Feline Friday: Celebrating Old Cats

Seren had a birthday this week. She’s now 15 years YOUNG, as she frequently reminds me. For an old fogey kitty, Serendipity is remarkably well preserved. I keep telling myself that Siamese as a breed tend to be longer lived, and it’s not unusual for healthy cats to live into their late teens or even early twenties. She’s a healthy one, all right–teeth clean, good appetite, normal litter-ary habits, sound heart and no lumps or bumps. Her vet check happens in March and (paws crossed) she’ll let the doctor actually get his hands on her again!

Anyway, I thought this was a good time to share a bit from the book COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT, especially since the last few Feline Fridays focused on youngsters.

WHAT IS OLD?

What is considered “old” for a cat? The question of what is old is complicated by the impact of genetics, environment, and individual characteristics. Consider human beings: one person may act, look and feel “old” at 65 while another 65-year-old remains an active athlete with a youthful attitude and appearance. The same is true for our cats.

“I think that actually varies a lot, and it’s getting older every year,” says Rhonda Schulman, DVM, an internist at the University of Illinois. “It used to be that eight was the major cutoff for the cat that was geriatric. Now we’re moving to the point that’s a prolonged middle age.” According to Guinness World Records, the oldest cat on record was Creme Puff owned by Jake Perry of Austin, Texas. Cream Puff was born August 3, 1967 and still living at the age of 37 in 2004.

A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of their lifespan, says Sarah K. Abood, DVM a clinical nutritionist at Michigan State University. However, since we can’t predict what an individual cat’s lifespan will be, the beginning of old age is a bit arbitrary. Certain families of cats may be longer lived than others, in the same way that some human families enjoy a much greater longevity than others. The lifespan of your cat’s parents and grandparents is a good predictor of how long you can expect your cat to live. People who share their lives with pedigreed cats may be able to access this information through the cat’s breeder.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="448" caption="She's not a pedigreed Siamese--only a wannabe--so really there's no way to predict longevity. A friend's cat (we think a littermate) died over a year ago . . ." Seren "Editing"

Seren has ALWAYS talked but she's more vocally demanding these days.

PREDICTING LONGEVITY

Longevity of unknown heritage cats are much more difficult to predict. Even when felines are “part” Siamese or Persian, for example, these felines may inherit the very worst, or the very best, from the parents. The majority of pet cats are domestic shorthair or domestic longhair kitties of mixed ancestry, and the products of unplanned breeding. That by itself points to a poorer-than-average level of health for the parents, which in turn would be passed on to the kittens. Siblings within the same litter may have different fathers, and can vary greatly in looks, behavior, and health. When all is said and done, one should expect the random-bred cat-next-door kitty to be neither more nor less healthy than their pedigreed ancestors—as long as they all receive the same level of care and attention.

“If you get a kitten, it is very likely you will have this cat for the next 15 to 20 years,” says Dr. Abood. That means the last 25 percent would be 12 to 15 years. To simplify matters, most veterinarians consider cats to be “senior citizens” starting at about seven to eight years old, and geriatric at 14 to 15.

Catnip and a sun bath can be great fun for old kitties.

Here’s some perspective comparing cat age to human age. “The World Health Organization says that middle-aged folks are 45 to 59 years of age and elderly is 60 to 74. They considered aged as being over 75,” says Debbie Davenport, DVM, an internist with Hill’s Pet Foods. “If you look at cats of seven years of age as being senior, a parallel in human years would be about 51 years,” she says. A geriatric cat at 10 to 12 years of age would be equivalent to a 70-year-old human.

CHERISHING OLD KITTIES

Veterinarians used to concentrate their efforts on caring for young animals. When pets began to develop age-related problems, the tendency among American owners was to just get another pet. That has changed, and today people cherish their aged furry companions and want to help them live as long as possible.

Modern cats age seven and older can still live full, happy and healthy lives. Age is not a disease. Age is just age, says Sheila McCullough, DVM, an internist at University of Illinois. “There are a lot of things that come with age that can be managed successfully, or the progression delayed. Renal failure cats are classic examples.” It’s not unusual for cats suffering kidney failure to be diagnosed in their late teens or even early twenties.

“I had a woman with a 23-year-old cat who asked should she change the diet. I said, don’t mess with success!” says Dr. McCullough. These days veterinarians often see still-healthy and vital cats of a great age. “I think if the cat lives to 25 years, I shouldn’t be doing anything but saying hello,” says Steven L. Marks, BVSc, an internist and surgeon at Louisiana State University (now at North Carolina State University). “If you’ve ever had a pet live that long, you want them all to live that long.”

 Excerpt from COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT, revised and updated Kindle Edition by Amy D. Shojai, CABC. 

