There’s more to keeping your cat healthy and happy into old age than simply keeping them physically fit. Like humans, cats can suffer a decline in mental function as they get older (with feline cognitive dysfunction being something akin to Alzheimer’s). As prevention is always better than cure, it’s a good idea to act early before cognitive decline takes hold. To help, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best ways to keep your cat’s brain super sharp as they enter their twilight years.
Make Time For Play
We all know cats love nothing more than catching 40 winks. While sleep is vital to their well-being, so is making sure they get plenty of playtime in the few hours they have between naps. Play not only keeps their little grey cells ticking over, it also encourages them to get their hearts pumping and the oxygen flowing to their brain, increasing mental clarity and focus in the process. Games needn’t be complicated: try rolling a ball of tinfoil around the floor for them to chase or invest in a feather dangler for them to catch.
New Tricks For Old Cats
We’re used to the idea of teaching dog’s tricks, but cats? While cats maybe a little more indifferent to your efforts than a dog, try hard enough and you’ll find them quick, eager learners. As Canidae recommends, start out with something simple like teaching them their name: each time you open their food, call them by name and reward them with a little treat when they come. When something tasty is involved, you’ll be surprised how quickly they come to recognize (and respond) to the sound.
Fun With Obstacles
As natural born hunters, cats respond well to activities that tap into their base instincts. Set up an obstacle course using cat trees, boxes, paper bags, or whatever else you have to hand. Pop your cat down in the middle of it, then let the games commence. Not only will this fun activity get them climbing and exploring, it’ll also get their little grey cells ticking over a treat as they figure out how best to navigate the hurdles.
An Active Body = A Healthy Mind
The mind and body are so closely linked, it’s impossible to treat the one without the other getting some kind of benefit. Cats can be naturally lazy – a predilection that only gets worse as they age. As the mind tends to suffer just as much as the body in the absence of regular physical activity, it’s vital to encourage exercise wherever and whenever possible. As well as giving them lots of playtime, build exercise into their routine with simple measures like placing their food at the top of the stairs (while they’re at the bottom) and forcing them to scale the height for their dinner. You could even try splitting their dinner in half and hiding the portions in different parts of the house: not only will this appeal to their hunting instinct, it’s also a great way of sneaking a little exercise into their day without them even releasing.
A Weighty Issue
A wobbly belly may be as cute as can be, but you’ll be doing neither yourself nor your cat any favors by allowing them to pile on the pounds. Although obesity is a major contributor to physical and mental decline in elderly cats, it can be easily managed by paying close attention to their weight and physical activity. If you notice a rise in the one and a fall in the other, some small adjustments to their feeding schedule should be enough to keep them lithe and lovely.
Just like us, cats can become vulnerable to tooth and gum problems as they age, and, again like us, those problems are rarely contained to the mouth. Gum disease can release harmful bacteria into the bloodstream, which, left untreated, can result in cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. Get your cat used to having their teeth cleaned from a young age with soft, finger toothbrushes and flavorsome toothpaste.
A Walk in the Park
This one isn’t for all cats, but if your indoor feline isn’t one to get spooked by new sounds and sights easily, try introducing a little outdoor adventure into their routine. While we aren’t suggesting you simply open the door and let them venture out into the big wide world alone, a walk around the yard on a leash can be a great treat and a hugely stimulating experience to boot.
A New Friend
If your cat is entering their twilight years alone, introducing a new pet into the mix can have a great, stimulating effect on their mind. As Vet Street notes, having a young whippersnapper to tempt them out of their old routine can not only get older cats up and active, it can also make their brains work overtime as they try to outsmart the young pretender in new games and activities. Just be aware that not all cats take kindly to new housemates; make sure to do your research into the best way to introduce a new pet before bringing them home.
A Nutritious Diet
Nutrition never stops being important, no matter how old your cat. Don’t, however, make the mistake of assuming that what worked for your cat when they were young will work for them as they enter their senior years. Fortunately, most cat food manufacturers understand a cat’s nutritional needs change over time, and there’s no shortage of formulas specially formulated for seniors on the market. Look for ones marketed towards maintaining good cognitive function: as well as offering a balanced diet, they come packed with the kind of nutrients that have been shown to positively impact on mental well-being.
Not all supplements are created equal, and it’s important not to simply throw a load of added vitamins and minerals into your cat’s diet without proper research. If you’re feeding your cat a formula labeled “complete and balanced”, be especially vigilant: even the smallest amount of extra nutrients can throw off the delicate balance and create all kinds of problems. That said, proper supplementation with nutrients proving to have a positive impact on brain health can be extremely effective: omega 3, coconut oil and SAMe’s are all believed to offer protective cognitive properties. Just be sure to speak to your vet before beginning any new regime.