons. Arthritis can prevent a cat from doing its usual acrobatics in grooming. If you assist with grooming, be very gentle as aging skin is more fragile, and slicker brushes that were used in years gone by may cause discomfort or even injury now.
Cognitively, just like in people, older cats can have memory and recognition changes that impact their daily life. Cats may not adapt to new household changes as well as when they were younger. Try and keep consistent placements for their necessities and familiar items like their bed and toys.
Cats sleep on average 15 hours a day and are typically awake at dusk and dawn, their natural hunting schedule. Fortunately, most people develop routines for feeding, playing, and socializing with their pets in the evening and this serves as a great time to do a daily nose-to-tail once over.
Taking note of your pet's routines at all life stages can be great for comparison if you notice changes in energy, litter box habits, eating habits- whether eating more voraciously and begging for food or eating less, and engagement levels among others. Cats are the world’s masterminds at hiding pain or discomfort so trust intuition if you feel there is something “off” with your cat and have them examined by your vet.