So do you have an “old” cat? Does he or she act like a senior? What age did you notice a change, if any? Seren now has a few white hairs surrounding her eyelids, made visible by the dark mask. And she’s got some arthritis so she doesn’t leap as high any more. A couple of her claws have thickened and require more frequent trims since she has trouble pulling them in (she “clicks” when she walks on hard surfaces). But keeping the dog in line seems to keep her very happy and engaged in life! What about yours? Please share!

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Comments

Feline Friday: Celebrating Old Cats — 20 Comments

  1. I’ve noticed that Ginger, our Geriatric (about 18 years old we think – we got her from the pound and they estimated she was six years old at the time) is a little more cranky now than she used to be. She doesn’t like change. On the recommendation of the vet we changed her feed to a brand that includes glucosamine. Apparently she hated it.

    Now Ginger doesn’t like our dogs. She gets along with them, but she doesn’t like them, so we were confused when she came upstairs (to keep the peace Ginger lives in the basement with our sons) and shoved the dogs away from their food bowls and scarfed their food. Guess I’m a bit thick. Took me a couple of days of Ginger doing this to figure out that:

    1) The dogs were getting soft food with some meals
    2) We changed Ginger’s food two weeks before
    3) When we checked the food bowl downstairs was NOT going down

    We changed back to the original food, and Ginger is happy again.

    It was really quite funny to watch, since all three of the dogs (we are babysitting one for a friend) are bigger than she is. Even the smallest, the beagle, outweighs her by ten pounds, and the biggest by over forty, but she had all three buffaloed. She pulled her steam kettle routine and they just backed up and let her eat.

    The Empress of the Universe lives here.

    Wayne

    • ROTFL! Yep, those kitties know how to bluff, true enough. You might be able to add glucosamine to Ginger’s wet food, too. *shrug* It takes a while to build up in the system but does seem to help some kitties. There’s also a product at health food stores called green-lipped mussels that contain similar properties. And cats often take it as a treat because it stinks like fish. LOL!

      • I may look at it, but going by what you said about claws, I’m wondering if her problem walking isn’t her feet instead of her joints. We tried her on this new stuff because she wasn’t moving well, but she came up the stairs like a trooper. I watched her, and it seemed more like her feet were bothering her than anything else.

        Thinking about it, she hates people touching her feet. She hates going to the vet. She hates leaving the house.

        We’ve been pampering her. and going along with her foibles. What else do you do with an elderly relative that you love, and that you are scared isn’t likely to be around for that much longer.

        Wayne

  2. Stories of our older kitties have abounded in the comments, but I actually want to express a curiosity regarding lifespan – want to try and get some feedback on if it’s coincidence or if others have observed it too.

    See, we’ve had 2 calicos that we kept their entire lives. Both died of natural causes – no signs of ill health up until we, well… found them. Both were outlived by their mothers, and the more recent one we know was the first of her litter to die. I’m kind of wondering if calicos in general have shorter life spans. I know the genetics involved in the calico coloring are a little finicky to begin with, so it makes me wonder. But since we’ve only had the two that we could actually compare to other cats in the same family, well, that’s not a big enough sample size to work with.

    • Yeah, not a large enough sample to know. And I don’t recall any study that has looked at color patterns as they relate to longevity. There are a few that purport to relate coat color to personality but there’s some question about the validity of those, too. *shrug* I’ll be interested to hear from others.

      • Not that it means much, but Ginger is a Tortie, and she is fairly old. I’ve known Calicos that were about as old (hard to tell with cats from the pound).

        Family joke is that Ginger combines all the worst points of blonds, brunettes, and redheads in one small, but volatile package. Everyone loves here, even when she takes a swipe at their ankles for being in her way.

        Wayne

        • LOL Wayne! Love that she “combines all the worst points…” but still must be a charmer for everyone to love her. *s* And yes, painful feet make sense, especially when claws seem to thicken or overgrow and are hard to retract. A couple of Seren’s are like that. She once caught and tore a claw (she was 3 or 4 I think) and it grew back a bit deformed so I have to keep it trimmed short.

  3. Happy birthday Seren! My 17-year-old Siamese boy Merlin sends purrs. You don’t want to hear him sing happy birthday ;-)! Like Seren, Merlin is more vocal than ever but in his case it’s related to his diminished vision. Btw, my vet said older Siamese cats tend to have more brittle nails. Amy, I really enjoyed this and will share.

  4. Our furry one will turn seven on his next (unknown but probably early spring) birthday. He can & does still go airborne chasing toys like a kitten but doesn’t always jump into a window unless he decides it is worth his while (and he is going to be allowed to stay for more than just a momentary peek). Still, several times a day something high energy is worth his while. He is muscular and in very good shape for an all indoor cat.

