Thank you to Dr. Jean for taking the time to talk to Floppycats about geriatric cats - how to care for them, what to look out for, supplements to offer and more!
You can learn more about cat health by reading Dr. Jean’s book, The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care: An Illustrated Handbook as well as proper cat nutrition: What Cats Should Eat: How to Keep Your Cat Healthy with Good Food
All products featured on the site are carefully selected by the editor of Floppycats, Jenny Dean. In addition, we may earn a small commission when you purchase something through our affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Geriatric Cats Podcast
You can listen to the podcast of geriatric cats with Dr Jean Hofve (click here) or you can read the interview below.
We've now done several interviews with Dr. Jean, feel free to check any of them out:
- Cat Allergies with Dr. Jean
- Obesity in Cats with Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM
- Kidney Disease in Cats with Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM
- Cat Conjunctivitis and Cat Herpes with Dr. Jean Hofve
- Cat Constipation – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment of Constipation with Dr. Jean Hofve
- Food Allergies in Cats with Dr. Jean Hofve
- Vaccines for Cats with Dr. Jean Hofve
- Geriatric Cats with Dr. Jean Hofve
Jenny: Hello Floppycatters. Today we have the pleasure of another interview with Dr. Jean Hofve, who has done a number of interviews with us, and I will include a link to all of those in the About section. If you're watching this on YouTube, they will be linked within the article that you're reading. So, Dr. Jean is a holistic vet who's based in Denver, and she has a fantastic website filled with awesome information called LittleBigCat, and I will link to that as well. She also has a book on Amazon, an eBook that you can download, What Cats Should Eat: How to Feed Your Cat for Optimal Health. And today, Dr. Jean is going to talk to us about geriatric cats. Hi Dr. Jean. Thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Jean: Hi, Jenny. Good to talk to you again.
Jenny: Yes. I posted, as you know, on our Facebook page that we were going to do another interview, and everyone was very excited and sent me questions and whatnot. So, I figured we would start kind of in a general realm, and then move into their specific questions, if that works for you.
Dr. Jean: Sure. That works.
Jenny: Okay. So, the first question that I have down is at what age is a cat considered to be a geriatric cat?
Dr. Jean: Well, it kind of depends on who you're talking to and what you want to call geriatric. The pet food companies now like to say that they're mature at seven and geriatric at 10, 11, 12. But I think even for cats, age is kind of a state of mind. If you feel good, it just doesn't matter. But what I consider geriatric would be probably between 10 and 12 because they get a certain look. And part of that is that as they get older, their irises tend to develop little holes in them and they start to look a little lacy, a little spider webby. To me, that’s a sure sign that the cat is getting up there. My cat, he'll be 17 next month, and that didn't happen for him until like a year or two ago. And he's still spry, and he’s the same pain in the butt he’s always been. So, it's how they feel.
The pet food companies do this whole thing – kitten, adult, mature adult, senior. Well, a lion in the wild eats the same thing the day he’s weaned as he’s going to eat the day he dies for his whole entire life. So, mucking around with the nutrients and the balances and stuff, if it’s a good food, they can eat it forever. Although I do, of course, recommend finding several foods and rotating amongst them because, you know, variety is the spice of life for everybody.
Jenny: Yes. That’s a good point on the lion is going to eat the same thing throughout their lives.
Dr. Jean: Yeah, they don’t only eat elderly antelopes or something.
Jenny: Okay. Obviously, you mentioned the iris thing, and I've always called it a marbling because that's what my cat Rags’ eyes looked like when he was an old man.
Dr. Jean: If you look with an ophthalmoscope, it’s actually little holes in the iris. It’s like the iris gets real thin and you can see the retina through it. And the retina is black, so that’s why it looks like that. Now there is another condition where they get literally spots on their irises that are brownish to blackish. Those are actually iris melanoma. If they grow fast or if they change noticeably, then you want to talk to an ophthalmologist because I don't know, my ophthalmologist here said, yeah, that's always what it is. It's always melanoma and it's always malignant. And what we don't know, because we don't do a necropsy or post-mortem on every single old cat, we don’t know if that's affecting other organs or other things going on in there. Melanoma is a nasty cancer in people. So, I don't know. But if you see a spot that is really changing, it is probably worth having that operated, and they will burn it out with a laser.
Jenny: That’s nice. I thought you were going to tell me they were going to remove the eyeball.
Dr. Jean: Well, they can if you can't afford the laser surgery, I suppose. It’s cheaper to take out the eyeball, but I wouldn't if I didn’t have to.
Jenny: Right. Right. Okay.
Dr. Jean: I only know one cat that had that done. But we were glad that we did because it turned out to be a very malignant tumor causing problems.
Jenny: All right. So, what are some of the things in addition obviously to these eye things to watch for in a geriatric cat? And it sounds like maybe a cat owner doesn’t necessarily need to be looking at the irises like that, that's more of a vet thing to do.
Dr. Jean: But you're the one who's going to notice a spot and notice that two weeks from now, it’s twice the size. Doesn't everybody look deeply into their cat's eyes every day?
Dr. Jean: My Sundance has developed this habit of just staring. If I don't notice it, then he whacks me across the face with his paw like excuse me, but my bowl is not in a state of welcoming. They’re so funny. And when you’ve been together as long as you are with an older cat, it’s just like an old couple.
Jenny: Oh yes, it’s fantastic. Yes.
Dr. Jean: The two things that I really watch for with older cats, well three – appetite, thirst, and weight loss. Thirst – the drink a lot, pee a lot syndrome is called polyuria, polydipsia. It just means drink a lot, pee a lot. That can be a sign of a whole bunch of health issues – kidney disease of course, but also liver disease, thyroid, diabetes, all kinds of endocrine problems. Here's what happened with my two. I had two old cats. And I went from two or three clumps of pee in the box a day to nine. So, I immediately grabbed a cat and took her in and had blood work. I was in vet school at the time. I picked the one I could catch first, and that was Shanuck, and she was fine. No problem. And she had always been my big-ticket item cat.
She's the one that had hepatic lupinosis. She’s the one who had chronic urinary tract stuff. She’s the one who had this, that, and the other thing. She had cost me a lot in vet bills – part of why I had to go to vet school myself, you know. But it turned out to be the other cat who was older. She was, I think, 17 or 18. No, she must have been 15. She was 15 at the time. She would rather die than take a pill. So, I didn't really treat her. I didn't give her any medication, but she was on homeopathy for years and everything. She lived another five years.
Jenny: Oh wow.
Dr. Jean: Yeah, and she never had problems from it, but I went through more kitty litter, that’s all. These things are not death sentences, but you want to know what it is because there are things that can be treated. Thyroid disease is readily treated, and you want to treat it because it is not something you want to let go. That's a really horrible way to die, what happens to those cats. But liver, endocrine glands, pancreas, pancreatic enzymes or insulin, body regulation like that – those are the things that kind of start to boop out when you get older. Appetite – I’ve noticed with mine they mostly have gotten a little fussier as they’ve gotten older. And of course, I think when you get a cat, you sign a contract that says I will spoil this cat to whatever degree necessary. What she wants, she gets.
