My sweet tuxie Rocky is celebrating his 18th birthday today. After all these years, he continues to enchant us with his quirky behaviors. Somewhere along the way, he bonded to my husband, Jeff, and in the middle of the night he’ll wake up and go over to where Jeff is sleeping, and snuggle his head beneath Jeff’s hand, trying to rev up “the petter.” Still asleep, Jeff complies and pets Rocky. Rocky rarely cadges pets off me. Jeff explained that it’s because I don’t “pet him right,” then demonstrates the petting ceremony which looks suspiciously similar to the way I pet Rocky. Obviously, there are some subtleties I’m missing. Maybe it’s a guy thing.

When I first brought Rocky into my home, he was the odd cat out. I had a territorial tortie who took an alpha cat role over Rocky. Rock didn’t seem to mind. When my sister adopted the tortie, we adopted Junior, a sweet clown of a Balinese who never met a cat he didn’t like–or want to wrassle with.

Junior and Rocky’s first encounter is etched in my mind: they sniffed each other, then Junior, a much tinier kitten, engaged Rocky in play. Rocky had never really played with another cat, and had never even been around other cats who did anything more than tolerate him, so playing was new. He was a bit clumsy at it at first, but came to love it, crave it, and even demand playtime from us. Everyone who ever met Junior became fast friends with him, and Rocky was no exception. Rocky’s purrsonality was transformed as well — he came out of his shell and appeared to have more self esteem.

A little piece of Rocky died when Junior went to The Bridge. His relationship with Junior really helped me to appreciate the vibrant emotional lives of cats.

We’re lucky that Rocky is in good health, given his age. Like many geezer cats, he suffers from hyperthyroidism, so we have to give him a pill twice daily. But that’s about it, aside from the occasional tooth that needs pulling and semi-annual dental cleanings.

Like many older cats, Rocky needs help with grooming. He spends less time grooming (and more sleeping), and he grooms less rigorously (in his youth he was “the anal-retentive groomer.”) So, every day we spend quality time together with the FURminator. It’s a special bonding time for us, and it gives me the chance to discover any unusual lumps or sore spots on him, a good preventative maintenance tactic.

As cats get older, it’s even more important to tend to preventative maintenance to catch small problems before they become big–or untreatable–problems. Caught early, many of the afflictions associated with advanced age — hyperthyroidism, chronic renal failure and others — can be very manageable, and some cats can live comfortably for years after diagnosis.

Recently, Alice Wolf DVM wrote an article about geriatric cats for the Winn Feline Foundation. If your cat is a teenager, I recommend that you celebrate Rocky’s birthday by reading it. It’s a great, succinct compendium of geriatric afflictions and preventative care for geezer cats.

With regular, preventative maintenance, your geezer cat might live to celebrate his 18th (or 25th!) birthday.