How to make them more comfortable: Cats are now living longer than ever with the average age being between 11 and 15 years (may be shorter for pedigrees). It is no longer unusual to find cats in their 20’s and even some reaching their 30’s. In human terms a cat ages 24 human years in its first 2 years and then 4 years every year thereafter. Therefore a 15 year old cat would be 24 + 52 (13x4) = 76 years in human terms.
Old age cats, like us they suffer various illnesses, deafness, blindness and senility. Old age can also bring along aching bones, arthritis, kidney and liver failure, thyroid problems and cancer. I would recommend that an elderly cat is blood tested once a year as many medical issues can be managed in the older cat if they are found in the early stages. Unfortunately, for example in the case of kidney failure - the kidneys can be 80% damaged before the owner notices anything is wrong. His teeth will also need checking as dental disease is very common in the older cat and if this ‘bacteria’ enters the blood stream will make the cat very sick.All advice given on this website is by expert cat owners. It is not in any way meant to be used in replacement to any vet or other professional advice. The owner takes no responsibility of any consequences due to any of the information held within the site.
Elderly cats, how to make them more comfortableIf you have an older cat in the household you must make allowances, as you would for a human. It may feel warm enough to you, but for an old thin cat he may well seek out the heat of your lap, or the gas fire.
If you are unable to provide this there are heated pads (heated in the microwave) that can be placed in their beds, under the blankets, to keep them warm in your absence. Even radiator beds can be used - although a little step up may be needed if he starts to find climbing a little difficult. If your cat starts lying by the doors, or on cold surfaces, then he may be ‘cold seeking’ - if he is usually curled up in his warm bed then this ‘cold seeking’ is not usually a good sign and I would recommend that you take your cat to the vet. Cats with stomach tumours will often ‘cold seek’. Try not to move your furniture around too much. Cats are not very good at changes in their environment at the best of times, but in their latter years try to keep everything as it is. He may appreciate a little help with grooming too - even short hair cats often lose the mobility to wash the back part towards the base of their tail. If your cat will not tolerate this then it may mean a trip to the vet for a general anaesthetic.
Do not let these knots build up in the cat’s fur - they are very uncomfortable and pull at the skin. If he has stopped grooming himself altogether, sometimes this can be stimulated by running a damp flannel along the cats fur - the feeling of ‘dampness’ may be enough for him to have a go himself. Keep an eye on those nails! Often their nails may start to grow around the front of the foot and embed themselves in the pads underneath. Again ask your vet to check this for you as he will be able to clip the nails for you.
Food and water - as the cat ages so the rate of metabolism slows down and is no longer in balance. The cat may appear lethargic and sleep far more than he used to. He may feel more comfortable if you can provide several small meals a day, rather than two larger ones. Tinned food is only fresh for about 20 minutes before it starts to go off, so only put a couple of teaspoonfuls down at a time, or if you can, leave dry food out all day and night so he can eat as and when he chooses. I would recommend feeding a mixture of both if you can. He must always have a plentiful supply of fresh clean water. This is often one of the signs that the kidneys are not functioning properly when you notice the cat seems to be constantly at the water bowl. If your cat is having difficulty eating then have his teeth checked. The build up of tartar may be such that the cat is in too much pain to eat. His sense of smell may start to deteriorate so you may need to start temping him with ‘smelly’ fish like tuna, pilchards, sardines, or heat up his normal food so it is just luke warm so it smells stronger to him.
General health - the immune system will no longer be as effective as it was. As the cat ages it will become susceptible to illness such as cat flu, or tumours. It is important therefor to ensure that you have your cat checked over at least once a year by the vet and that his vaccinations are kept up to date. It also means that the body may not be able to cope with medication like a younger cat would and if your cat is already on medication you may find your vet adjusts the dosage as your cat matures. Heart disease and diabetes can be common and it is important - as in humans - to not overfeed your cat. Obesity is not healthy and will put added pressure on his heart.
When you have your annual vet check up, ask your vet to weigh the cat. If you then take him back 3 months later because he has ‘not been very well’ you will soon be able to tell if he lost weight, rather than saying - well I think he might have lost a bit of weight.
Normal ageing process - elderly cats suffer from senility as we do, caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain, due to poor lung and heart function. For this reason your elderly cat may wake up during the night and for a moment be unaware of where he is. Most of the time if the owner just goes down to the cat and sits with them for a few minutes the cat will settle down once again. He may become less tolerant and not want to be touched or stroked as he used to. This is the time to ask the children and any strangers coming to the house - to leave him alone. Being bad tempered is part of getting older so let him be. Toileting may start to become an issue and you may need to make alternative arrangements to help you both through this period. My 21 year old cat was provided with a ‘puppy training pad’ just outside her bed, and she would step out of her bed, go to the toilet, and then go back to bed. You may need to bring the litter tray nearer to his bed than you would normally. Constipation is quite common too but your vet will prescribe a palatable laxative if this is the case. As his sight and hearing deteriorates allow him enough time to ‘realise’ you are there. While he is sleeping, don’t allow the children to disturb him. Let him wake up naturally and come to you if he wants a fuss. If you have to wake him up, blow gently on him to start off with, rather than touching him, which will just startle him.
