Caring for a Geriatric Cat

Greetings everyone! I realize that I have not updated Purry Home Companion in a while. I have been alternatingly busy with graduate school and a bit under the weather lately. Additionally, Boudicca, being a nearly 18-year-old cat, has needed a lot of care to stabilize her health (namely symptoms stemming from small bowel disease) and closely monitor her quality of life. Last week I was alarmed when Boudicca’s appetite markedly dropped and she refused to eat her wet food (which has her medications mixed in), both of which are most unusual for her. She will be seeing the vet this week for a re-check.

I had just finished brushing Queen B when she sat like this on the window seat. I liked the way the sun shone through the window and illuminated her ears and whiskers.

Given Boudicca’s age and health, I have had the difficult conversations concerning her quality of life and knowing when it will be time to say goodbye. Having these conversations and making these incredibly difficult, poignant decisions are the most challenging parts of responsible pet ownership. In 2017 I made the hard decision to say goodbye to my 16-year-old cat Nala, whose quality of life had markedly declined due to increasing arthritis, which in turn complicated her diabetes. In some ways, I think saying goodbye to Boudicca will be harder since she is my first cat who has truly been my own and, after all, she chose me to be her human. She has always been my sweet girl and I will miss her VERY MUCH. (Cue tears welling up as I write this.) Because the idea of saying goodbye sometime in the future has been in the back of my mind, I have been making concerted efforts to spend as much time with Boudicca and cherish the time I have left with my googly girl.

Boudicca and I recently enjoyed a three-hour lap time session. She has always been a very enthusiastic reading buddy, lap warmer, and snuggler. Her eyes appear very green here too!

However, as I write this, we are not quite at that stage. We figured out why her appetite decreased: she apparently decided to be abruptly finicky about her wet food. We discovered that she prefers Friskies Salmon Pate. We were able to get her to eat something else when she did not want to eat wet food, and we were able to get medication into her in order to control inflammation, nausea, abdominal pain, and keeping her regular. Her appetite has since returned and now she gets very talkative whenever either of us is in the kitchen, because she automatically assumes that we will give her more food. (Either that, or she forgets quickly that we give her wet food twice a day. She still steals kitten kibble from Garrus even though she has her own bowl.) With that said, she has had accidents this past week–so messy and so much cleaning! She is not grooming herself very well, so I brush her regularly and will have to bathe her soon.

Caring for older cats (i.e. mature, senior, and geriatric cats) involves many factors related to health and what to expect at each stage. Aging affects cats in different ways; some will be rather frail at age 11 while others are still robust at 18 or older. Behavior can change in elderly cats. In Boudicca’s case, she is fussier about food, sleeps more, grooms less, talks less, and can be insecure around Charlie, whereas in the past she was quite confident and untroubled by the presence of other cats (Nala, neighborhood cats outside) and dogs. She requires a lot more vet care and medication due to her health problems. Nala and Boudicca aged differently with certain symptoms appearing at some stages with one but not the other. Caring for a senior cat has been a learning experience for both me and Aaron through our experiences with Nala and Boudicca. We are balancing being solicitous with Boudicca’s needs while meeting the needs of Garrus and Charlie, who are respectively six and two years old and have very different energy, nutrition, and health needs.

Googly cat is quite googly!

Boudicca’s Trip to the Vet

One of the things a responsible pet owner must do is ensure their pet receives regular veterinary care. Senior pets may develop more health ailments and thus require more frequent visits.

Last week Aaron and I took Boudicca to the vet to address concerns about the fact that she has been having more accidents lately. We were not sure if this was due to the fact that she has hyperthyroidism or possibly feline inflammatory bowel disease. We had transferred her records to Garrus and Charlie’s vet for the sake of simplicity, so this visit was Boudicca’s first visit with Dr. R.

Boudicca acts very differently than either Garrus or Charlie does at the vet’s office. Dr. R and her techs were quite amused.

  1. Boudicca becomes Miss Meower Mouth. She talks loudly all the time, both in and out of the carrier. Apparently she felt it appropriate to give a running commentary about her experience and is a rather opinionated old lady. 
  2. Unlike the boys, Boudicca doesn’t act all that afraid. If a tech opens the carrier, she usually comes right out with her tail high in the air and doesn’t need to be scruffed. She will, however, smack someone with her high question-mark tail.
  3. If taken to the back where other furry patients are being treated, Boudicca does well. The presence of dogs does not disturb her.
  4. The chance of Boudicca making dancing paws and air biscuits and purring up a storm is highly likely, especially if someone pets her, talks to her, or holds her. 
  5. It is also probable that Boudicca will halfheartedly wiggle and struggle during her exam while simultaneously making air biscuits, as though she can’t decide whether she wants to be difficult or adorable.

