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Feline Friday: Celebrating Old Cats

Seren2000

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

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.

Seren "Editing"

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 . . .

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.

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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!

love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Feline Friday: Ask Amy, Neat Freaks & Nasty Gifts

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12-12 persian kitten 2

Persians can be a grooming challenge.

We cherish the cat’s fastidious nature, and I’ve blogged before about the consequences–hairballs, ew!  But neatnik behavior goes beyond looking good. How and why cats groom impacts physical, emotional and social health. Kittens learn to lick themselves by 2 weeks of age using copycat behavior, and a slovenly mother will raise kitten slobs.

Are your cats neatniks, or slobs? Seren has a very specific grooming routine, ever since she arrived as a four-month-0ld stray. Most times kittens wash themselves by the time they are weaned, and adults spend up to 50 percent of their awake time in some form of grooming. You can learn WHY are cats such OCD groomers in the rest of my NEATNESS FREAKS article at Paw Nation.

By the way, I’ll be sending in suggestions for future Paw Nation topics. Have any suggestions (dog or kitty?). Please share! No guarantees, but I aims ta pleeze. And if not there, the topic could be a future Ask Amy.

So does it seem counter-intuitive for some tidy creatures to indulge in playing mousy games with critter entrails? Ew, again! Do your cats bring you special gifts? The few times that a mouse managed to get into the house, Seren simply watched it run by with only passing curiosity. She does attack crickets with relish, though, and leaves the buggy drumsticks behind. I think one reason many of us adore cats is they’re just a paw-step away from that wild-child creature, so it’s like bringing nature closer into our lives.

The Ask Amy video offers a couple of reasons why cats bring us gifts–but what do you think?

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions–and to stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Woof Wednesday: Imperfect Pets

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Oscar is Natalie's furry muse . . .

Oscar does many things. He helps watch over his little sister. He keeps the Tempur-Pedic bed nice and warm at night and he helps his Mommy write by sitting on her feet, under her desk. But Oscar has done more than be Natalie C. Markey’s personal assistant. On her latest project he served as her inspiration.

Oscar lives with epilepsy and takes medication twice a day to monitor his condition. Thanks to Oscar, Natalie learned what it takes to successfully care for a special needs dog and wants to help others do the same. That’s why she wrote her first book, Caring For A Special Needs Dog, which releases TODAY–SNOOPY-DANCE-‘O-JOY! Doncha just love when that happens?

I had the honor to review the book even before it hit the shelves. This is an uplifting and practical book that provides down to earth simple advice. It’s easier than you think to live with a disabled dog. Natalie didn’t stop with her own experiences–she reached out to others and the book shares real life tips from families that make it work.

Of course, the vet is the go-to resource when caring for any pet, and Natalie sings the praises of those who helped Oscar. But it’s in the owners’ power to improve their dog’s quality of life, despite a medical condition. One of my favorite parts of the book is Natalie sharing how to prepare your special needs dog for your human baby, and the benefits of having children participate in the dog’s care as they grow up together. Made my tail wag!

Natalie is a fellow Texan, and Oscar received help from a Lone Star facility, so I’m also thrilled that a percentage of the profits from “Caring for Your Special Needs Dog” go to The Texas A&M Foundation to the benefit of the Neurology Section, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinarian Medicine.

Markey is a nine-year seasoned freelance journalist. She writes for several local and National publications including her Pet To Publishing blog, and a regular column on Examiner.com, Special Needs Dog Care Examiner. After a professional career in PR and Communications she now writes non-fiction and fiction full time. This Texan and Baylor University graduate currently writes from a forest in Arkansas where she gets support for her husband, daughter and, of course, Oscar.

Do you have an “imperfect pet?” The Magical-Dawg would never let such a thing slow him down. Seren-Kitty hisses at the thought anyone would DARE consider her less-than-purr-fection. They both have stellar vet care, but if need be, I’d go to a specialist for extra help the way Natalie did for Oscar. Heck, my cutting-edge book has a list of the top vets all over the country!

Where would you draw the line? A “tripod” pet with only three legs? or one needing a wheelchair? A blind or deaf cat? Incontinent old dog or diabetic feline? Please share YOUR special-but-imperfect-pet experiences . . . and why you’d do it again (or what challenges others need to know).

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions–and to stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!