    Can you interview the guy whose cat lived to be 37 to see what he did that we can all copy? I do occasionally ask my friends with cats that have lived into their 20s details of what they did. In one case where my friend’s cat lived to be 27, the cat had had kidney problems or something like that earlier on and had to be on a special diet. As a very old cat, she also was given a specially cooked treat of chicken livers when she asked for it. I think attention to their health and food and being indoors were the key things I noticed (thus far) in the ones I asked.

    Our dear one is part Burmese and is more and more vocal as the years go by. Today he informed me that he disliked my classic rock & country musical choices to exercise by and would not return to that room until it stopped.

    • Hi Brenda, As I recall the owner of the 37-year-old cat was interviewed some years ago by Cat Fancy magazine and said the kitty ate quite a variety including fresh foods (green beans, melon, etc!).

      I do believe longevity has as much to do with nurture (care and environment) as nature (inheritance). I stopped giving Seren yearly vaccinations when she was 4 other than rabies (required by TX law). And she eats a complete and balanced commercial food but gets supplemented with fresh foods from my plate (whatever she wants, in moderation). She’s also incredibly confident. I think nervous and fearful cats have a more difficult time fighting off illness and may not live as long as a result, and some of that personality is inherited while other parts have to do with early socialization.

      Wish there was a magic wand. I really do.

    • Brenda,

      Don’t know if it helps, but I swear by Science Diet. Ginger, out 18 year old Tortie, had been fixed at the pound just before we got her. She was supposed to be six at the time. We didn’t know any better, so we fed her grocery store cat food for years. Her belly fur, which had been shaved for surgery, never grew back.

      About four years ago we decided to try Science diet on Ginger, the older cat blend. Within three months the belly fur which had NEVER grown back over eight years, grew back.

      I’m not a nutrition expert. I’m guessing that the cheaper stuff leaves out some of the vitamins that cats need (and dogs – we had a similar experience with Mark, our Husky/Sheperd/Wolf mix), but I don’t know for certain. I do know that we’ve had a lot of success with Science Diet.

      I’m not sure about any of the other brands, because I really haven’t wanted to mess with a winning combination, but you may want to experiment, because what worked for us, may not work for you. FYI, Science Diet is damned expensive.

      Wayne

  5. Hi there! Thanks for the senior kitty column. I enjoyed the read. I’m owned by Charisma (I call her Chrissy) who is a register lynx-point siamese. In February, she will be 19.5 years old. Her teeth were never the best and now she only has her fangs left. During this past year, she has started losing muscle mass. Her fighting weight all her life was about 6.2 pounds and now she is down to 5.2 pounds. Vet says she seems to be healthy for an old girl and to just keep doing what I am doing. I have noticed that she is more “clingy” in her old age but just as vocal as ever. lol She’s always told me what to do and how to do it….at great length. We’ve been together since she was a baby.
    Pamela
    Tucson, AZ

    • I love the name Charisma! She’s a tiny one, all right. Seren has always been small, too. And yes, the older kitties do tend to lose muscle mass which is why they need MORE protein (but very digestible) when they reach certain ages. You must have been doing something very right with this lovely girl for her to be almost 20. Wow.

  6. Rainbow, 17 soon to be 18, is suffering from kidney disease right now and is having a hard time of it. But we remain hopeful. Other than needing lots of water and SQ fluids she seems to be okay. She has started the “senior howl” this last year and she has lost muscle mass but she is active, affectionate and interested in life.

    One interesting change that I’ve noticed of late is that she used to be the pariah cat in our household but this past year the other cats have been leaving her alone. I’m happy as can be for that but have no idea why that changed.

    I’m glad to read about your decision regarding Seren’s vaccinations. I’ve been considering the same thing with my older cats. No sense in vaccinating if they don’t need it. Of course the Rabies vacc. is required so we’ll keep up with that.

    Happy Birthday Seren! from all of my crew (actually they don’t really care but I do)

    • Thanks Andrea! I made the decision to stop vaccinating back when Seren was 4 or 5, after interviewing a bunch of the movers-and-shakers (including Dr. Jim Richards *s*) during that vaccination shake up over vaccine-induced tumors. Got the scoop on the new vaccination protocols before they were pub’d. I asked Dr Ford what he did for his cats… and followed suit. *s*

      SQ fluids make the old kitties feel sooooo much better! Kidney disease seems almost a given if they live long enough. *sigh* Good positive thoughts sent your way from Seren-kitty (well, from me anyway! *s*)

  7. Happy Birthday Seren and many, many more. Having a pet that has shared so many wonderful years with you is definitely a blessing. “I think if the cat lives to 25 years, I shouldn’t be doing anything but saying hello,” – LOVED this!

  8. Happy Birthday, Seren! I have a beautiful 9-year-old Siamese named Precious. Meezers Rule!