Living with an older Cat

In this post Helen White shares with you her experience of living with an older cat and provides you with tips on how to adjust your behaviour and enhance your older cat’s environment.

Yesterday we had a bit of a drama in our home. Our cat Bobby lost a tooth. The first one she has lost. I reassured my husband that this happens to cats when they get older. After all my cat Freddy lost most of her teeth and had only one tooth left before she died aged 14 and a half.

Our Bobby turns 12 this year – in human years that’s 64, which makes her older than us. As she is a rescue we don’t know her exact birthday, but it would have probably been at the end of July or August 2005. We adopted her in October of that year when she was about 12 weeks old.

Our first meeting with Bobby.
Our first meeting with Bobby.

Our girl had a bad start in life. She was a tiny kitten, only a few weeks old, when she was found in a bin fending for herself. The people who found her waited for her mum to come back, but she never did. So briefly they took her in before passing her on to the local Cats Protection branch. Unfortunately, they were a bit partial to smoking marijuana, which explained her rather chilled out behaviour when we adopted her. At the time I was a member of the Cardiff Cat’s Protection branch and responsible for the website. When I uploaded her photos and saw her little face I was smitten. It didn’t take much to persuade my husband Paul to adopt her, though he maintained he is allergic to cats. Turns out – he isn’t. Thank God, because, frankly I can’t live without cats.

Bobby as a kitten in her basket.
Bobby as a kitten in her basket.

When we met Bobby for the first time on our visit at the foster home she was among a bunch of younger kittens and looked a bit forlorn. Plus she was extremely skinny, had an eye infection, ear mites and wasn’t in a great shape. She immediately bonded with both of us and plonked herself in our laps. That was it. However, at the time we also adopted a cute black and white boy cat named Harry. We were told that he and Bobby were best mates and would sleep together. Harry was much older (about 9 months old) and also had a rather sad story. He was kept in a tiny flat and wasn’t socialised properly. When his owners split up they gave him up.

Bobby as a kitten
Our Bobby in the window downstairs in the living room.

Living with Harry quickly turned into a bit of a nightmare. He jumped on surfaces and would try and eat anything that was not meant for him. He was also super cuddly which I loved. The big problem though was that though he and Bobby snoozed together on the bed, he actually turned out to be a big bully. He thought he was top cat. Bobby couldn’t access her food, which she needed, because she was so poorly, and the litter box, because Harry would block it. It took a while until we put two and two together. I used to feed her separately. We noticed that she weed in her basket and one day she also weed in the kitchen. That’s when we twigged what was going on. I really didn’t want to give up Harry as I loved the little guy. In the end I rang the foster mum for advice and she said she was happy to take him back. I was sad to give him back, but I needed peace. His foster mum actually missed him a lot and adopted him. They already had three cats and Harry was now at the bottom of an established pack. I don’t regret our decision, because I guess he would have not survived for long on our road.

Bobby close up.
Bobby close up.

The day he went back, Bobby jumped on our bed and instead of an intimidated kitten we suddenly had a more confident and happy one. Our vet diagnosed her with a heart murmur (gone now) and didn’t really think she would last very long. We are glad she proved him wrong.

Bobby with big eyes.
Bobby with big eyes.

Over the years we got accustomed to her many quirks. She doesn’t hunt. She has the instinct, but hasn’t got a clue how to kill things, which we are super grateful for. No surprise gifts for us. She needs constant reassurance in form of cuddles while she eats. Which can be a pain, when it’s at 4 am in the morning!

Bobby on my husband's lap - unfortunately she isn't a lap cat now.
Bobby on my husband’s lap – unfortunately she isn’t a lap cat now.

Bobby is very vocal and is also very clever when she wants to tell us what to do. For example, she sometimes comes into my craft room when I am working, greets me with a chirrup and asks me to follow her. It’s either downstairs to cuddle her while she eats, or to the bedroom to join her for a cuddle. She loves “her” sleeping bag. When it’s not on the bed for her, she actively looks for it by going to the cupboard next door to the bedroom and scratches the door. She knows that we store our sleeping bags there.

Bobby smiling.
One of my favourite photos of Bobby, because she is smiling. What could she possibly dream of?