But if appetite changes, if it increases, that could be thyroid. If it decreases, that can also be thyroid. There is a thing called paradoxic hyperthyroidism where they actually eat less, lose weight. It’s not at all like the typical I'm ravenous and I can't keep weight on even though I'm eating 14 pounds of food a day. So, there are a number of things, but appetite, watch the litter box, you're going to catch most major things that way.
Jenny: Okay. Do you get your cat’s blood taken once a year after the age of 10, or do you have any specifications?
Dr. Jean: No, I don't. I did do baseline blood work on Sundance because he had to have a dental. And it actually picked up early kidney failure. That was three or four years ago. He really doesn’t show any signs of it. But I had his blood drawn last year and I probably will do it again soon because we do have some other issues. He's got a calcium imbalance problem that he's had for years that's kind of cropped up again as he's gotten older. Unless there are symptoms or unless you're watching something, like thyroid – if you’re on the medication for thyroid or the diet for thyroid, you’ve got to check it every six months at least because you need to know what those levels are. But with him, I check him.
He’s losing a little weight, so I checked him last year for thyroid. He was fine. But I'm going to check him again this year. It just makes sense because I can't see. I don’t have the X-ray eyes to see what's going on in there, and I want to make sure that there's not something that's going to come and whack me over the head in shock. So, I think it’s justified to do at least a basic blood panel of thyroid, and probably a urinalysis once a year, when they hit maybe 14, 15 for sure.
Jenny: Okay. All right. And urinalysis – my vet always does that basically to check kidney values. Is there something else that they're checking that I'm not aware of?
Dr. Jean: Oh, yeah. If they’re doing a basic metabolic panel, you're checking kidneys, you’re checking liver. Thyroid is a separate test, but they will always run it on a cat over seven to 10 years old because they don't get it before that. But a lot of them get it after that. And there are all the electrolytes, and you're checking the immune system, whether a complete blood count.
Jenny: Oh no, I meant with the urinalysis. Sorry.
Dr. Jean: Oh, urinalysis.
Jenny: Yes, when they check the urine.
Dr. Jean: Yes, because you want to check and make sure the kidneys are working correctly, which means they're concentrating urine. So, you want to check specific gravity. If you do a blood test and the kidney values come back a little high, and BUN can actually be quite high depending on the diet and when they last ate – it goes up and down all the time. But without a urinalysis to go with that blood work, you really can't say whether the cat is having kidney problems or not because a cat could be really dehydrated because it was a long ride in the car on a hot day. And BUN will be sky high. But the kidneys will be fine. And the only way you know that is to check the urinalysis to see if the kidneys are concentrating the urine. So, in my book, there's not a whole lot of value in doing blood work without a urinalysis in an older kitty.
Jenny: Okay, that’s good info. It’ll make me not hesitate to say no to it.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. You really want to do it. If you're going to bother, just get the whole tamale.
Jenny: Got It. All right. So, what can you do to help your senior cat? Obviously, the blood work and the urinalysis and all that stuff when it comes to vets, but in a home life situation is, I think, where I also was targeting this question.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. Well, you’re paying attention. But I spoil them more as they get older. I make sure the water is fresh. I make sure they're eating correctly. Like he was eating this food last week, but now he's like not interested at all, so we have to rotate all the time and try different things. And make sure that they're still active, that they can move around, that they're still willing to play. I found an old laser pointer the other day, and boy, Sundance was just all about it just the same way he was when he was six months old. He pooped out a lot sooner than he did back then. But I was happy to see he was so willing to run and pounce and do things like that. The other thing, I made this mistake and I feel bad about it to this day, my cat Flynn, some of his toenails got really long.
And I thought I was trimming them often, but I guess it was a month or so or maybe a little bit longer, but a couple of them were really growing. As they get older, they don't take quite as good care of themselves and they don't chew the dead husks off the nail. They seem to grow a lot faster in the old cats. I call him old man toenails and old lady toenails because they are fierce, they are just massive. And so, keeping those trimmed is just extremely important. And I really felt bad that I let Flynn go so long that he was starting to have that problem. I was like oh shoot. And it wasn't that I didn't check them, but I hadn't checked them enough – not often enough. So, that is certainly something. Ask your peeps to let you know what they notice.
If they've always trimmed them once a month or something, see if they need it more often. It'd be nice to do a little survey and get feedback on that because my perception is that they grow faster or they're allowing them to grow faster because they're not maintaining them. You know they’ll get their back foot in their mouth and just wiggle it and worry it and chomp on it. They're actually taking those dead layers off themselves. But when they quit doing that, then you’ve got a real problem.
Jenny: Okay. That's interesting. I've been working with this company called Zen Clipper and they make a conical blade clipper that fits right over the claw. Anyway, in talking about it on social media and stuff, I've found a lot of people aren't aware of how a cat's claws grow, that they grow in layers and that they peel off kind of like an onion when they scratch. But somebody did mention just the other day that her cats had gotten older and that the nails have gotten thicker and courser. So, yes.
Dr. Jean: Absolutely. And I don't know if it's the cat’s inattention to them or that’s the problem, but it's something we really need to step up our game because I saw it all the time with older kitties. But I didn't know how those people were dealing with them. But I know how I was dealing with my own cat. I thought I was paying attention, and clearly not enough.
Jenny: Right. That's good advice because I don't clip my cat's nails on a regular basis. Because people have asked me, certainly, how often should I clip my cat's nails. And I say, well, to me it's kind of like a human. My mom couldn't cut all of my siblings’ nails at the same time because we all have different genetics. I mean we're similar because we're all from her.
Dr. Jean: Right. You metabolize just slightly different.
Jenny: Yes. And what we’re eating obviously is going to change how fast our nails and hair grow. So, yes, all of that came into play. But I usually just do mine when they're kneading on me and I'm like, ow, ow, time to cut our claws.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. And that didn’t happen with Flynn, so that’s why it really took me by surprise.
Jenny: Okay. Well then, I guess I'm fortunate that both of mine do that so that I be aware.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. And Flynn had very furry feet, very heavy fur. And he did not like having his feet handled particularly. But he didn’t nail me with them, and that was the odd thing. So, you think you'd notice, but I didn't notice. So, yeah, one of those little quirks of life.
