Life Stages of a Cat

Kitten 0 – 6 months

This is the time to check for problems that may have been present from birth, such as a cleft palate or hernia, and to discuss lifestyle choices, diet, identification, and any behavioural issues with your vet.

Kittens should be vaccinated from 8 weeks old and can be neutered from 4 months old.

Diet

Kittens grow at a fast rate, meaning they have higher nutritional demands than adult cats. It is usually possible to start weaning kittens from around 4 weeks of age, at which time small amounts of good quality kitten food can be offered. It is usually best to start with a wet kitten food or to soak some dry kibbles designed for kittens in water/kitten formula to thoroughly moisten them. Weaning is usually completed by around 8 weeks of age.

Neonatal care (0 – 4 weeks)

Neonatal kittens require round the clock care. They should stay with their mother (or another nursing cat) but if that is not possible then you can look after them yourself.

Check out our Caring for Neonatal Kittens Guide and Caring for Kittens Guide.

Junior 7 months – 2 years

Common health issues in this age group include infectious diseases and problems

related to hunting, fighting and trauma. Young cats can develop certain life-threatening conditions, such as heart disease, and are masters at hiding the signs of illness. Early detection is important.

A priority is your cat’s first booster to keep immunity high. After neutering, cats are prone to putting on weight – talk to your vet about your cat’s optimum weight and aim to maintain it.

Prime 2 – 6 years

Problems encountered at this stage of life include obesity, dental disease, cystitis,

intestinal diseases, heart disease and behavioural problems. Most outdoor cats in their prime are still keen hunters, so parasite control is important.

Mature 7 – 10 years

Mature cats face an increased risk of ‘older cat’ problems such as diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, and cancer. Close monitoring is important, focusing on common signs of disease in older cats such as poor coat condition, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, reduced appetite, weight loss, change in thirst, inappetence, changes in urination, reduced locomotion, reduced hearing or vision, reduced awareness and interaction, agitation, or night-time yowling.

Obesity peaks in cats aged between six and eight years, so extra care needs to be taken with feeding.

Senior 10 – 15 years

Senior cats are at an age when several things can go wrong at the same time. However, many diseases are treatable so don’t simply put any changes in your cat down to ‘old age’ and ignore them!

Problems such as a hyperactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), high blood pressure, kidney disease, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer are more likely to occur at this stage. Cats can also suffer from the equivalent of senile dementia, although signs can be confused with other diseases, so it is important to establish a proper diagnosis.

Older cats with failing kidneys may not drink sufficiently and can become dehydrated and constipated. They may spend less time grooming, leading to coat and skin problems or brittle overgrown claws, and may eat less because their sense of smell is not so acute, or they have teeth or gum problems. It is vital to monitor even more closely for the signs outlined for ‘mature cats’.

Geriatric 15+ years

It is an achievement to be proud of if your cat has reached this life stage – congratulations! For geriatric cats, just as for people in their mid-70s onwards, checks need to be more thorough and more frequent to catch any problems as they develop. All the health issues described for the senior cat are even more likely to occur in the geriatric cat.

To best cater for the needs of your elderly feline, there are other ageing changes to be aware of:

Reduced vision and increased sensitivity to bright light may mean your cat is easily startled and takes longer to cope with any changes in the house, such as moving of furniture.

  • Loss of hearing may also contribute to your cat being more easily startled. Often deaf cats will cry during the night or when left alone.
  • Reduced sense of taste and smell may lead to a loss of appetite and change in food preferences.
  • Heart and/or lung changes may contribute to reduced activity.
  • Gut function may decline necessitating a highly digestible and calorific diet.
  • Mild constipation is also common, in part due to mild dehydration and/or reluctance to use the litter tray or go outdoors.
  • Diminished bone and cartilage quality leads to painful stiff joints and reduced mobility.
  • Muscle wastage can result in weakness and contribute to reduced mobility.
  • Overgrown and brittle claws require regular trimming.
  • Altered behaviour and apparent senility, because of ageing changes in the brain, often leave the cat disorientated and reluctant to interact with family members and other pets.
  • Thinning of the skin and reduced coat quality mean the older cat may need help with grooming.
  • Decline in immune function, because of chronic disease, leads to increased susceptibility to infection

Diet – senior/geriatric

Studies show that most cats over the age of 12 have a decreased ability to digest fat, and about 20 percent of cats over age 12 have a decreased ability to digest protein. Older cats, especially if underweight, can benefit from a diet with increased levels of high-quality protein and fat. Although some age-related problems respond favourably to increased fibre intake, feeding high-fibber foods is not recommended across the board for all senior cats, in part because fibre may decrease the absorption of some essential nutrients.

Older cats often don’t drink enough water. Especially if the cat has impaired kidney function, as some older cats do, this can lead to dehydration. Offering wet food and placing additional bowls of fresh water throughout the house may help increase your cat’s water intake.

How you can help

Ensure your older feline has easy access to all resources – food, water, and litter boxes. Place them in several locations around the house, so your cat never has to travel too far. Litter boxes should be wide and shallow to help your cat enter and leave with ease.

Create steps using chairs, stools, or boxes, so that your cat can easily access his favourite resting spots without having to jump too high. Give your cat quiet, undisturbed resting areas where he can escape other pets or children if he wishes.

Check out our Caring for Senior Cats Guide.

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