Living with Elder Cats

Nineteen years ago, Jules and Lucy came to live at our house, darling little kittens. Now, at 19, (92 in cat years), we are in the thick of dealing with aging.  They have conditions common to older cats; each has some kidney impairment and an overactive thyroid. Jules is arthritic, Lucy has a bit of dementia. Overall, they do pretty well, interacting and generally active. And I can’t help wondering if each birthday will be their last. This is of course, true for all of us; the percentages increase with age.

This has come up more in the last few days as Lucy was off her feed.  She vomited more than usual two days ago, and yesterday, she didn’t eat,  just sat or slept on the end of the bed, quite withdrawn.  She did drink water from her favorite venue, the bathroom sink, assisted up and gently stroked by me as she lapped the drips.  Each time something like this happens, I wonder is this it, is it time to say goodbye?  Fortunately, she’s better today, more chatty, interactive and eating again. It was lovely to have her run down the stairs ahead of me this morning.

Not unlike older humans, older cats require more maintenance. They take medication twice a day, eat special food, and need accommodation to continue functioning well. So there are now 6 litter boxes in the house, scooped daily, and I spent time today devising a low rise box for Jules, who is increasingly likely to poop outside the box.  Apparently, this happens for arthritic cats, given the body position required.  So off to the thrift store I went, looking for something of an appropriate size and shape.  We shall see how the broiler pan works.

Travel is another challenge. The cats don’t travel at all well; the one mile drive to the vet is a major stress, which also figures into medical decision making. Quality of life is more important than quantity. The people in our household do like to travel. So complicated care plans are provided for the cat sitter we are so fortunate to have. Fortunately, Ms. C has her own senior cat, lives nearby, and knows Jules and Lucy well.  “Two meds, twice a day, in varying doses depending on the cat and the day of the week? Sure, I can do that.”  She brings her papers to grade and hangs out with them, providing excellent companionship. The cats thrive, and we leave instructions for the vet and permissions should something happen in our absence. I have a desire for extended travel, weeks on the road in this country and around the world. It will have to wait.

Its a bittersweet experience, companioning these companions in their old age. Only two summers ago, Jules had a record year for hunting mice and voles in our yard. This summer, his back legs sometimes slide out from under him on the hardwood floors. He’s a skinny old man, obviously frail. Both he and Lucy struggle with grooming, so we do more for these formerly fastidious felines. Lucy sometimes gets lost in the house at night, and cries out. At the same time, they continue to go about their days as best they can, and obviously seek our company. Mornings, two cats join us in the sitting room for coffee and the newspaper, and most evenings, family bed checks in full, with both cats using me for heat and cushioning. They keep teaching me what it is to love and to have patience with a difficult process. I hope that I will do as well as they have when its my turn.

jules 19
Jules at 19, hanging with his friend Bernie Bush
baby cats
Lucy and Jules, Sept. 1998

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