Jenny: Yes. Well, so I am on the phone with you but I'm staring at litter boxes, and I know that there comes a point in time like if you have a high peeing cat, for example, I’m thinking of my parents’ cats when I’m saying this because they both stand and pee. They don’t squat. So, she’s got the storage bins. And I've been saying, mom, these storage bins aren’t going to work forever. They’ll be 14 this year and they're not going to be able to jump in and out.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. The way I solved that was I just put a little step stool next to the box and kept the litter really deep, so it was less space that they had to jump back out. And that worked for a long time. But one thing I've noticed with some older cats is they do not like deep litter, especially if they have old crickety knees. They’re not going to squat as much as they have in the past if they ever did. And it's going to be more of an issue to get in and out of there. But what they don't like is if their feet sink way down into soft litter, it makes them feel unsteady. So, sometimes with the older guys, you can only put in just a very thin layer of litter, just enough to absorb whatever they're going to use up in a day, and you just have to keep up with it a little better. So, if your cat is objecting to the litter and it's always deep and you haven't changed it, but suddenly they're not doing it anymore, regardless of the height or the size of the box, that's something to try is try less litter. I would have thought that for an older cat you’d put more litter so it’s more cushiony. Not all cats appreciate that.
Dr. Jean: I did live with tarps and newspapers all over my house for a year and a half when my cats got old because I'm the one who has to change because they're not going to change.
Dr. Jean: And probably people think that is just crazy. But this is what to do for your kitties. One thing that's really important with the older kitties is to have a litter box on every level of the house. If you live in a five-story mansion, you’ve got to have a litter box on each level because one of these days, your cat's going to say, you know, I don't feel like going to the basement. Here's a nice spot right here, and now you have a problem. I don't want them going up and down stairs a lot because it's hard on them, and eventually they will quit doing it. And so, you want to kind of head that off at the path. And I have friends and clients that just – I don’t want a litter box on the main level. I say, well, if you’d rather have cat pee, be my guest.
The other thing with like the Rubbermaid tubs that you use, they're actually very pliable with a box cutter. With any kind of sharp instrument, you can carve a doorway out of it. Now, there's always a chance that the cat is going back up to the doorway and shoot out. But you make an entrance somewhere that they could just kind of walk in. And they do make walk in little boxes, really shallow ones, for dogs. And those are really great if your cat does squat. But like you’ve found out, and I have found out that they are not always going to squat. And the day that they don't is the day you're going to have to find a new solution.
Jenny: Yes. Yes. I am blessed, knock on wood, that mine are squatters. The cat that I grew up with squatted too. So, my mom was like, where did these two come from?
Dr. Jean: Yeah. Their Mama didn't teach them right.
Jenny: I guess not. Well, speaking about that litter box on every floor, when Rags was in his final years, I consulted with an animal communicator several times. And one of the requests that he had was for me to add nightlights, that he couldn't see as well at night anymore.
Dr. Jean: That's really a great idea. Yeah.
Jenny: And I did find that he seemed to move around more at night after I added those. And to your suggestion with the step stool into the litter box, I had a stepstool up to a chair up to my bed, so he didn't have to jump up on my bed.
Dr. Jean: Right. Sundance is three years older than the other older cats, so I had put a chair for them to climb up onto the bed for several years. He utilizes it to jump up, but not always down, which bothers me. But you can't make them.
Jenny: Right, exactly. But I could tell that Rags appreciated it once I taught him this is why I have a chair butted up next to the bed. It is funny how you start just accepting living in a different way for the comfort of your kitty.
Dr. Jean: Exactly. And you know, as we get older, we need to stay flexible in our minds and our habits. And living with an older cat is a really good way to test how that’s going.
Jenny: Yes. Yes. Okay, so before I move into the reader questions, was there anything else that you wanted to add to what can you do to help your senior cat?
Dr. Jean: No, just lots of cuddles. And because they don't groom as well, increased attention to keeping their coat knot-free and everything, just more TLC. I figure if they’ve been around this long, they've really earned it.
Jenny: Absolutely. What is your take on the whole bathing a cat thing? And I'm asking that because I get that question quite frequently. And my response is always the only time I've ever needed to bathe a cat is when they've had a serious diarrhea problem, or they were old, and their coat was getting greasy. But other than that, I don't really do it.
Dr. Jean: Yeah, I've never bathed mine. And the last of the last four, only one of them was short haired. And Puzzle and Flynn had that really baby fine kind of kinky hair that was just miserable to deal with, but they both enjoyed being brushed. The big thing to know about bathing cats is you have to comb out everything before you bathe them. Because if those knots to get wet, you are in serious world of hurt. But unless they go outside and get into stuff or have an issue, I don't recommend bathing them. If they're looking a little greasy, that is actually probably a sign that they need more good fatty acids in their diet.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. It’s completely counter-intuitive, but apparently the quality of fats in the food that they're eating is probably not as good as what they actually need at that point. So, you might want to consider fish oil and things like that at that point.
Jenny: Okay. Interesting. Well, I failed Rags in that regard. Instead, I was like let's go get this grease out of your coat.
Dr. Jean: Yeah, I always thought that, but then it never stayed. Puzzle and Flynn love to be shaved in the summer. And it didn't matter. It grew back the same way. Regardless of what I was feeding, what I was doing, it didn’t matter. It was more genetic I think with them. But I did up their up their fatty acids. But there’s such a big genetic component, and they are not grooming as well as they get older. So, increased brushing is probably a good thing.
Jenny: All right. When I posted it on Facebook that we were going to have a talk, people left comments underneath that post. And then I also got an email from a reader. So, I thought I'd first hit the questions from the Facebook post, and then get into the email one because there are more questions on that one. Janelle asked, "how to reduce stress associated with trips in the carrier. Zoe, aged 10, recently started hyperventilating and drooling on trips to the vet."
Dr. Jean: Oh, that's a good one. Flower essences are so good for that. Something like Stress Stopper or Rescue Remedy – those are really helpful. And if you know you're going to the vet, and it’s not just a last minute we’d better go, then I would start several ahead setting them up with the flower essences. Spray the inside of the carrier, spray the inside of the car. It's like putting happy juice in the air. And that has made a big, big difference. And when you get into the room at the vet, have a little spritzer bottle with you and spray around the room, and that’ll help. You can always try the desensitization – put them in the carrier, take them out the door, bring them right back, let them out. Then put them in the carrier, take them to the car, walk back in, and let them out.
Take them to the car, put them in the back of the car, close the door, open the door, take them back – little steps to get them accustomed to it. But really, if you're only going to be going to the vet once or twice a year, it's probably not worth the hassle, and they will forget by the next time that you do it. And there are herbal formulas that are real good for stress, and those can be given an hour or two ahead. I know a lot of vets now are recommending Gabapentin. I suppose one dose isn't going [inaudible 00:30:57]. Bad story – I personally was having a really bad day. I was over at a friend's house. And we were out in the garden. I was trying to destress from my job. And she said, here, take one of these. And she gave me I think 100 milligrams of Neurontin, which is the brand name of Gabapentin.
She said it just turns it down a little bit. You won't feel any different, but that upper layer of the bzzzzz stress will be gone, and it worked so well. So, it's not a drug you want your cat on for long periods of time. But I think a judicious dose for those occasions, probably not a bad thing. The side effects are rare. The side effects of having that much stress I think far outweigh the possible worries with using a medication. The one thing you should not give is Acepromazine. Ace will slow them down, but then they're still scared, and they can't [inaudible 00:32:11] fully to it. I forgot to turn the do not disturb sign on. Sorry.
