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The Geriatria Cat

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Question 1:

I have a 17-1/2 year old, long-haired female cat. She has this terrible habit of howling/wailing which we believe is just for attention, but we are beginning to get a little weary of her 5.30am wake up call. Has she just gone a bit senile? Do most old cats behave in this way or is it peculiar to certain breeds or types?


The haunting wail you describe is not unusual in older cats of all types. Occasionally it can signal some underlying problem but more often than not the cat seems basically healthy. Senility in animals is a difficult thing to judge but there are certain behavioural changes that can occur with age that could indicate a deterioration of mental faculties. Less fastidiousness about the toilet habits and general cleaning is common for instance, while cats that pace and wail like yours often seem to be disoriented to varying degrees at such time. Hearing impairment in the older animal may account for some of the excess volume of sound these cats produce.

Its wise to get your geriatric animals regularly checked, but if she is generally healthy, you may just have to put up with the wailing!

Question 2:

Because of her age my cat spends most of her days asleep indoors and therefore needs a dirt box. She is sometimes lacking in total hygiene and quite often smells of urine. What would be a good solution to clean her with?


A good quality pet shampoo is the best thing especially if you need to clean her frequently. Human soaps have a different acidity from animal ones and can cause skin problems. Don't use disinfectants because they may burn the skin, especially if it is already damaged through being soaked in urine.

Question 3:

Being a mostly "indoor" cat now, her claws are looking fairly long, Should these be clipped and can we do this ourselves with nail clippers?


Older cats tend not to sharpen their claws as often so that the outer casing is not shed so readily and the claws grow longer. They also find it harder to retract their claws and often get them caught in the carpet for instance, so it is a good idea to clip them back, but get a pair of cat nail clippers. - If you use human nail clippers, they will crush rather than cut the claws, causing cracking right up to the nailbed, possibly resulting in the nails growing back malformed. Cat claws are transparent and you can easily see the bone within the claw - take care to cut below this or your cat will not appreciate it - the nail will not only bleed but it will also hurt a lot!

(Note: Refer to section on Nail Clipping)

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera