Senior cats are truly a breed apart. If you, like myself, have lived among such cats for a long time, they will own a piece of your heart and become fully fledged family members. It doesn’t really matter that they will require a lot more energy to deal with and be a burden on your finances — because they are worth every single cent and amount of effort.
I have been owned by two beautiful tabby twin boys, Spider and Lugosi, whom I adopted in March 2000. They were eight months old when I fell in love with them and took them home from our local RSPCA shelter back in the UK. Over the years, they have been through quite a lot, including Lugosi’s life-saving perineal urethrostomy when he was five years old, and moving country with me from London to the Canary Islands, an autonomous community of Spain off the west coast of Africa. They’ve also had to endure the ginger bully girl Ruby Akasha, who joined our little family in 2009.
The boys will be 18 in July, and during the past several years have shown all the typical feline signs of ageing — kidney disease, hyperthyroidism and dental problems, along with outwardly more visible signs like worsening fur quality, and non-malignant age specks appearing in their eyes.
Below are five things that I have learned living with my two old boys.
It’s vital for cats older than 12 to have an annual “geriatric” check-up. This includes blood and urine tests to check kidney, liver and other organ functions as well as X-rays of the chest and ultrasound scans of the abdomen. Depending on signs and symptoms, the vet might also check thyroid function or test for illnesses such as feline immunodeficiency virus or cancer. For example, Lugosi had recently lost a lot of weight but was still eating like a horse, which is a main symptom of hyperthyroidism. Because of this, at his next geriatric check-up, my vet found that Lugosi had an overactive thyroid gland. He is now on tablets, and the illness is well under control. However, the medication also puts a strain on the kidneys, so he needed to have a few more blood tests over the following months to check that the dosage wasn’t doing any renal damage.
Lugosi’s brother Spider has had kidney disease for two years, but this was detected early. A change in diet and a renal supplement has slowed its progress. For a cat like Spider with his pre-existing condition, I suggest the relevant check-ups be done every six months rather than once a year so that potentially life-saving medication can be started and nutritional changes made. Your vet would advise you on this in more detail. It is always a good idea to detect any issues early before it’s too late for treatment.
This year alone, my old boys have already cost me a great deal in veterinary fees. I was lucky that my mum donated some money toward it, and my ex-boyfriend — Lugosi and Spider’s original “daddy” who still cares about them — also chipped in. Otherwise I probably would have had to lie, steal and kill to afford it. Tooth extractions and annual (or bi-annual) check-ups have been the most money-draining procedures, and over the last few years, they have needed quite a few of those. So be prepared to spend a big part of your hard earned cash on check-ups, blood tests, dental treatments and special dietary food, among other things.
Having said this, and having just recently canceled a trip to Barcelona this spring because of vets costs, it’s absolutely worth it. I would rather go without a vacation just so I can see Lugosi and Spider in good health and happy, which in turn makes me happy.
I have noticed that both my boys have become a lot more clingy and needy in the past few years, and even though they have never been lap cats, they seek out my companionship much more than when they were younger. They have also become more vocal in their old age, not just meowing to me, but to each other too.
A disconcerting symptom for Spider was very loud howling various times in the middle of the night. In retrospect, I think this was because of pain from his dental problems; since he has had most of his teeth extracted, the howling has stopped. Many senior cats apparently show this behavior, and it is sometimes difficult to find a cause, which could stem from pain, cognitive dysfunction, confusion because of senility or even a brain tumor.
Because most senior cats suffer from arthritis or coordination problems among other painful issues (just like us humans when we get older), they eventually lose the ability to jump to high places. A few years ago I noticed Lugosi could no longer make it to the sink area, and every now and then I would hear this noisy “thud” as he crashed to the floor. A simple solution? Easy-to-make Senior Cat Steps that help your old kitty to get to those hard-to-reach places with dignity.
Oddly enough, Spider is still extremely agile and playful for his age, unlike his twin brother.
I found that the best diet for my cats is raw only. However, with Spider’s kidney problems, the high protein content in raw meat could do more harm than help, so after his most recent renal check-up showing worsening values, I followed my vet’s instruction to try a veterinary renal diet for a few months before doing another blood test. I believe that commercial cat foods are not what an obligate carnivore should eat, but I have to at least see whether it makes a difference. Because Lugosi’s renal values are slightly borderline from his thyroid medication, he is for now on the same diet.
Apart from this, I give Spider a renal supplement called Renafood, and both boys get a natural cannabinoid once a day.
This is probably the hardest part of being owned by senior cats — the fact that you know they already have “one paw in the grave” and time is running short. I know I cannot possibly prepare myself for losing one and then the other shortly after, but I always tell myself “that day is not today,” and I will carry on loving them every hour, every minute, every second, as if it’s our last together.
Are you owned by one or more senior cats? Tell us about your relationship in the comments.
About the Author: Barbarella Buchner — Ailurophile. Geeky Goth Girl. Ex-Musician Singer/Songwriter. Photographer. Web Designer. Fibromyalgia + RA Sufferer. And totally mad. She originally hails from Hannover (Germany), then moved to London, and since 2004 has lived on the tropical island of Lanzarote, together with her tabby twins Lugosi & Spider, and ginger queen Ruby Akasha. She is a photographer, and she works as a freelance web and graphic designer and occasional Catster/Dogster contributor.