Jenny: That’s okay. I'm glad to hear that from you about Gabapentin because my vet has requested that for Charlie when he comes in, and I just don't want to give it to him because I don’t want to give him a drug. And so, I said, well, can I just give him some Cannabis and see how that goes.
Dr. Jean: No.
Dr. Jean: Absolutely not, well, unless you really know what you're doing and what you have.
Jenny: Right. No, this is like made for felines, cannabis, not a bag I bought off the street. No, I would never ever do that.
Dr. Jean: The stuff at the dispensaries is so strong. Right, THC is deadly for cats and dogs.
Jenny: Right. No. Yeah, this is Canna Companion.
Dr. Jean: It’s fine, but you really want to know what you're doing with it and how much, what dose you’re giving. If you're giving it by mouth, you’ve got to know that it takes a couple of hours to kick in. There's a particular product I use and like. It does help with stress, but I think it helps more with chronic stress than acute stress.
Jenny: Okay, that makes sense.
Dr. Jean: I’m not sure it’s going to turn them down just like a volume knob. Gabapentin does seem to do that. Valium you can use. It’s kind of out of vogue. But when you get to the vet, you want the cat to be feeling okay and acting fairly normal because otherwise… I walked into an exam one day, and the cat was absolutely flat out on the table, flat as a pancake, like all four feet stuck out just like he had been poured like a pancake onto the table. I about pooped a brick. And I looked down at the chart and it said, "annual exam". I'm like what happened to the cat. And he goes, oh, I gave him Rescue Remedy. I have never seen a cat so flat in my entire life. These alternative treatments can work very well. And herbs I think work as well or better than most drugs. So, there are lots of choices. I'm not sure I’d count on CBD in the moment, although it can work very fast if it's used right. But it just doesn't strike me as being the grandest thing to use.
Jenny: Okay. All right. That’s fair.
Dr. Jean: Unless you've been using it for a while and the cat is used to it, in which case the stress level will already be turned down in general.
Jenny: Right. Okay. What about the CBD oil and stuff like that? I would think for geriatric cats, does it help with arthritis or any other issues that they get it?
Dr. Jean: It does. Now, it's probably illegal to talk about drug effects from an herbal supplement. But it is really good for pain.
Jenny: Yes. My vet has said that they are recommending regularly the CBD oil for more their hospice type cats.
Dr. Jean: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, because it does reduce stress and anxiety and it does reduce pain and it's that happy juice kind of thing.
Jenny: Right. But yes, they say the same thing – we can't make any claims that it does any of this stuff. We just have seen other patients do well on it.
Dr. Jean: Right. Especially because I am technically a distributor for this particular kind, so I won't say what that is. I suppose you could probably find it on my website. But I worked with FDA for 20 years, and I don't want them to come crashing down on my head. I like those guys, you know, I don't want to annoy them. But yeah, it's good for so many things. And the way that it works, it works right at the nerve endings, and it affects how excitatory versus inhibitory neurotransmitters are released. So, it can be very precise, and it has effects all over the body. I could go on for hours about what it does and how it works physiologically, but you don't need to know that right now.
Jenny: No, and you’d probably lose me anyway.
Dr. Jean: I use it. So, yeah.
Jenny: Okay. Well, maybe I will be able to link to that from our interview.
Dr. Jean: Possibly. You can do a lot with technology these days.
Jenny: Yes. Yes. All right, well Janelle’s second question was how much weight loss is acceptable – does she have recommendations for maintaining weight in active otherwise healthy older cats.
Dr. Jean: If they're healthy, they shouldn't be losing much weight. Like Sundance lost a pound in a year, I could tell. If they lose weight to where it's noticeable, I think that needs to be checked. I’d say a pound in even or four months would be serious. A pound in six months would be worth checking. A pound in a year, I’m keeping an eye on it because it tends to accelerate. It's called skinny old cat syndrome, and nobody knows why they lose weight as they get older, but they do. But some cats lose weight catastrophically and dramatically as they get older. Now Flynn did that. He wasted away to nothing, and he lived another two, three years, ate like a pig, thyroid was perfect. It was just that was his genetics.
Jenny: Okay. Again, I would think that if you're having them regularly checked by a vet, that is most helpful.
Dr. Jean: Yeah.
Jenny: A pound off of an 8-pound cat versus a pound or 15-pound cat is a big difference.
Dr. Jean: It is. But either one, yeah, I mean a pound in an 8-pound cat is going to be obvious much quicker. But a pound in a 15-pound cat is still serious because of 15-pound Ragdoll is not too fat. That's not a huge thing. So, if you're losing weight in a normal weight cat, that's the thing. Sundance used to be 12 pounds at his highest. Now he's 10. But he’s 17, so I just keep a close eye on him. One thing – well two things let's insert here. One is older cats probably should go to the vet every six months. Just make sure you're catching things early. Your vet's going to palpate the tummy and is going to be able to recognize if there's thickening or masses or something a little funkadated in there. But older cats should not be vaccinated, period, for anything, ever.
I used to stop vaccinating at 14. If I had to do it again, I'd stop at 12 at the outside, and only rabies because there's nothing else they're going to get. Rabies is required by law. And the other thing was kitties – I know we've talked about vaccination, but the other thing to really be aware of is for all the kitty vaccines, there are non-adjuvanted recombinant vaccines from Merial. Use those or the intra-nasal or whatever you have. No killed viruses, so no killed rabies virus, no FIV, no FELV, no FIP. Those are all killed vaccines. You don't want them. Killed vaccines give cancer to cats, as many as one in a thousand. And if we have 80 million cats, that's hundreds of thousands of cats. That’s way too much cancer.
Jenny: Right. I will link to our interview about vaccinations too so if someone wants to read more or listen more, they can.
Dr. Jean: Yeah.
Jenny: Sorry, that deep breath is for the anger I have around that whole situation. Anyway…
Dr. Jean: I understand.
Jenny: Moving right along, Julie asked my two raggies, age 10 and 12, both have dreadful hair / fur ball cough. Advice would be appreciated.
Dr. Jean: Well, are you sure it's hairballs and not asthma? They sound pretty identical, although it would be unusual to have two cats with asthma. I hear plain Vaseline is a hairball fixer. You stick your finger in the jar and you get a chunk and you smoosh it between their teeth. I would do that once a day for four or five days and see if that doesn't improve things. I like Vaseline and petroleum jelly. Everybody has a heart attack when I say that. It is completely inert in the body. It cannot be broken down. You can give vegetable oil all day, but it's not going to last past the small intestine. And you don't want them getting a blockage lower down. It's completely inert, so it stays with. It glombs up the hair and whizzes it out the back door just in one fell swoop, and it works extremely well. And that's a good way to tell them apart – a hairball cough versus something else.
