How to Help Older, Senior Cats Play & Exercise Safely
Every year, I do a few events where I set up a booth, meet local cat lovers, and demonstrate Americat Company products. However, every year, I repeatedly hear something that breaks my heart...
"My older cat doesn't play." or "My cat is too old to play."
This makes me sad, because playing and scratching are some of the best ways to keep senior cats feeling healthier, happier, energized, and loved. I have firsthand experience that my 11 and 12 year old cats, Bella and Penny, still loved to play and scratch during their older years.
So, I’ve decided to share why play is important for senior cats, and tips for getting senior cats to play.
What is Considered Senior?
In my opinion, senior sounds sad. I prefer the terms older, more experienced, and aging.
Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine explains that many cats begin to encounter age-related physical changes between 7-10 years of age, and most do by 12 years old.
Since cats can live into their late teens and even 20s, cats can still have many more joyous years ahead even if they are technically senior.
Why is it Important to Keep Playing with Your Aging Cat?
Play Slows Down the Aging Process
Sadly, there isn’t any way to stop your cat from getting older each year. But, you can help slow down the aging process by keeping cats engaged on a regular basis. Much like with humans, cats that continue to play and exercise regularly throughout their lives feel better and healthier. Keeping your cat active through play is one of the most important things to do as they get older.
Play Satisfies Cats Natural Hunting Instincts
Cats living in the wild have to hunt to feed themselves. Did you know cats hunt up to 20 times each day? Indoor cats that have doting humans feeding them throughout the day still have their natural urge to hunt. So, indoor cats satisfy this desire through a combination of scratching, playing, and exercising.
Older cats don’t lose this natural instinct, even when they can’t move as quickly. So, it is very important to find ways to let them hunt through play to keep them engaged and prevent them from getting bored. Boredom can result in scratching things you don't want scratched, over-eating, over-grooming, aggression, and depression.
Play is Also Bonding Time
As my cats get older, I try to remind myself that each day with them is a gift. You never know what the next day will bring. Playing with them, brushing them, and cuddling with them are all ways to bond with our cats and show them how much we love them. Playing is one of the best ways for both you and your cats to interact and fully experience that love!
Tips for Playing with Older Cats
#1: Stimulate Cats with New Toys
Cats love novelty. While it is common for cats to have a few toys that they consistently like to play with, it is still important to give cats something new to explore. This is especially true for older cats.
For example, these made in the USA wobble balls are really fun. Each toy rolls differently to mimic wild prey, keeping cats entertained even when they may be a step slower.
#2: Adjust Play to Fit Their Needs
You know your cats and their preferences better than anyone. What kinds of toys does your cat usually like? Bella likes balls and catnip toys, Penny liked feathers and wand toys, and Lewie likes just about anything.
Get your cat a new toy in the style that they typically like. So, if your cat likes ball toys, for example, get them a new type of ball in a shape or texture like this that is different for them to explore.
Adjusting your play style can help bring a newfound activity to your cat as he or she ages. For example, roll the ball closer to your cat. Or, don't have your cat jump quite as high to catch a toy. Also, take more breaks to allow your cat to hold and rest with their catch, and give plenty of praise.
Simply find creative ways to alter your older cat's favorite ways to play.
#3: Scratching is Also Part of Play
Scratching is an important part of cats' daily play and exercise. Scratching allows cats to stretch and strengthen the tiny muscles, tendons, and joints in their toes, feet, legs, shoulders, and back.
For older cats in particular, having multiple scratching pads around the house can be a great way to encourage them to exercise their body and mind on a regular basis.
Even though Bella is 12 (that's her in the picture), she still loves to scratch these scratching pads throughout the day as much as when she was a kitten! I place scratching pads in my family room, office, bedroom, and hallway, so wherever she is hanging out, one is nearby for her to scratch.
Saying an older cat doesn't like to play is like saying grandparents don't like to have fun. Not true! Aging may change how your cat plays, but not the fact that they still want (and need!) to play.
Get your cat a new wobble ball to play with, provide a new scratcher, and have fun bonding. Through play, you can help your cat's health and happiness during their older years.
-Diane, Founder & CEO of Americat Company