Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Life With a Very Old Cat

I didn't expect, way back in the summer of 1991, that the big beautiful black cat we brought home from the pound would still be with us after 6 homes, two human children, a puppy, a giant renovation job, a million trips down the biggest highway in the province, and almost eighteen years.

Assuming that he was born in 1990, Nigel the cat is 19 this year.  For any cat, this is quite an accomplishment! Considering that he had some health issues, it's amazing.  He had some chronic cystitis at about age 5, and was on medicated food for years.  The vets warned us that his kidneys would be compromised by the medication, but I figured it was better to avoid that awful cystitis.  I opted for quality of life rather than quantity.  And look at him now.

Yeah, he's still here, but the years are really showing on him.

I bundled him up for a visit to the vet on Monday.  I don't take him every year any more.  I mean, why?  He's a house cat.  He's old.  He doesn't like going to the vet.  I'd rather leave him on the couch where he's happy.  Well, after a little squeeze here and there, the vet told me that he's... old.  His kidneys are pretty much shrivelled little prunes, which would explain why he drinks so much water and his litter box needs to be picked through twice a day.  He's lost all his muscle tone, he's probably totally deaf, and his balance isn't good. Clearly, he hasn't got much longer with us.  

We spent most of his check up discussing what to do WHEN.  What if he expires during the night.  What to do with his remains: the kids want to keep his ashes.  Will I stay with him if he needs to be put down: damn right I will.  If I have to make that decision, he's going out in my arms.  

I got some advice on feeding him, like continue to mix up his food since he's become a picky eater in his old age.  Add a bit of water to keep him hydrated.  I was asked how his quality of life is, and I answered honestly that this guy has a pretty good life.  He's the same guy he's always been... just a lot slower!

He fully deserves the best retirement I can give him.  He has gotten me through some tough times.  When I was newlywed, and lonely because my young husband was locked up in the recording studio for 72 hours straight, I had my big vigorous cat to talk to.  He calmed me when I was the 20 year old married-chick college student, not sure exactly where my life was headed.  When we moved twice a year for a couple of years, we dragged him along with us.  When I was stuck in an apartment with no balcony and a nasty view of the dumpster in the parking lot, Nigel was my connection to nature and the animal world.  He sprawled across my pregnant belly and purred two babies into the world.  During our toddler years, he only scratched a kid once - and she learned real quick not to torment the cat!

He has definitely earned a peaceful life for his last years.

Giving him that good life in his old age has a whole new set of challenges.  

Because of his little dehydration problems, we have to make sure he's always got water to drink.  It requires constant vigilance, because the dog slurps up a fair amount as well.  There's a double bowl upstairs in the dining room, plus another in the downstairs bathroom.  He's got a bowl for wet food and one for dry kibble.  The wet food is a mess.  The kids hate spooning it into the dish for him.  

He doesn't wash himself anymore.  Jethro figures he decided he doesn't have to... because I'll do it for him.  Yup, I will.  He doesn't use his scratching post anymore, which means I have to trim his claws.  He's also developed a strong aversion to having those claws trimmed.  I suspect a bit of arthritis.  I do one claw each day or so, and get it over with fast, preferably while he's snoozing.  I don't want him to struggle and hurt himself.

He tracks cat litter all over the house.  He isn't very agile anymore, which means that he often steps in the wet stuff on his way out of the box.  Yep, it's disgusting.  I sweep up litter every time I'm downstairs, and we've all learned to crush down our revulsion at finding litter-critters on the couches where he curled up for a nap after taking a wiz.  I have a really hard time with the litter-critters.  I hate finding it in my bed.  So gross, so gross, so gross.  But I love that cat, and he's still alive, so I brush all the litter crumbs away and wash my hands and tell myself that I put up with it to still have him.

At least once each day I have to pick wet litter clumps out of his paws.  Yick.  I seriously love this cat to do this!  

He was never allowed to sleep under the bedsheets or on my pillow... until he got OLD.  Now he sleeps right beside me, covered up, or on my pillow wrapped around my head.  

Sometimes his body creaks when he walks.  Last week I watched him turn around in the sunbeam to find a nap spot in front of the sliding doors, but instead of gliding into a nice lie-down like a cat does... he fell over.  I felt awful.  He sort of sprawled there for a few seconds, and then curled his tail over his back paws and pretended he meant to do that.

We handle him very cautiously now. I remember when Jethro and I would pat him by slapping him in the ribs repeatedly.  He'd lean into it and purr!  Can't imagine doing that now.  All four of us pick him up gently and are constantly aware of his location to avoid stepping on him or bumping him.

He rewards us by being his wonderful sassy, demanding, superior self.  Even though he's just fur and bones, he asserts himself and his need for attention when he feels it's necessary.  We will always make room for him if he needs lap time.  He lets us know when his dish is getting empty.  The cat who wasn't allowed on the table now perches there, staring us down, when he needs something.

If he remembers, he jumps up on the Girl's bed and purrs her to sleep, just as he has for years.  That purr used to be strong and constant, but has become squeaky and louder on the exhale.  The content look on his face hasn't changed much though.