Dr. Jean: My cats tell me the Vaseline brand tastes better than other bands, but you can do what you want. There’s Laxatone and Katalax and all those with flavors and a bunch of junk in them. I just prefer plain petroleum jelly. My cat Spirit ate it every day, as she got older two or three times a day because she adored it, for 20 years. So, it was not hurting her.
Jenny: Right. I had quite the visual when you said it tastes the best. I had pictured you in front of the table with four or five jars lined up taking a bite out of each. I had thought that it might have to do with what they're eating if they were on dry food only, and I had sent her to catinfo.org and she had found out otherwise. Is there any relationship to that at all?
Dr. Jean: Probably. It probably is because dry food is so hard on them. If they’re just used to dry food, it’s like being on a Frito Twinkie diet, and your guts just aren’t going to work as well as they should. But you’re talking Ragdolls, these are long-haired cats, and there’s just a lot of fur to process.
Jenny: Okay. All right. Renee asked we have stairs that she goes up and down throughout the day, she’s 15, sometimes fast, other times a bit slow. Should I worry that it's hard for her?
Dr. Jean: Yeah. I mean if she's going up slowly because of pain, yeah. But I don't know what you can do to stop her other than baby gate at the top and the bottom, and hope she doesn’t decide to jump it, which could be worse. It kind of depends on why she's doing that. If there are doors upstairs, close all the doors, and maybe upstairs will be less attractive to her. But it is not doing her any good to push through pain. If it hurts, she should stop, but you can't tell them. So, we have to kind of think, well, what could be going on there and why is she doing it. Yeah, I would restrict her a little bit. You can always treat the arthritis – laser, acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy, they all work really well. But then you don't want her running up and down the stairs because she feels good because the pain is masked.
Jenny: Right. And those situations are so individual, it would be hard to make a blanket statement, I would think.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. I’d try and minimize the jumping up and down with chairs, steps, boxes, whatever, stools, and just give them an alternative way. But there's not really an alternate route to stairs unless you want to install an elevator to try to teach the cat how to use it. Maybe you could put it in a little tiny elevator.
Jenny: With a pulley system.
Dr. Jean: Yeah, or use a dumbwaiter, something like that. Yeah.
Jenny: Right. Oh, man. The last one on the Facebook post was from Rose and she said, is there a way to prevent pillow foot, which my last Raggy was diagnosed with. Is it common with aging kitties? I don't even know what pillow foot is.
Dr. Jean: It’s Plasma Cell Pododermatitis. Okay, ha-ha, I got my mouth to work. That’s an autoimmune disease, and it's not common at all. I never saw it in 20 years of practice. I would certainly say don't vaccinate. Don’t over vaccinate because that's where you get auto-immune diseases. There have been at least two papers that have said that vaccination causes autoimmune diseases, period. It is inevitable they will cause a problem. It’s the intermixture of environmental insult and genetics. And if you happen to have a cat with a weak spot in the genetics, and you give the vaccine that's got, you know… What vaccines do – well, we've already talked about vaccines, but it's not just the vaccine in that syringe. It's all kinds of proteins. And if the proteins match the proteins in your cat, autoantibodies will be formed to them and react with your cat. Yeah, it's very rare in my experience.
Jenny: Well, I need to Google it because I haven't even looked it up yet. Okay. I hope I never have to encounter it myself.
Dr. Jean: I hope you never have to too because it’s got to be very unpleasant.
Jenny: Yeah. All right. Well, Karen wrote an email – so excited about our interview… And she had a number of questions. Her first one was large breed cats and lifespan. Generally speaking, with the canines, smaller breeds tend to live a longer lifespan. How does quote-unquote size impact the feline world? Ragdolls being a large breed of cat, should we equate feline’s life expectancies to the breed size? She goes on to say the handful of domestic feline breeds, including Ragdolls, that widely recognize the main character traits specific to the breed being this kind of cat is a kitty of size. Does this large body structure have an impact on life expectancy? It's kind of the same question, so I’ll stop.
Dr. Jean: I haven't noticed that or heard that because the difference is only really a few pounds. You go from a two-pound Chihuahua to a 180-pounds Malamute or something, that’s a vast difference. And they grow at different rates. The problem that big dogs have is they get bone cancer because they’ve been bred to build bone really fast. And some of those fast bone growing cells stick around and they keep going, and they tend to get osteosarcoma and heart problems because the heart is not designed to handle that kind of load. I haven't seen that in cats, except I will say that the cats I’ve known that have gone to 20, 22, 23 years have all been small, petite cats when I think about it. But they've mostly been really opinionated, crotchety cats too. It’s like only the good die young. Right? But the stubborn ones live forever. So, I think it may be personality related more than anything.
Jenny: Right. Yes. I have several jokes I want to say but I need to be appropriate, so I won't.
Dr. Jean: Yeah, we could go off on a tangent right there.
Jenny: Yes. Okay, number two, the information is fairly common regarding aging large breed dogs and specific geriatric elements. They often develop conditions not necessarily seen as quickly or as severe in small toy breeds. My guess is Karen is very knowledgeable about dogs. Are the large breed cats more often susceptible to particular genetic conditions that is less prominent than those in smaller cat breeds?
Dr. Jean: No.
Jenny: Okay. And you kind of covered that with the pound difference earlier.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. Some cat breeds are more prone to certain conditions than other cat breeds just because that’s a genetic monkey business. But it’s not size related.
Jenny: OK. Number three, geriatric proactive care, we've kind of covered this, but maybe just to make it more crystal clear. Blood testing and profile and baseline – when, why should we get lab work up done on a healthier normal appearing kitty. Please inform people of the useful lab information you collect on file and how it's beneficial to health plans of our kitty in later years while aging or facing illnesses. We didn't talk about that, the importance of getting a baseline when they are at their normal healthy.
Dr. Jean: Yeah, and I'm not a hundred percent that it's that useful if they're normal, because then the blood would be normal. But if you have a 15 or 16-year-old cat, the purpose of a baseline in my book would be to make sure there's not something going on. If it's normal, that's great. But you really want to be able to catch things early, and that's why you do blood work. And it depends on the cat. Of course, a lot of cats at that age need dental care, and they’re going to run blood work before they do that to make sure they're safe for anesthesia. So, all of that kind of works hand in hand. But I wouldn't take a healthy 12-year-old just for blood work to get a baseline. Because it’s 10 past 1:00 here – if you draw it now, and you draw it at 4:00, and you draw it at midnight, they're all going to be different. So, blood work is just a snapshot, and it doesn’t give a whole picture. But it will tell you trends, and trends are what you want to stay on top of.
Jenny: All right. Number four, I sent you this list already, but I’m skipping around. I’m going to keep the euthanasia one to the last one. When your elderly cat hides unusually, what messages is your pet trying to tell you?