Bobby was with us in good times: she was the reason why we got married in 2007 and of course she was not only in our engagement photo but also in our wedding photos. When we go on holiday we miss her like crazy. Bobby was there for me when my mum died in 2006. She was there for me when I suffered a traumatic miscarriage. When I feel poorly she snuggles up to me. She’s sadly not a lap cat, but one of her favourite spots is on the duvet between my legs where she happily purrs away while she enjoys cuddles from both of us. She is also the inspiration behind my cat jewellery and sculptures I sell on my website.

Bobby looking up.
Bobby sitting on one of my designs and looking up.
Bobby as a kitten
Bobby as a kitten – very relaxed.

We live on an extremely busy road, which is why we trained her to use a harness and lead. This has saved her life as she is really dumb when it comes to traffic. We supervise her when she wants to be out in the front garden and walk her in the neighbourhood and our allotment. We used to take her to the forest and she loved it. She has also seen the beach which she hated and the local lake. She has seen horses, sheep and cows.

Walking Bobby
Bobby and me in the forest.
Walking Bobby
Bobby and me.
Bobby on a tree.
Bobby on a tree.
Bobby on the move.
Bobby on the move.

Now that she is getting older we are noticing big changes. Bobby needs a lot of sleep. She has put on weight over the years due to lack of exercise, but the vet said not to worry. He actually said that he sometimes sees older underweight cats, which often is more worrying. We try to control her food intake.

Bobby looking out of the window.
Bobby looking out of the window.

She has less energy and her short bursts of play are well –short. She still gets her mad 5 minutes and you can tell when she had a crap, because she runs into the house like a possessed banshee. Why do cats get so excited? She has stopped using her litter box early on which has saved us a lot of money. She has a spot in the garden to do her business in and the worms love it.

At the allotment
At the allotment.
At the allotment on our shed.
At the allotment on our shed.

Her walks are now very short. We haven’t been able to take her to the forest in years. She gets tired quicker. She is even chattier than she was, which we love. And she is also cuddlier, but also a grumpy little madam. Like most cats she doesn’t like change and because she is pretty antisocial, she really doesn’t like other cats, we haven’t adopted another cat. I would love to, but hubby said it would probably make Bobby very unhappy. And obviously we want her to stay happy.

Bobby on garden climber.
Bobby when she was younger on her massive climber in the garden. My hubby and father in law built this for her. She can overlook the lane from the top.

She was always a fussy eater – as most cats are – and her fussiness has increased. She is still healthy and in good shape according to our vet, for which we are grateful. She can still climb and jump and access one of her favourite places in the house which is the top of the bay window in the conservatory.

Bobby on our garden wall.
Bobby on our garden wall.

She has plenty of spaces to rest or get away from us if she wants. She loves her space, but seeks out company and is very focused on us. She can get very persistent when she wants us all in the same room or simply go to bed. We love her quirks and hope she will live with us for as long a time as possible.

Bobby on the top of our bay window in the conservatory.
Bobby on the top of our bay window in the conservatory.

What you should bear in mind when your cat gets older:

Cats feel the cold, especially when they get older, so make sure that your cat has warm spaces to sleep on. Cat beds should be padded. We often turn the gas fire on especially for her, so she can snooze in front of it while we watch telly. You might also consider radiator beds.

Bobby in her basket.
Bobby in her basket.

Your cat becomes less active, and the muscle tone reduces. Your cat will simply need more rest. So bear that in mind when you play with your cat and provide plenty of resting spaces which are easy to access for your cat.

Bobby after playing with her catnip cushion.
Bobby after playing with her catnip cushion.

Provide scratching posts that are easier to access and smaller and check your cat’s claws regularly.

Your cat will still enjoy playing, but be mindful that they need to be gentle and brief sessions. Use toys your cat will enjoy and won’t intimidate them. Just watching a movement of a toy can provide stimulation for your cat.

You may find that your cat finds it harder to groom himself/herself and that the claws also become thicker and longer. Make sure to brush your cat and trim the claws so that your cat doesn’t get stuck on furniture or your jumpers. If you can’t do this yourself ask your vet to show you.

Make sure to provide several large litter trays for your cat. Our cat goes outside, but she has the option of using two litter trays indoors. Don’t change your cat’s preferred litter. If your cat goes outside, make sure to keep the area clean.

Our Bobby loves sleeping on our bed.
Our Bobby loves sleeping on our bed.

Cats are not that different to humans when it comes to the aging process. Like humans they can suffer from age related illnesses such as arthritis and diabetes. Their vision and hearing can also get worse. Hyperthyroidism and renal impairment can also occur. And they can lose their teeth. So make sure you observe any changes in your cat’s health and make an appointment with the vet for regular check-ups. And make sure to keep up with your cat’s booster vaccinations. Your vet will also keep an eye on your cat’s weight and recommend changes in your cat’s diet.

Bobby in her basket.
Bobby in her basket.

The condition of your cat’s coat can change and deteriorate and so can his or her immune system.

Make sure to monitor your cat’s appetite and offer plenty of water around the house. Cats are prone to kidney renal diseases. An increased appetite or a decreased appetite are both signs of changes in your cat’s health. An increased intake in water can also be a sign of ill health.

Bobby in sleeping bag.
Bobby in one of “her” sleeping bags. She loves sleeping in them.

You will also notice behavioural changes in your cat and have to adjust. Pay particular attention to the following behaviours: indications of senility, excessive vocalisation, aggression and increased dependence. In the first instance make an appointment with your vet for advice and check-up. Another consideration is also to contact a cat counsellor for help.

Bobby on climber
Bobby on her climber in the conservatory. She can still climb on top of the bay window where she loves to snooze.

Don’t change your cat’s routine or your environment. A change in routine can upset your cat, that’s especially the case when you change your furniture or moving it around or decide to get more cats, dogs or other animals.

Bobby on top of the bay window.
Bobby on top of the bay window.

And finally: Make lots of time for cuddle sessions with your cat. They are beneficial for both of you and lower your blood pressure.

I hope you found this article useful and informative.

Thanks for reading.

Helen White

Walking the cat.
Bobby and me.

Author box: Helen White is a jewellery designer and artist specialising in cat jewellery and sculptures. She lives with her cat Bobby and husband Paul in Cardiff. You can find her work at www.helenkawhitedesign.com , on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. She also has her own FB cat group you can join here.

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43 thoughts on “Living with an older Cat

  1. A very interesting article, Helen, and Bobby looks beautiful. We have a 20-year-old Birman who is having a good quality of life with the benefit of a special kidney diet and daily meds. He still seems to have all his own teeth, which is pretty remarkable. Currently snoozing on our bed…

  2. Meow! The aging process is as natural as sunset is to sunrise — sad, but necessary.
    An excellently personal and informative post, Helen. Very nice work!
    And, nice to meet you! 🙂 Peace and luvz, Uncle Tree

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. You’re right it is sad – however we cherish every moment with Bobby and each day we love her even more. I don’t understand people who get rid of their cats when they get older and frail (shelters often have older cats) . As much as I’d love a kitten – I know it wouldn’t be fair on Bobby. If you’re interested – I run a cat group in Bobby’s honour on FB. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BobbysCatClub/

  3. Looks like Bobby has you well trained, I approve! Actually, 14 isn’t that old for a cat. Bobby should still have a few good years left in him. My sister Tammy is almost 18 now and doing well, but I have to say we’re on a strict diet of high-quality (no grain, protein-rich) food that has given us both a new lease of life!

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. You’re right – she really has us well trained – and 12 it not that old – but it’s older and you certainly see changes in behaviour. Sounds like your human cares very well for you. If you’re interested – I run a cat group in Bobby’s honour on FB. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BobbysCatClub/

  4. Very well written and enjoyed the read. also must say my cat runs like a bat outta hell from her pan after she goes #2.
    I swear she thinks its gonna chase her or try to climb back in.

  5. Lovely article written from the heart and giving us important information. Our Maine Coon is l0 now and still seems very fit.We take him for a checkup at the Vet’s office once a year. Our past cats lived to l4 years. They were indoor/outdoor cats, but this one, Gabriel, has always been an indoor kitty. We are hoping he will longer than they did.

