Let's Talk: Respecting Your Elderkitties
I grew up knowing the importance of compassion and respect for the older people in my life. But it was kind of an abstract concept until my mother moved my grandmother from her neighborhood in the Bronx to my small coastal Maine home town.
Grandma was already in the early stages of dementia when she moved here, and as time went on, her confusion and disorientation increased. On one 85-degree summer day, a family friend stopped by my workplace and said she'd seen my grandmother walking up a hill — in a fur coat, with a bag of groceries, in the opposite direction from her home. I hopped in my car and drove to find her, rolled down the window, and casually said, "Hi, Grandma. Would you like a ride home?" She allowed as how she would, and I brought her back to her apartment and got her safely inside. That was when my heart, and my mind, opened in a new way, and the idea of respect for the elderly became real.
As my cats age, that open heart and mind are serving me well. My oldest cat, Siouxsie, is 15. She's still remarkably healthy for a cat her age, but I've seen the changes. They're subtle, but they're there.
Siouxsie's once jet-black face is now flecked with white furs. I can see the pain in her eyes and in the very subtle limp she gets on cold, damp days.
When she uses the litterbox, she perches her back feet on the rim when she's having a bowel movement — and because in her pain and/or weakness she can't hold that pose as well as she used to, the result is usually little pieces of poop on the floor.
She can't hop onto the counter or the bed as easily as she used to.
One night, I woke up to the sound of the most mournful howling I've ever heard. I jumped out of bed and found Siouxsie standing between my coffee table and my couch, looking frightened and confused. I picked her up and comforted her and brought her back to bed with me, where she settled in, curled up next to me under the covers.
Siouxsie gets glucosamine/chondroitin treats and MSM supplements to help with her arthritis pain. She has regular vet visits, so I can be sure her general health remains good, even if she's hurting from time to time.
I clean the poop on the floor without complaint and with a heart full of compassion. If she wakes me up in the middle of the night, lost and confused, I'll gladly lose sleep to help her.
I pick her up gently and put her in the high places where she loves to hang out, and when she decides it's time to leave that perch, I'll help her down if she needs it. If and when she reaches the point that all jumps are painful, I'll get a ramp or stairs so she can climb into bed with me.
I bought her a special bed made of foam, with a supersoft cushion, that allows her to curl up comfortably and stay warm, easing the pain in her hips.
But she still loves to play (not as vigorously as she used to, mind you). She eats well, and regularly asks for "purry hugs." She's a happy girl, even if she's not as spry as she used to be.
I don't mind any of this stuff. I'll gladly do everything I can to keep Siouxsie comfortable until the day she closes her eyes and never opens them again. And if she reaches a point where she has no quality of life, I'll make the heartbreaking but courageous and compassionate choice to end her suffering. It's all a part of taking care of a beloved family member who deserves all the extra care and compassion of a human elder in the same situation.
When I adopted Siouxsie as a just-weaned kitten on that June day in 1996, I knew that's what I signed up for: to love, honor, and cherish this cat from cradle to grave.
What about you? What do you do to keep your elderkitties happy and healthy? Are there special accommodations you've made that worked for you? I'd like to know what others are doing so I can keep helping Siouxsie to enjoy her life, as pain-free and happy as possible.