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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.