Dr. Jean: They don't feel good. Get them to the vet. Cats – I love them so much. But they can’t text you. They can't leave a post-it note on the fridge. They communicate with body language and behavior and pee and poop, and those are the things you want to be watching. And if any of those change, especially changes around litter box habits, if they’ve been fine forever and all of a sudden now they’re peeing somewhere unusual or pooping somewhere unusual, something’s going on. Either something is going on with the litter box, something happened when they were there, or their arthritis had gotten bad enough that they don't feel as comfortable going there and it’s so much softer on your bed.
Those are all SOS red flag signals. It's not because they're mad. It’s not because they're annoyed. It's not revenge. It is a cry for help every single time. So, if they're hiding – wild animals go off by themselves when they're sick. And our cats are still very, very close to that wild cat. In fact, I’ve read papers that say, well, we're not really entirely sure that cats are domesticated completely. Yeah, changes in behavior in an older cat, absolutely get them checked out. And your vet will be able to look at the cat, feel things and assess the code and ask you about appetite and all these other things. And you can put together a pretty good picture of what's really going on.
Jenny: Okay. So, quality of life, we kind of touched on this before, but changes we can make in the living environment to accommodate a geriatric cat. We talked about litter box, but she mentions two things that we didn't talk about. A lot of people ask me about heated cat beds, and then she also asked about dishes. Do you have any say on either one of those?
Dr. Jean: Yes. I was feeding them on the kitchen table because I never use it. So, they had a space. It was in the sun and they had plants. It was a very charming little breakfast nook for them. But as they got older, they were having trouble getting up and down, jumping on the chair, jumping on the table. So, I moved them all to the floor, so everything went to the floor – in a place where I see it and I can monitor it all the time. I have to trip over it to get from one end to the house to the other. So, it's a good way to monitor things. And she said heat – when my cats got old, I did bite the bullet and pay a lot more on my utility bill to keep the house at a warmer temperature. I'm cold all the time, but I wouldn't do it just for me, but I would do it for the cat, and it was expensive. But I wanted them to be comfortable.
Yeah, you can do this. I had bought an electric mattress pad, so the bed is always warm, and I leave it on all the time pretty much year-round because when they get old, they want heat. But I discovered this other wonderful thing. It's called a self-heating cat bed. I don't know, it has some kind of reflective, probably mylar in the linings that reflects the heat, it holds the heat in. He didn't want to touch that for a long time until I put it in a really good spot, and now he’s in it all the time. Finally, I put it in a window to get some sun in the morning and he's like, oh, you finally got the hint. Thank you very much. So, that's where he is. And he really enjoys that. So, obviously, he feels the difference between that and the bed that was there before because he was not that dedicated to it.
Jenny: Yes. That's cute. How you said it verbally made me see him like stretching in it. Yes. I’ve found that sometimes it doesn't necessarily matter about the bed, it's more the placement of it that matters.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. So, you know, they could sleep anywhere on the bed and it's going to be warm, right?
Jenny: Yes. Cute.
Dr. Jean: He’s got a new habit too. I have an electric throw that I use when I'm in my recliner, reading or watching TV or whatever. He does not get under the covers. But when we got a cold snap, he wanted to be under the covers. So, I have to prop my knees up, make a little tent so there’s a cave for him to go into. And he’ll go in there, and God forbid I should have to go to the bathroom or anything because he will sit there for hours on end. And it's so unusual for him to be that heat seeking. So, now I really make sure that I accommodate him. Yeah, we have to change our habits. When they get old, that’s all there is to it.
Jenny: Yes. Cute. Okay, food stuff – new diet requirements, good texture and temperature, vitamins and supplements, and being proactive, medicine from a vet to help comfort pet is what she has written down.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. Well, that’s a mouthful.
Dr. Jean: Food of course is such an individual preference. Some cats will only eat shreds with gravy, and some will only eat at pate, and some will only eat whatever, lasagna. Garfield and Spirit – Spirit really loved lasagna. Yeah, you just try different things and you figure out which ones are their favorites and those are the ones you get. I don't give him the same thing twice in a row. I go through several cans a day. I had forgot to do dishes – one day I didn't feel good and I had left it for the next day. I went through all eight of my little red plates that I feed him on in two days. That's how often he was getting fed. I work from home. I have the luxury of doing that. I made sure that whenever he gave me that look or swatted me across the face, I was like, oh okay, I need to do something about your food.
But I feed him a lot more often in smaller portions because that's the habit that he's most comfortable with at this point. He doesn't eat until he gets full. He's not like that. But if there's not anything there, boy, he's going to let me know, just in case he gets hungry. Temperature and texture is an individual thing. I do try and warm it up. I have an electric kettle and I always pour a little bit of warm water in with the food kind of regardless of season or anything just because I think it smells better if it's a little warm, and he seems to like it that way. Vitamins and supplements, I recommend four – omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and extra antioxidants. And I would put them in that order.
Jenny: Do you have brand or source information for that kind of stuff that you can send me and I can link to it?
Dr. Jean: Yeah, there's a lot of information on my website, so I'll send you links to that.
- Only Natural Pet Whole Food Antioxidant Blend
- Only Natural Pet Vital Digest
- Only Natural Pet Probiotic Blend
Jenny: Okay, perfect. Because I know people are always asking me about probiotics and brands. I used FortiFlora for…
Dr. Jean: I use the stuff for him that I get at the health food store for me, and I use a lot. I give him a lot because it can't hurt.
Jenny: Well, I've done the same, but my vet didn't tell me to do it, so I can’t just say that.
Dr. Jean: Well, I told you to do it. Do it, Jenny. Just do it.
Jenny: Yes. There’s a loyal friend and reader of Floppycats who is a RN, and I said "is there any chance that this can hurt my cat?"And she said no. Yes. But still I think people need sometimes a brand recommendation, so I'd like to include that.
Dr. Jean: Yeah, I think I have everything on my website. I’ll make sure to update if I don’t. We can get to that later. And then medicine from a vet, if they need pain meds, get them pain meds. Buprenorphine is the best and safest pain med for a cat. It’s strong. It's a narcotic, so it's not used that often. But it really is a terrific thing. But if your pet or your cat needs that level of pain control, then you have to wonder are you on the right path, where are you going, what’s next. But we'll talk about euthanasia in a sec. We’ll leave that for the moment. There's not anything in particular.
Vets put so many cats on FortiFlora from Purina as a probiotic. I got a free sample from Purina and I read the ingredients. And even though it was free and even though I know it tastes good to cats, when I read the ingredients, I could not force myself to even try it with him. It was that vile. So, get a better probiotic.
Jenny: Yes. Unfortunately, I did that for years and then I was like why are you guys kind of scratching all the time. Oh.
Dr. Jean: It’s like, you know, if I have to wrap it and use toilet paper to put it down his throat, I’m not going to do that. I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it. And I knew he would like it. And it’s such a tiny amount, how can that hurt? I couldn't do it. I threw it away. It's like, no, I can't give this to my cat. I can't give this to a friend to give to their cat. This is disgusting, and it belongs in the garbage can. But that's how I feel about most things from Purina.
Jenny: Right. I know. I know. Okay, well we will include links to ones that you support so that we have answers for folks that need them.