  6. My darling Sid is going over 12 now. However he has just discovered his second cathood and is beginning to behave like a brand new kitten once more. Does me good to see it.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Sid sounds like a hoot. I love it when they get their mad 5 minutes. Bobby still gets that – and she loves her catnip! Somehow cats never really grow up and stay kittens at heart.
      If you’re interested – I run a cat group in Bobby’s honour on FB. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BobbysCatClub/ – it’s for all sorts of cat related stuff where people can share cat photos and advice.

  7. What a wonderful story I had a cat named Bob because in Bobby he was a cool cat he was the last of my fancy breed bye but the last few cats have been rescued and it is very rewarding

    1. Thanks for your comment – sounds like you are a devoted cat lady. I’d love more, but it wouldn’t be fair on Bobby and we don’t have that much space. In an ideal world we would live in a quieter area in a bigger house for lots of rescues 🙂
      If you’re interested – I run a cat group in Bobby’s honour on FB. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BobbysCatClub/ – it’s for all sorts of cat related stuff where people can share cat photos and advice.

  8. Fantastic post, very informative. Bobby sounds adorable. ❤️ Our oldest cat is approx 18 – we’re not certain of her age, as she was my partner’s Nan’s cat, and she adopted her from a neighbour who emigrated.
    Thankfully the vet is very happy with her health. Hopefully you should enjoy Bobby’s company for a good number of years still. 😀

    1. Thank you RoseyToesSews for your comments. Sounds like you have a lot of cats? I’m glad your cat is in fine health.
      If you’re interested – I run a cat group in Bobby’s honour on FB. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BobbysCatClub/ – it’s for all sorts of cat related stuff where people can share cat photos and advice.

      1. We have eight cats Helen, ranging in age from 8 months to approx 18. I’ve just put in a join request for you FB group, thanks.

  9. Thank you for your kind comments. Maine Coons are adorable, but I know that some of them can develop a heart condition. My sister has an adorable Norwegian Forest cat who has developed hyperthyroidism but is otherwise fit and a keen hunter. She is Bobby’s age. My Freddy was 14 and a half when she disappeared to die ( we never found her, but all her litter mates and her mum died roughly at the same age) – it was incredibly upsetting, because I couldn’t say goodbye. Freddy’s story is a different one and I think I blogged about this on my website – you can find it here if you are interested – http://www.helenkawhitedesign.com/blog
    If you’re interested – I run a cat group in Bobby’s honour on FB. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BobbysCatClub/

  10. Thank you for your kind comments. Maine Coons are adorable, but I know that some of them can develop a heart condition. My sister has an adorable Norwegian Forest cat who has developed hyperthyroidism but is otherwise fit and a keen hunter. She is Bobby’s age. My Freddy was 14 and a half when she disappeared to die ( we never found her, but all her litter mates and her mum died roughly at the same age) – it was incredibly upsetting, because I couldn’t say goodbye. Freddy’s story is a different one and I think I blogged about this on my website – you can find it here if you are interested – http://www.helenkawhitedesign.com/blog
    If you’re interested – I run a cat group in Bobby’s honour on FB. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BobbysCatClub/

  11. Thank you everyone for your kind comments. I tried to reply to everyone of you. Some replies somehow didn’t go where they supposed to go and ended up iat the bottom. I hope you can read them though.
    I occasionally blog about Bobby and cats on my own blog which you can find here: http://www.helenkawhitedesign.com/blog
    And if you fancy joining my FB cat group – you’re very welcome to do so:
    Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BobbysCatClub/ – it’s for all sorts of cat related stuff where people can share cat photos and advice.

  12. Something else to consider for aging pets is steps to help them get up to the spaces where they like to be. We had a cat named Bob who was always a very large cat. As with people, the larger you are the more prone to arthritis you become. As he got older he developed arthritis which made it harder for him to get up onto the couch or the bed where he slept. Providing steps helped him get around, remain independent and sleep where he preferred to sleep.

    1. Hi Mike – thanks for your comment – you’re absolutely right – providing steps is definitely helpful for older cats. It’s nice that you noticed this with your cat. Our Bobby hasn’t shown any signs of arthritis, but I know that she does’t like jumping from high up. I hope she never will develop the condition, but you never know.
      if you fancy joining my FB cat group – you’re very welcome to do so:
      Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BobbysCatClub/ – it’s for all sorts of cat related stuff where people can share cat photos and advice.

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