It can be a nasty shock if your formerly fastidious older cat starts soiling in the house or hisses when you pull him close for a cuddle. If your cat seems to need an attitude adjustment, dont just blame it on his age. Your pet may have a treatable medical problem that's causing changes in his behavior.

Modified Mindset

Has your beloved companion gradually become more sedentary, less tolerant of change, and a bit grumpier? Does he stay up and yowl through the night? Perhaps he even messes outside the litter box now and then, a rare event during his younger years.

If your cat exhibits such behavior changes, he may be suffering from cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a newly recognized disease in cats. If so, your veterinarian can suggest behavior modification techniques and environmental changes to manage this condition.

Any older cat benefits from continued mental exercise as he ages, so encourage play with stimulating toys or consider taking leashed, supervised trips outdoors. You may discover that your old cat is still a champion tree climber!

Accidental Spills

If you've been finding pasture plops outside your cat's designated litter box area, its time to investigate. Your pet's accidents could signal a medical problem, including lower urinary tract disease, diabetes mellitus, or renal disease. Or your pet could have a mobility problem - he just can't easily climb into the litter box anymore.

Your pet's behavior could also be his method of expressing an opinion about a change in his environment, such as an addition to the household or a new cat in the neighborhood.

Don't punish your cat for his accidents. Do schedule an examination with your veterinarian right away. Identifying the cause quickly can be lifesaving, and you need to change your cat's behavior before he develops new preferences for inappropriate elimination sites.

Impaired Sensory Perceptions

If your older cat is slow to hear the can opener or hisses when you pass near him, it could be that he's suffering from hearing or vision loss. Your veterinarian can check your cat's sensory perception and recommend treatment if necessary. Your cat might be suffering from an ear or eye infection, which are treatable conditions. You also might notice a bluish haze developing in your cat's eyes, called nuclear sclerosis. This condition doesn't compromise his vision or require treatment.

Cats with decreased vision and hearing rely on memory and other sensors like whiskers and footpads to help them navigate their surroundings. So give the old guy a helping hand: Don't rearrange your furniture, and supervise your cat if he goes outdoors.

Passage Problems

Is your cat spending more time in his litter box? Constipation frequently plagues older cats because of insufficient exercise, poor nutrition, weakening abdominal muscles, hairballs, and low water consumption.

You can help prevent some constipation problems by making sure your pet always has access to fresh water. Cats can be finicky about the way their water tastes, so change it at least twice a day. High-fiber diets may also help ease your cat's distress by promoting extra water absorption in the large intestine. And special treats to prevent hairball formation can help.

Its easy to mistake difficult urination with constipation. If your cat is straining to urinate, his urinary tract could be obstructed, and he will need immediate veterinary attention.

Cats who drink a lot of water and urinate frequently may be showing signs of renal disease or diabetes. Let your veterinarian know right away, and never withhold water to reduce the number of litter-box cleanings you have to do. Restricting your cat's water intake may make the underlying medical problem worse.

Altered Appetite

If your cat used to gobble down every meal with enthusiasm and now barely stirs when you fill the food bowl, his nose could be at fault. Older cats sometimes can't smell as well, which affects their ability to taste food. If your cat doesn't seem interested in his food, you may need to supplement his diet with tasty treats that really smell good, like cooked chicken, a little canned tuna, or cottage cheese.

Be on the alert, though, in case your cat becomes extremely finicky or refuses more than two main courses in a row. Cats who stop eating may develop a condition called fatty liver.

On the other hand, if your cat's appetite is hearty but he is losing weight, this could signal other medical problems, including diabetes mellitus or hyperthyroidism, common disorders in older cats.

Weigh your senior cat every month, and if you notice a 5 percent or greater change in body weight, schedule a visit with your veterinarian.