BSAVA Congress 2023 presents ‘Small changes, big impact for the geriatric cat’

17 November 2022

Europe’s largest small animal veterinary event on 23rd-25th March at Manchester Central will see five experts discuss environmental changes for feline geriatrics.

The session brings together three veterinary nurses, each with a related specialism, a veterinary physiotherapist and a veterinary surgeon, with a broad range of perspectives.

Kelly Eyre is a registered veterinary nurse and manages the Royal Canin Feline Healthy Ageing Clinic at the University of Liverpool. She will join another veterinary nurse and expert in nutrition, Georgia Woods-Lee, and former BVNA President and feline RVN advocate, Alex Taylor, as well as veterinary physio therapist, Emily Cowderoy and veterinary surgeon, Zoe Belshaw.

“It is such an important issue – cats are living longer and it’s important to preserve their quality of life,” says Kelly. “Often it is veterinary nurses that are best placed to speak with owners about making environmental modifications for senior and super-senior cats. They usually have more time with owners and clients tend to open-up with them.

“Conversations which invest in the clients’ knowledge, can strengthen the relationship between client and practice, adding value and helping to improve retention, but ultimately, it is about improving welfare.”

Many of the challenges associated with identifying and meeting the needs of older felines stem from their natural behaviour.

“Cats are little survivors – they are prey as well as predators and are very good at hiding health issues and injuries,” says Alex. “As a result, diseases that commonly affect older cats are too often missed by owners and veterinary professionals.”

Georgia agrees: “It’s a really important topic to highlight,” she adds.  “Once recognised, there are lots of relatively simple inexpensive things we can do which have a big impact on quality of life.”


The first step in making environmental modifications for older cats is helping the owners realise that there is an issue.  Kelly, Alex and Georgia all use questioning that go beyond ‘have you noticed any changes in your cat’s behaviour?’

“I might see a little muscle wastage, and ask owners if they’ve seen any changes.  Usually the answer is no, until we go through a mobility checklist,” explains Alex.

For Georgia it’s about having the time to spend with owners and asking the right questions: “Are they using their litter tray properly? Is there any inappropriate urination or defecation? Are they using the same number of rooms in the house, including the upstairs? Are they going outdoors as much as they used to?”

Beyond consultations Kelly recommends using social media and client education evenings. “Educating clients on cats’ natural behaviours and habits requires a sensitive and empathetic approach.  Since covid restrictions have eased, I’m increasingly getting questions about running clinics and client education evenings.  They are a great idea. Social media is another really powerful tool – especially when you drive engagement. Posting questions such as ‘what do you do for your older cat?’ can start conservations and an exchange of ideas.”


Of the 209 cats enrolled in the Royal Canin Feline Healthy Ageing Clinic at the University of Liverpool, only 5% had no age-related conditions.  58% had possible musclo-skeletal diseases, 54% had dental disease and 11%, kidney disease.

“When their mobility reduces, cats feel more vulnerable and anxious,” notes Kelly who heads up the research. “But there is much owners can do.  Making steps out of items that already in the home, can help cats reach resting places which would otherwise not be accessible. Raising food and water bowls off the floor can help avoid exacerbating any neck, shoulder or back pain. And providing horizontal rather than vertical scratch posts will help them maintain their own claws for longer.”

It’s important to ensure cats have a choice of resting areas, particularly when it is a multi-cat household, or if there are dogs or small children in the home. Georgia suggests spaces that get direct sunlight are ideal, and recommends avoiding anywhere draughty.

“Consider the flooring around the home too,” she says. “Cats can struggle to retract their claws as they get older and slippy flours will be particularly uncomfortable for them. Cats may get their claws stuck in carpets and bedding which are very plush.

“When it comes to nutrition, pawing at their faces, dribbling, dropping food are all signs that a cat is suffering from dental pain. If dental procedures aren’t an option, owners may consider swapping to wet food, or soaking dry food. Diets specifically designed for older cats are lower in phosphorous – something which can exacerbate renal disease.”

Litter trays is a key area of consideration and advice ranges from making them accessible for those suffering mobility issues to increased capacity for those with kidney disease.

“In practice, just like at home, cats can struggle to get in and out of their litter trays,” says Alex.  “Cutting away some of the side can make it easier for them.  In a clinic environment we use potting trays or build their beds up so they sit flush.

“Usually, we say to space out a cat’s resources, but with older cats you may need to make sure they aren’t too far from their main living area.  They may also need to have multiple litter trays or more litter in their trays – especially for those with kidney disease as they will drink, and urinate more.”

Kelly notes that the type of litter can also be a consideration: “Wooden pellets can move under paws which puts pressure on those joints. Deep soft litter like cardboard will be more stable and comfortable.  The right location is also important – choose quiet areas where they won’t get interrupted, and other cats can’t block their access cats.”

“It’ll be interesting to see what questions come from the floor at Congress,” says Kelly. “I’m guessing compliance will crop up – while these ideas are all relatively quick and easy to implement, the tricky bit is getting owners on board.”

To find out what BSAVA Congress delegates ask the panel, join us at Manchester Central on on 23rd-25th March 2023.  Get your ticket here: