My 15+ year old rescue cat Marcello was always the picture of perfect health. He passed his annual routine checkups with flying colors every year and only needed two dentals in the 12 years he lived with us. No sniffles, no sneezing, no coughing, no viruses, no infections. He could not have been an easier cat to care for. Until he started peeing outside the litter box. That’s when things started to change. That was a year and a half ago.
Marcello lived with three other rescue cats upstairs on our second floor. He would have been very happy as an only-cat, but unfortunately that was not his destiny as I was in cat rescue, and was actively trapping abandoned cats in our community, bringing them home to foster, medically treat, and socialize, before putting them up for adoption with my cat rescue organization. One by one, there was always a new rescue cat that Marcello had to put up with. He hated the competition for attention and would even punish and bully each cat for stealing affection away from him. He was a one-woman cat and that had to be understood by any new resident cat who came to share his home–those were Marcello’s ground rules and he strictly enforced them.
Marcello himself had been abandoned. Someone who owned him in his early years had left him behind and moved away, leaving him to fend for himself outdoors. Marcello survived, but he had been in his share of cat fights and had the scars and torn ears to prove it. But his real wounds were all on the inside—his trust in people had been deeply injured and his confidence in people shaken to the core. During the first two months of Marcello’s healing with us, he feared being abandoned again. Every time I came to visit him in his room, he completely let his guard down and would wrap, twist and curl his body all around me, then head-butt me over and over again, all with a big orange tail flared out like a bottle brush. But when I would get up to leave, Marcello would attack me like a police dog—and bite my ankles with a vengeance and leave me a bloody mess. That fear of abandonment slowly dissipated over time as he came to trust and realize that he was safe with us. In short order, Marcello became one of the most affectionate, loving cats I have ever come to know. He was a cuddle bug who loved nothing more than being stroked, rubbed, petted, caressed and loved every minute I could give him.
Getting older is a normal, natural part of life for all of us. Today domestic cats are living longer than they ever did in the past—thanks to improved nutrition and better food, improved medical care, and more people keeping their cats indoors. But advancing age does not necessarily mean automatic degeneration. And aging does not necessarily mean inevitable disease. Many cats do grow old remaining relatively healthy into their geriatric years, while other cats in their senior years develop chronic or degenerative diseases. And know that even cats that do develop chronic diseases can live well into their late geriatric years—or 20+ years old—given excellent care and attention.
Never assume that changes in your older cat are simply due to “old age,” then write it off as normal aging for them. Most likely there is an underlying medical condition that is causing the changes you are observing in your cat’s behavior or physical appearance. That should always be the first consideration. The main thing is to give your cat the healthiest and best quality of life possible—by watching them closely, noticing any changes that take place, then getting them to a veterinarian to get the medical help they need.
Cats age much faster than humans, and they hide illness and pain very well, plus they aren’t able to tell us when and where something hurts, or if they feel sick, or when they want to see a doctor. So it’s up to us to pay attention, pick up on the early signs that something is wrong and is changing for them, and get them to a vet for help.
Maybe you adopted a new cat or have had your cat for years now—in either case annual physical exams are highly recommended for maintaining the optimal health of your cat. Your cat may be low-maintenance, but that’s no reason not to take them for a wellness exam every year. This article will highlight the reasons why annual physical exams for cats are so important, how annual checkups can prevent and detect disease as early as possible, reduce factors that may be health risks, correct or delay the progression of disease, and help to give your cat the healthiest, highest quality of life possible for as long as possible.
Cats mask when they are sick or feel bad—they can hide suffering and pain very well, it’s an evolutionary trait—so you may not know they are suffering or are in pain. And just because your cat lives indoors doesn’t mean they can’t get sick or develop a congenital or chronic disease, or a bacterial or viral infection, or severe tooth decay and gum disease, or inflammation that causes health issues, or a possible stress-related illness. All of these are very possible health issues for indoor-only cats.
If you have a cat at home chances are really good that sometime in your cat’s lifetime you will need to medicate them, especially as they transition into their senior years. Sometimes cats can be challenging to pill or medicate, but there are some techniques that will make medicating them easier, less stressful, more effective and healthier for them. Here are some important things to know and follow when medicating your cat.