He is like the cat version of the little old man with his pants yanked up to his ribs.  Slow, deaf, forgetful, and stubborn.  He has his routine: bed, dish, water, box, couch.  Repeat.  He makes his way from one end of the house to the other, stopping for a loud howling meow ("What ya say there, sonny?") and navigating the stairs one... at... a... time, rather than jumping two at once like he did years ago.  He always makes it to the box on time.  

And when it's necessary, which it is quite often, he'll take the time to slap the dog across the face.  

Ah... The Golden Years...


natasha the exile on Mom Street said...

Lovely post.

Thank you for reminding me to treasure my kitties instead of focusing on the litter critters [GREAT term, BTW] as I have been of late.

Our time with them is finite, but that can easily be forgotten in the every day whirlwind.

Heidi the Hick said...

We sometimes take our pets for granted, because they're always there underfoot. But they give us so much!

Litter-critters are nasty, let's be honest here! But I put up with and clean up cuz I love my cat!

(don't even get me started on scoopin during dog walks!)

Olly said...

Really, really enjoyed this post. Had to swallow hard a few times... It's so difficult to watch a person or even a pet get old and make the transition from have quality of life to losing that quality. Harder yet to be recognizing when the quality is no longer there. Sounds like your kitty is gonna hang in for the long haul. I've heard of many cats being happy into their twenties and slipping peacefully away while napping. That's what I'm hoping for my aging Tom, although if he doesn't hang up his gloves soon it could be from fighting...

Heidi said...

This is so beautiful. I know completely what this is like.

I must go get a kleenex now.

dilling said...


Kerri said...

You reminded me of every reason I miss Ali. Sickness, depression, parent's divorce, she was always there.

Nineteen years old? I'm not surprised b/c it's obvious how much he's loved. Who'd want to leave that?

Biddie said...

Nigel is the nicest cat ever. Seriously, nicer than my Buddy, even.
He is a gentle old soul and I am glad that you have him..And vice versa.

hayseed said...

Your sweet old cat is a lucky fellow to have found such a nurturing family.

Astaryth said...

What a lovely entry. The furkids give us so much that we often take for granted. We have to treasure the time we are allowed with them.

Oh, this reminds me of when my D.K. started getting sick (cancer) and slipping away from us. She was 13. I was heartbroken, but I did everything I could to accommodate her as she got worse, and she stayed with us longer than we had any hope for. Our Vet was outstanding. The hard part is choosing quality over quantity... but she let us know when she had had enough. I still cry when I think of her. She passed here at home, in my arms. I was lucky enough that the vet was here for one of the big animals and I didn't have to make her make a trip to the office... she never liked going in the car.

coffeypot said...

Excellent post, Heidi!

I know how you feel, too. I don't particularly care for cats; buy my Chaplin is my buddy. He will lie in my lap or on my chest to watch TV, but he goes to sleep way before I do.

I can't imagine not have him around, and it will be hard to see him go. He is at least 12 years old and he was an adult when Dr. Amber told us about him at the rescue center she was working during her medical training.

All you can do is just what you are doing. Love him and let nature take it’s course until…

Tribble said...

i remember chasing him repeatedly around my parent's bed, and then he would hide under it, then i would go under to get him, only to realize he wasnt there, because he had jumped up onto the bed and was running dow the hall. that was the one time i got scratched. it was also our fifth house. (well, really my second...)

jules said...

Great post Heidi. I had an old cat too, Jane. She lived to 17. She used to curl up under a banker lamp on the counter in the corner of the kitchen. This cat who was NOT allowed on the counter. She had a great life. I had her for 16 years. We lived through a bunch together. I held her at the vet's when it was time, and cried like I never cried before. I miss her.

marsh to the fore said...

Oh Heidi you had me crying with this post. It's just beautiful. It made me think of our two old cats, neither of which made it to 19, but close. We have had, in our married life, something like four dogs and four cats. The last two are really Wendy and Glenn's but since they live with us they're our cats too.

You have been doing some so right with your old guy. He sounds so happy. How lucky he's been to have you guys.

JKB said...


What a good old boy.


Marni said...

What an amazing, fantastic, heartfelt post, Heidi.

Makes me want to go home and love on my two kitties... one will let me, the other will look at me like I have lost. my. mind. but I won't care.

Nigel is one lucky little dude.

The Adult in Question said...

I love Nigel. My mom's right, he is the best cat ever.
(**Kayla was bugging Bumble the other day and her hellcat came up from behind and attacked her ass. Kayla screamed, Mom and I laughed and Bumble played dead.**)

Trailboss said...

You and your family have given a pound cat a wonderful life and you should all be proud of yourselves. Someday you will miss the little treasures you find in the bed. Aren't pets amazing?

Heidi the Hick said...

I didn't mean to make you all cry!

Just so you know... the ol cat's curled up on the couch, with his tail curled over his nose. I"ve said hi to him from you!

Heidi the Hick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shelli said...

love your cat - its hard when pets get old.