Dr. Jean: And as far as [inaudible 01:06:26], you can add fat, extra fat as calories, but you want to make sure it’s the right kind. And if you have a cat that’s really losing weight, you know, I hate dry food, but it will help them gain weight. And in a pinch, with Flynn I left the dry food available because I didn’t want him to be hungry the rest of his life for one second. And they didn’t need it. They didn’t need it, but I wanted it to be there just in case. But it will put weight on a cat, so that's an option. You just want to get a really good one.
Jenny: So, then people are going to ask me what's a really good one.
Dr. Jean: Well then, they can get my book because I name brands. And my list of brands has been pared down tremendously because everything has been bought by everybody else. Blue Buffalo has been brought by General Mills I think, or something. Horrible. Merrick is gone. Nutro is gone. Blue Buffalo is gone – all the brands that I relied on. There are very few left that are good. And if your cat has kidney problems or urinary tract problems, I would still recommend no dry food, and diabetics, no dry food. But if it's simply a matter of trying to put a little weight on him, yeah, if they'll eat some cookies, fine. You’ve got to assess your options and make the choices. It's going to be different for everyone and every cat.
Jenny: Right, okay. The next one she has is changes in behavior, mood, eating habits, litter box differences, and hygiene. We talked about these things, but if there's anything more that you want to mention.
Dr. Jean: I think we covered most of those.
Jenny: Okay. We'll move on to kitty dementia.
Dr. Jean: Yeah, I think they get it. I do. I don't think there's a whole lot we can do for it other than essential fatty acids and choline, which is interesting, but I was working with the vet years ago and he wrote a paper on cognitive decline in cats and how it was reversible with choline supplementation. Choline is sort of a B vitamin distant cousin. Sometimes it's called vitamin B4 – you can look it up. That's what it is. I hadn't heard that until they said B4, you need more B4. You can get it from certain foods, but they're not necessarily foods that are common in the standard American diet, which is the basis for most pet foods. But I think a cat that’s on high quality canned or homemade or raw food is probably getting plenty. But extra choline is something to consider and the DHA part of the EPA DHA is critical for brain.
Forty percent of the fat in the brain is DHA, so you want to kind of really overdue it even a little bit with the fatty acids. And there are ways to keep the mind active. Keep playing with them. Hide things, food puzzle toys, those kinds of things. Keep the cat interested in life. Put a bird feeder outside your window or get the kitty TV program on your DVR and run it. Just keep them interested. If they're interested in things, they're using their brain. And if they’re using their brain, they’re less likely to have cognitive problems later on.
Jenny: That's a good point that you brought up about playing with them as they age as well.
Dr. Jean: Yeah. I don’t do it enough, but he still loves it. He’s still interesting.
Jenny: All right, well then that brings us to euthanasia, and Karen had asked what to expect for them and what we see, how fast the medication works, where it will be performed – I'm guessing she's asking about home or vet office – what to ask, options available, preparing well in advance for your vet clinic staff to be clear what your wishes are, the grief process, grieving children, grieving companion pets, how we can help remaining pets.
Dr. Jean: All good questions.
Dr. Jean: It will vary. The procedure will vary. I was really a fan of doing intraperitoneal injection where you don't put it in a vein. If you put an IV and you inject into the vein, they go immediately within seconds. But I kind of feel like sometimes that's kind of like giving them the bum's rush. It’s like get out of here. It's a little abrupt. It’s fine for dogs. Dogs – their energy is different, and I think dogs are cooler with that stuff, and you can't do an IP on a dog. But you can in a cat. And that just is ingesting it into the abdomen. A lot of times, you'll shoot for the liver or a kidney and so it gets into the blood stream faster. And I've had cats the instant the needle went in, they just bailed. They said thanks, that was the permission I needed, bye bye. I've had it take an hour and a half. But I let the cat decide how fast they want to go.
I give them the injection, and it will get soaked up into the blood stream from the tissues in the abdomen. And eventually it reaches the level where it stops the heart. That to me, it seems a little more civilized to me that I'm not saying get out of here right now, and it gives the family some time to say… Because if you give the injection, they're gone, there's not time to process that. So, I like it to take a little bit longer, which maybe I'm just a twisted sister here, but it just seems to be a much more pleasant experience for everybody to do it that way. And not every vet even knows how to do it or why to do it or has ever done it. I saw something about Intracardiac stick, or heart stick we call it. That is injecting directly in the heart.
You never, ever, ever do that on an awake animal. If they're already anesthetized, yeah. But it is extremely painful, and you don't want to do it. So, if your vet even hints around that they can do that, that's absolutely improper. It's against the AVMA’s recommendations and all that stuff. So, it can take a while depending on how they do it. The medication is an overdose of barbiturate. Most cats need about one millimeter. We always give three or four just because we want to make sure. I've never had one wake up on me, thank God. But if you were rationing your supply, that's not the place to do it.
I much prefer doing that at home. I have done a lot of home euthanasias and it is so much nicer for the pet. It's not always going to be possible, but if it is, that's the choice. I would definitely say that in most cases to stay with the pet – dog or cat or parrot or whatever – stay with them because they know you’re there.
Now some people just can’t handle that or if they’re young children, it’s personal preference. Some people just can't handle it. But I think it's a more pleasant experience if everybody is together and supporting the cat and supporting that energy. Now I've heard it said that the way they go out is the way they come back, assuming you believe in reincarnation, which not everybody does, but you want their parting ways to be as peaceful as possible. And I don't know if it makes any difference on the other side or what's there, but I just don't want it to be an unpleasant experience for anyone. I've had clients bring their cats in and have candles and a whole ceremony, and that’s beautiful. Not everybody needs to do that. If you do, God bless you and do it. It’s all personal preference and what you feel from the cat. Some cats just don't care. Yeah. Whatever.
When Puzzle got old, I kept getting a feeling from her that she didn't care one way or another. She would stay, or she would go, whatever worked for her. I checked with my animal communication and she said that's exactly why she didn’t care. Today, tomorrow, next year, it doesn’t matter. I thought about it a long time and I thought, well, she's not in bad shape, and I think she has had at least as many good hours as unpleasant hours. But I knew where we were going. We were going down a hill. And I decided to let her go higher up the hill than wait for her to get to the bottom of the hill. And my philosophy about euthanasia is I would rather do it a day too soon than a day too late. Because if you’re too late, it means you suddenly get the message they're suffering, and they can't go fast enough at that point.
I would rather let them go before it gets to that point. I really would. I'm pretty strong about that.
My first job as a newbie vet, when I got there my boss immediately took off for a three-week vacation, and she had worked with this cat. And her buddy, they were going to the mountains together. That vet had also worked with this cat and they both said, be sure if she brings that cat in, be sure you euthanize it. And why is this my job that you haven't been able to talk her into it? She brings in this cat. It's absolutely flat, can't move, can't raise his head. She had express this bladder, she had to force-feed it. The cat – it wasn't even there. And I'm like, who are you doing this for, because you're not doing this for the cat. You need to put on your big girl pants and say, okay, I get it. And she did. She did. She got it. Somehow, the way I said it helped her. She knew, but she couldn't admit until somebody really just was in her face about it.