Why Dry Pilling and Dry Swallowing is Bad For Cats
Have you ever taken a pill without water? Ouch, it’s not fun. Well the same goes for cats. Without chasing a pill down with water or liquid afterwards the pill can get lodged in the throat and irritate the lining of the esophagus. Dry swallowing can cause a pill to go down painfully and slowly, and can even damage the delicate tissues lining the esophagus. Dry pilling can cause choking, gagging, reflux, heartburn, esophagitis, esophageal injury and strictures, and even cause aspiration. There have been case studies where dry pilling certain medications (including Clindamycin and Doxycycline) have resulted in severe injury to cats and in some cases, even death when these cats were dry pilled. One study noted that “After five minutes 84 percent of capsules and 64 percent of tablets are still sitting in the esophagus,” when dry swallowed. (Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, Volume 8, Issue 6, Dec. 2006: 412-419) Another study that appeared in a veterinary journal found that following dry swallows, “No pills were in the stomach at 30 and 60 seconds, and only 6 percent of the pills were in the stomach at 90 seconds. At 5 minutes, only 36 percent of the pills were in the stomach. For wet swallows that were followed by 6 ccs of water, 90 percent of the pills were in the stomach.” (Journal of Western Internal Medicine, 2001, Sept-Oct: 15: 467-70)
Hyperthyroid disease in cats is very treatable and manageable, and though I had always feared being told one of my cats has “hyperthyroid disease,” I have found that it isn’t the dreaded word or disease that I thought it would be.
Godiva was our first cat diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. She’s a beautiful blind chocolate Persian who as a kitten, was taken to our local animal shelter where she was adopted by a volunteer. But at five years old she was given up again, and found her way to our rescue group where we became her foster parents. When Godiva was never adopted, we adopted her ourselves and have found her to be a courageous, determined blind girl that navigates our house beautifully, despite her blindness and many cat “obstacles.”
The decision to give cat hospice care to our cat Pumpkin has prolonged her life significantly. Now a year and half later after almost euthanizing her, she’s still alive and still enjoying life. Today she’s going to our vet for a checkup to see where her general health is and to understand if we need to make any adjustments to her medical regimen.
I wrote about Pumpkin over a year ago when our vet had recommended euthanizing her to relieve her obvious pain and suffering. She had declined quickly, had lost a significant amount of weight, and was diagnosed with possible lymphoma. But I wasn’t ready to make that decision to end her life and wanted to give Pumpkin another chance, so we worked with our vet to create a palliative care plan for her that would make her as comfortable as possible, address her symptoms, and possibly extend her life. Continue reading Cat Hospice Care Has Prolonged Our Cat’s Life→
Sometimes miracles do truly happen. Or maybe they are simply second chances. My cat Pumpkin definitely got her second chance with giving her daily hospice care, which is keeping her alive and comfortable. Here’s her story.
When I last wrote about her in November 2012, she was literally on death’s doorstep. Although she is a 19-year-old cat, she had previously been very healthy up to last year. She rarely had anything but “annual” or “bi-annual” routine vet visits. But early last year, we noticed her mouth smelled and learned she had Stomatitis, which was followed by dental surgery to remove several teeth, and she was put on the steroid Prednisilone to treat the Stomatitis inflammation. Continue reading Cat Hospice Care Extends Senior Cat’s Quality of Life→
Our sweet, darling Red passed away almost four months ago to this day, the day after Christmas. We cared for him up to his last moments, and honored his death with his cat friends and proper burial in our backyard.
I wanted to honor our beautiful Red by writing about him and sharing his story of survival, challenge, and incredible transformation. Red touched us everyday of his life with his beautiful soul, his profound courage, his hard earned trust, and his huge heart and unending love. I believe we were meant to find each other on that fateful day thirteen years ago, and I’m forever grateful for crossing paths with Red and having the honor of knowing him and sharing every day of his life since. Continue reading Caring For Our Dying Cat in His Last Moments→
For the first time, I’m faced with making an end of life decision for one of my cats. Though I knew this time would eventually come, I always felt it was far off in the future and I didn’t need to think about it. But suddenly that time has come with my cat Pumpkin and I’m forced to examine what the best, kindest, and most loving path is for my terminally sick but beautiful 18-year-old cat Pumpkin—to let her die a natural death at home with pain-killers or euthanize her.
Some backstory: About two years ago, my once sprightly, independent “Princess Pumpeedo” (my friend’s nickname for her) started showing signs of slowing down. She was my first rescue cat in 1998. She had been living outside of my apartment in the parking lot for almost a year, living under parked cars where she hid from the constant rain and weather. I fell in love with her the day I set eyes on her. Continue reading Making An End of Life Decision for Your Cat→
I’m sensing the time is close now for my elderly cat Red. I instinctively felt it early this morning that Red is close to the end of his life, and could even be in the early stages of the dying process. He is getting weaker, slower, more feeble and fragile, losing weight and appearing more gaunt.
He came to me in bed this morning seeking to be close—very close, nosing to get under the covers for warmth and safety. He gently plows his head into mine messaging me he wants to lie next to me. I cuddle him, hold him, embrace his frail, skeletal body. As he lies stretched out along the length of my body, I cuddle him to comfort him. I gently run my hand over his thin body. He purrs loudly, strongly, breathing and purring. I can’t sleep to his constant machine of a purr, but somehow it comforts me. I will miss this purr, this beautiful soul, this survivor, this brave cat that has endured so much. Continue reading My Elderly Cat – Signs the End is Near→
Stories and tips about cat care and cat health—from 16 years experience rescuing, fostering, and caring for my rescue cats