Katz Tales: Giving older cats that extra special care and attention

  • Animals
  • Monday, 15 Oct 2018

Our furry friends can live comfortably until they're much older, thanks to advances in veterinary care, the abundance of excellent cat food, and other boons. Photo: 123rf.com

At the end of a long day, we switch off our phones, veg out on the sofa and watch mindless television. For Target, this is golden time with bells on. He sits on top of me and we cuddle.

As I stroke him, his claws curl in and out, in harmony with his purrs. He’s careful not to stab me but he does get the odd claw stuck in my tee.

Last week, he got up and found he was Velcroed to my top by one of his front claws. It’s easy to deal with: as the nail is curved, pulling means a hole in your clothes. The trick is not to tug, therefore, but to push. So, I held his paw and pressed down a little. The claw slipped free and my boy went off.

I forgot about it almost instantly because Target does his own manicures. He lies down, curls his paw up tight, extends the offending digit and then nibbles off any rough corners.

What I love about it is the intent reflective look he has when he does it. It might tickle or perhaps it’s the way the sharp claw runs against his spiny tongue; whatever it is, it’s an absorbing business.

That night, Target fixed his claw and I thought that was the end of it. Except a day or so later, he was Velcroed to me again. This time, I got out my nail file. Some kitties hate them but Target adores the rough material and wants to chew it. I worry about his teeth and therefore make a habit of hiding them.

So, Target sat on my lap and, while I held his paw and pushed gently – popping out the raggedy claw – he chewed the end of the file and enjoyed himself. That’s when I flashed back to 10 years ago. Suddenly, I was back in the time when I used to sit with our old boy Scoop and do his paws.

Target as a kitten in 2007. Photo: Ellen Whyte

It hit me; Target is ageing. I call him the Senior Cat because he is the eldest but as he’s had the title since he was six or so, I hadn’t realised quite how old he is. To my shock, I worked out that Target is 11. In fact, his Gotcha Day is coming up on Oct 25.

Twenty years ago, an 11-year-old kitty was considered old, and furries over 13 were quite rare. Thanks to advances in veterinary care, the abundance of excellent cat food, and other boons, our furry friends live comfortably until they’re much older. As I see it, 16 is the new 13. As such, current thinking about cat ageing has evolved.

Generally speaking, a one-year-old kitten is 12 in human years, a two-year-old cat is 24, and after that, every year counts for four of our years. That means Target is 24 plus nine times four, which is 60. It’s an age when you start looking out for all those little changes like grey fur and a tendency to being a bit slower.

I think it didn’t register how old Target is because he’s in fairly good shape. His fur is soft and unmarked by grey. His teeth are perfectly white, and his gums nice and pink. His appetite is excellent. He has a bowl of cat food every morning and, over the weekends, he has his morning dim sum. Yes, our little furry foody is a huge fan of Shu Mai, the steamed pork mince dumplings.

Okay, he’s a little stiff but that’s because he had an accident a few years ago. He jumps the six-foot garden wall every day (just so he can stand on the top and tease the dogs next door) and he wrestles with Swooner, our kitten, and frequently bests him.

While this is all good, I find these thoughts unsettling. I suppose that any reminder that all life is fleeting is disturbing.

However, I tell myself that my new awareness has not changed the facts: my senior cat is super healthy and having a totally pawsome time. In fact, he got that split claw because he’s been practising his tree-climbing.

Yes, my old boy is taking runs at the tree and seeing how high he can get. He’s managed to get as high as the branch that reaches over the car port roof, so some days I find him meowing at me from overhead, relishing his ninja kitty skills. The fact that Swooner can’t do it is just icing on the cake.

So, I will keep an eye out for Target’s overall health but for the rest we’re going to focus on making his 11th Gotcha Day super special. I’m thinking a little Shu Mai for breakfast, a boiled chicken liver for lunch and an extra special massage in the evening.

Plus perhaps a quick check that the claws are in good nick, just to ensure those kitty ninja skills stay nice and sharp.

Top Tips For Elderly Cat Care

Once your pet reaches 10 or 11, you’ve got a senior kitty, so it’s sensible to adjust your routine to manage any issues stemming from age.

Many of the things to watch out for are just like the things you’d watch for a human person: your pet might not see or hear as well, be a little bit fussier with food, have a weaker immune system, and become less agile. You may compensate by moving furniture, getting in different food and factoring in more health checks.

Again, like elderly humans, old cats can become more insecure and anxious. This means you need to spend more time with them, be very gentle, and if you have younger visitors, keep them away from the cat.

Danger signs to look out for are sudden thirsts, lack of appetite and the kind of bad temper that comes from pain. Cats are very good at hiding health issues, so if you see these changes, go straight to your vet.

Finally, on a personal note, I don’t know if it’s every cat but my boys run in and out all day long and when they get beyond a certain age, I find their nails are more prone to damage. It’s very easy to take care of: all you need is an emery board.

Sit your pet on your lap, and very gently press each toe so you can see the edge of the claw. If it’s ragged, a few swipes will fix it. Remember, cats need sharp claws to climb and defend themselves. Blunt claws leave your cat helpless so make sure you leave them in good natural shape – curved and super sharp.

While it is possible to clip kitty claws, there’s a stripe (called the quick) at the base where the blood vessels and nerves that supply the claw cluster. If you damage that, there’s tonnes of pain and blood, so it’s best to leave clipping to a vet or to get special lessons.

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