Exercise - your elderly cat still needs some exercise and stimulation. We used to take 21 year old Mindy on supervised outside visits so she could sniff the flowers and have a little walk around - otherwise I am sure she would have slept for a full 24 hours! Despite being nearly blind and deaf her sense of smell was still working, so it is important to stimulate in the right areas. Tiggy used to love playing with a feather and would lie on his back and bat the feather out of the way. Even a little catnip can send the most docile of oldies into a 10 minute kitten session! Exercise also helps with bowel and urinary function.
Veterinary Care - your elderly cat should see the vet at least once a year, if not twice. It is far better that should your cat require any surgical procedures that these are done sooner rather than later.
Any animal undergoing a general anaesthetic is at risk, but non more so than one who is not only elderly, but also very weak. By having regular check ups and blood tests any ailments can be picked up sooner rather than later. Any blood seen in the urine or faeces should be investigated immediately. If the cat seems to be taking a long time in the litter box and produces either nothing, or a very small patch of urine (10p size), do not wait to see if it will resolve itself. He will be in great discomfort - think how you would feel if you could not go to the toilet! Vaccinations and flea and worm treatments should be maintained.
Letting your cat go - never an easy time for any of us, but unfortunately something we must all face. If you haven’t thought of it before now, then take some time to think about what you want. Standing in the vets room with our beloved pet in our arms is a very difficult place to make a rational decision. Will you want to bring him home with you, or have him cremated. There is a school of thought that if you have more than one cat, then you should bring the deceased back to the house so the other cats can ‘see’ that he has died, and they do not ‘look’ for them. I have done this before when Amy’s mum died and I bought her home as I thought Amy would be very distraught as they went everywhere together. I sat with her in my arms and Amy came up to me, licked Emily twice on the head and then went off. Her mother’s death didn’t see to affect her, and I still have Amy now - she is 14 years of age. On the other hand some people have said that their other cat just hissed and walked off - and this may be because they have the smell of the vets on them, and therefore don’t smell of the ‘home’. This will have to be your decision of what you think is right at the time. Do you want your cat cremated, if so who will you use? Ask your vet, or the vet nurses who they use.
Quality of life - my own criteria is eating and being able to go to the toilet. If a cat is not eating enough to sustain itself, then it is in effect slowly starving itself to death.
Likewise if it cannot go to the toilet its bowels and bladder will be filling up, but they are unable to go to the toilet - I cannot imagine how uncomfortable this must feel, so please do not let your pet go on and on in this situation. It is a hard decision to make but at least that is the one thing we can do for them and that is to stop them from suffering any more than they need to. Often vets may not be direct as ultimately the decision is up to us - if you are unsure what your vet is trying to say to you, you can ask him ‘What would you do if he was your cat’, or, as hard as it is, say to him ‘Are you saying it would be kinder to have him put to sleep?’
What will happen - usually the vet will clip a small amount of fur from the front leg. The vet nurse will then put pressure on the leg to ‘raise a vein’. The vet will then insert the needle in to the vein, drawing back on the needle to make sure he has got a vein (you will see some blood in the syringe) - if he hasn’t he may remove the needle and try again. The vet nurse will then release the pressure on the leg so the vet can then inject. Sometimes in very old and sick cats it can be quite difficult to get a vein. Once injected the cat slips away almost immediately. The cat may go to the toilet on the table - this is quite normal as all the muscles are no longer working and the staff are quite used to it. If you are not taking your cat home and you need to spend some time with him - then do so - don’t feel rushed - and cry as much as you want - I do!
If your cat is particularly nervous many vets will now come to your home, or a sedative can be given prior to euthanasia. Most cats just slip away, but some may let out a cry. If you can be with him, all the better, just gently stroke his head so he knows you are there and talk to him gently and calmly. I know for many people they just cannot do this - its purely a personal thing - whatever you are comfortable with and whatever you think is right at the time. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. You know your cat so if you are not happy or confident with the person you are seeing, ask to see another vet.
It is ok to grieve - we all have different ways of dealing with it - but the grieving process is a number of stages - denial, anger, depression, acceptance. Many people will be unable to empathise with you saying such things as ‘it’s only a cat’ - but then you will find others who fully understand what you are going through - these people will be happy to talk to you and share your happy memories. There are those that go out and get another cat straight away as the house is so empty without one, and then there are those who say ‘never again’. The choice is yours - but you ‘never again’s’ - its people like you that we need - caring people, that gave one of our little furry friends 15 years of happiness and wanting for nothing - and yes that time in the vets will stay in your mind forever, but then think - 15 minutes in the vets, versus the 15 YEARS of pleasure the two of you had together. No cat will ever replace him, but unfortunately many people these days see cats as a disposable commodity that can just be left to their own devices when it no longer suits the owner. Elderly cats left in shelters because everyone wants a kitten and those that are scarred for life - thanks to us humans.
Finally - no it isn’t any easier for me, I have several cats a year put to sleep for various reasons, unfortunately not all from old age, some are very young and then there are those that through sheer neglect just don’t make it. My vet knows me and knows what to expect - yes, I get upset, yes, I stay with them, and yes I cry every time. They are now cremated as there is no more room in my garden, and their ashes are scattered free of a world that didn’t care. Do I want to give up - sometimes. But then there are also some lovely people out there like you that will end up taking another little rescue cat in to their home.
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