Tree is a 15 year old brown tabby. Overall, he has had a healthy life. He avoided medical issues until he was a 9 year old senior. Then, he was diagnosed with diabetes. He was sick for about a month before the diagnosis, which I only really recognized in retrospect. Cats are what I think of as “master predators,” and as such it is critical that they hide sickness and pain. It has nothing to do with how much they trust you; it is instinctual to hide anything that makes them vulnerable. So paying attention to subtle signs is very important with cats, especially as they age. I finally realized Tree had lost weight so brought him to the vet.
Diabetes is a lot of work to manage in any species. I wanted Tree to be with me for as long as possible, so treating him wasn’t a hard decision. Both cats and dogs can live for years with diabetes if properly cared for.
Tree also has arthritis. The majority of senior cats have some amount of arthritis. Again, cats don’t like us to see their pain, so you may not realize what is happening. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of pain medications available for cats. Please never give your cat human medication. For arthritis, there is one long term option, gabapentin, and one dog NSAID that can be used off label for cats. Otherwise, nutritional supplements like glucosamine are available.
Some of the things I have done at home to help my senior kitty:
- I have an ottoman at the foot of my bed so he doesn’t have to jump so high.
- I added litter boxes and gave more choices.
- One symptom of diabetes is increased thirst, and Tree has always loved water in general, so I have three water bowls in my home. They are located where it is convenient for him, not for me.
- He started sleeping in the bathroom in front of the heating vent, so I made him a bed and water bowl there. Again, this is not very convenient for the humans in the house, but we can adjust.
- Routine Playtime: every day, we have dedicated time together. It can be easy to forget about an old, sleeping cat, but they need stimulation and exercise too. We used to play hard with a wand toy, but now I limit that when he starts breathing hard and getting tired. Our time now is more focused on brushing. He loves that, and because older cats don’t always groom as well, it helps his coat.
- I also let him play apps on a tablet. They make games just for cats! He likes the ones with butterflies or fish. He does a lot of staring at the screen and then batting at it. Sometimes he tries to get under the tablet, surely the fish are hiding there! It helps keep him mentally stimulated. Like all good parents, though, I limit device time!
There are other things that could be done for Tree, but everything is on an individual basis, and Tree, like most cats, is very much an individual! Diet changes are especially hard for him. He does eat a geriatric formula now, because it is so important for a pet to eat the proper food for their life stage.
We all know how much cats like to sleep, and senior cats sleep even more! So, it is up to us to seek them out, check in, and watch for subtle signs of illness. As our pets age, they need us more than ever!
Written by Karen Russell
For the past 28 years, Karen has worked with animals in a variety of settings, most recently as a receptionist at Oakview. In her six years here, she has continued to be passionate about medicine, client education, and recently, digital marketing.