    Googly cat is googly. 

Garrus’ Health Check

This morning Aaron and I took Garrus for a health check at the vet. This was done for a few reasons:

  1. Weight. As I’ve mentioned, when we fostered Garrus in mid-August he had evidently lost 2 lbs of weight, and that weight included muscle mass. We identified the major factor–his teeth–and he underwent surgery. Since then he has been eating kitten kibble, which has higher fat and protein content, in order to put on weight. He has gained 0.4 lbs since September. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, I’ve noticed a visible change–his ribs and spine are less visible, he’s thickened a little around his hips (which had been incredibly bony), and his coat is healthier. (He’s so soft!)
  2. Dental issues. Thankfully, he did not have any complications during surgery or any infections afterward, but we’re still keeping an eye on any dental issues. His gums are slightly reddish, possibly indicating mild stomatitis. However, he has not demonstrated any problems eating, growling when eating, or any irritability, aggression, reclusiveness, or other behavioral changes. 
  3. Ear wax. At his last exam, the vet noticed that he had a buildup of excess wax in his ears, which is apparently rather itchy. (No fun!) Because we’re still working on getting Garrus acclimated to being handled, we cannot easily clean his ears. It turns out that he had a little yeast in his ears as well, but that was treated today. He has clean, less itchy ears now!
  4. Nail trimming. Garrus not being accustomed to being handled poses quite a challenge when we need to trim his nails. Given that Garrus does scratch his itchy ears, it’s important that he doesn’t inadvertently tear his ears up with his claws. We talked with both the vet and the vet tech about this issue. Both were very helpful and offered (with demonstrations!) different ways to hold Garrus in order to trim his nails safely and without drama or trauma.
  5. Coughing. Occasionally Garrus has coughing spells. There are any number of reasons why cats cough such as infections, asthma, allergies, hairballs, bronchial problems, cardiac disease, cancer, or parasites. (Sounds scary, I know.) The vet suspects it might be more asthmatic in origin but we should keep an eye on it. Aaron pointed out that the litter we had been using before had produced dust that, given the boys’ playing habits, got everywhere in the house. We’ve done some deep cleaning to fight the good fight against the dust, but most importantly, we’ve transitioned all three cats to using Cat Genies. No dust! Hopefully that will help.
  6. Heart murmur. When I first brought Garrus to the vet, she learned during an exam that he has a heart murmur. This morning we discussed problem signs to look out for (he hasn’t shown any) and possible further tests that may be needed to assess what the problem is and what treatment options are available.

Although Garrus is not nearly as fearful about the carrier and the vet’s office as Charlie is, getting him into the carrier is still a hassle. At first I tried coaxing him into the carrier using the laser pointer and treats. It very nearly worked but when I was closing the door behind him, Garrus pushed the door open and bolted through with a surprising burst of speed. He’s very slippery and wiggly! Since he is smarter than Charlie, he quickly realized something was up and he didn’t want to play our game. We eventually corralled him by putting a towel on him and pushing a kitty burrito into the carrier. (This is yet another reason why I use a carrier meant for a small dog rather than a petite cat carrier.)

Once inside the carrier, he meowed quite pitifully a few times (“Excuse me but I really don’t like this. Please let me out! Mom? Dad? Help?) but that was the extent of his protestations. I think everyone was happy that there wasn’t any hisses, growls, swats, angry poofy tails, drawn blood, or undue stress. At the vet’s office he was quite well-behaved, although he spent part of the time on the corner of the counter with his back facing the vet. (“You can’t see me! I’m invisible!” seemed to be his train of logic.) As always I’m impressed by the incredible skills vet techs and vets have in handling cats. He even purred when the vet tech held him! (I admit, I was slightly envious. Garrus doesn’t purr often…yet.) 

Thankfully Garrus forgave us quickly and didn’t hide away after we brought him home. He trotted around the house, played with Charlie, slept, and later came over to me for rubs. Once this afternoon I was pretty sure I saw both Garrus and Charlie emerging from the penthouse kitty condo as if it was a clown car. I had no idea that they both could squish inside! I’m sure Garrus wished that the weather cooperated and gave him a nice sunny spot to lounge the afternoon away! (I’m fairly certain that Garrus, at least, is solar charged.)