However in her face I had to get, I was willing to do that because this cat was miserable. It had no quality of life at all. It was just existing. There was no pleasure to be had, and that's just wrong. I can't do that. I just had this discussion with another list that – well, I want my chronic renal failure cat to die at home naturally. Let me tell you how they die. Ammonia toxicity gives you a piercing headache. It is the worst. I was caught in an ammonia smell one time. It was like ice picks were being driven through my head and it was instant. These cats are suffering. Do not think you can do that. Hyperthyroid cats – you know how they're going to die if they're not treated? Their heart is going to get enlarged in a bad way. They're going to throw a blood clot. It’s going to paralyze them, and they're going to scream in pain until you get that injection in there. We are so privileged to be able to let them go.
To me, it's the greatest gift of love that you can give. That’s my philosophy and people will argue with me and that's fine, but I have been so fortunate to be able to give a peaceful exit to thousands of animals, and it's a blessing. It really is.
There you go. I have read that children below five or six years old or seven even, that they don't understand death and it won't make any difference if they’re there or not. For grieving children or pets, flower essences, absolutely. Grief Remedy, Water Violet I believe is the bach flower for that. Jackson has remedies for that. And some animals will grieve, not a lot. It’s not necessary for the other pets to be in the room, although they can. When I had to euthanize Spencer, his brother Sundance, my remaining cat, he came in. He got up on the bed. He walked across Spencer – boop, boop, boop – and there was no recognition on either side. And once Spencer was gone, Sundance was not the least bit interested in the body. He's not there. Why would he be? These guys are communicating on levels we have no idea. So, I figure animals are much smarter than we are about it.
Yes. Yes, I agree. Yeah. So, don't try and explain it to a four-year-old. You can just say they’re gone and they’re not coming back. When they're seven, you can explain why. It’s not going to matter. We all handle it in our own way, and you do what guides you and what works best for you. Honor your feelings, and I can tell you that every single person, every single person that I said, you know, it may be time to think about letting him go, every single one said oh I knew you were going to say that. I knew you were going to say that. They all knew, they just needed somebody else to validate it. Then of course I think will I know? And, of course, I knew. I walked in one morning and Flynn’s eyes were different. He was ready. He hadn't been ready before, but he was ready that day. You know. You will know, really. Give yourself credit. Your soul knows it and you will be told really. Trust yourself.
Jenny: I love that because I’ve only ever had to put one cat down, knock on wood, and I was so concerned about that. How will I know if I do it too soon? My aunt was the one that said you will see it in his eyes, I promise you. And then when I saw it, I was like, dang it, dang it. Now I know I have to do the deed. I understand how important it is, but at that point in time, it was hard for me to say goodbye. But yes, you do know, and it's crazy.
Dr. Jean: There are a few old cats that will be able to go on their own, but I had a friend, my good friend Kate Solisti, she’s an animal communicator. Her cat, Azul, was born under my desk. I had known him since he was two hours old. And he was 20 something and we knew it was time. They live up in the mountains. I went up there. I brought everything, and he said, no, I'm not ready. And I said, Azul, you are going to need help. I can tell you, looking at you, that you are not going to be able to do this on your own. Nope, I'm going to do it on my own. And he hung on another three or four days, and then he's like, oh, you know what? Yeah, I do need help. Some cats are so stubborn. He was a long-haired Siamese, so he may have had a little raggy in him. Oh my goodness.
Spirit was stubborn, but Azul beat everyone. I have never seen a cat as stubborn as Zule. But he was just precious, and I was so sad that he had to go. But, you know, I mean, what a privilege to know him and see him throughout his whole life, and right until the end. It was just so wonderful to be able to give him that when he finally admitted that he needed it. Cats will say I can do it, and they most often can’t. I don't care how much you want to let them die naturally. The chances are odds are not in your favor. Chances are that they're not going to be able to, and they're going to need help. And you need to be ready and willing to give it to them. My next appointment is here, sorry.
Jenny: Okay. And we’ve wrapped up, so I think we’re good.
Dr. Jean: Okay, perfect.
Jenny: Okay, well thank you very much and we’ll talk next time.
Dr. Jean: Okay, bye bye.
Jenny: All right. Bye bye.
Learn more about cat health by reading Dr. Jean’s book, The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care: An Illustrated Handbook as well as proper cat nutrition: What Cats Should Eat: How to Keep Your Cat Healthy with Good Food
What are the signs of aging?
Remember that I am not a medical professional. Any medical recommendations made here are either from Dr Hofve’s interview above, or from the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). You can read their latest guidelines for senior cat care here.
Regular Vet Visits for Cats
If the number of visits you’re making to the vet with your cat is increasing, even if the reasons seem relatively minor, then this is usually a sign that your cat is aging as their body struggles to manage things that may have been routine previously. The AAFP recommends that senior cats should be seen by a vet every six months, especially considering how good cats are at hiding ailments.
Changes in Eating
Changes in your cat’s appetite are another sign that they may be having some hidden health problems or just that they’re getting old. It might be an increased appetite, or they may want to eat less, or it could just be that they become fussier with age.
Frequent Urination and/or in Odd Places
Frequent urination could be a sign of kidney disease, hyperthyroidism or diabetes - their water consumption will increase as well.
Urination away from the litter box could be a sign that your cat has an infection or illness causing them to want to urinate more. However, if your cat is older it may just be that they don’t want to travel too far to urinate. Dr Jean recommends that you have a litter box on every floor of your home so that your cat doesn’t have to travel far, especially as older cats often drink more, and there pee more.
It’s not uncommon for cats to be more thirsty as they develop certain conditions linked to old age, including problems with the kidneys, liver, or thyroid. Your veterinarian will want to take blood to confirm whatever might be causing the increased thirst. You can also tell if there is increased thirst by more clumps or larger clumps in the litter tray as your cat gets older.
There are a number of potential causes of vision loss in older cats. Gradual vision loss may be harder to detect if there are no clear signs around the eyes – cats can have a good sense of where furniture, food and the litter box is with limited vision and may just be a little more tentative.
Cloudy eyes in cats can be a sign of serious disease such as glaucoma or corneal ulceration, or it could be cataracts. As soon as you notice signs of cloudy eyes, get your cat checked out.
Increased Vocalization and Disorientation
If your cat is being more vocal then they could be in pain or have Sundowner’s. Cats will often hide pain and discomfort but one of the signs it’s really affecting them is when they make a lot of noise. If your cat is disoriented, then it is usually a sign that your cat’s cognitive abilities are starting to decline. A predictable routine can help.
Changes in Temperament
Another potential sign of cognitive deterioration is when your cat’s temperament starts to change. They may become more withdrawn, or more aggressive and frustrated. These could also be signs of physical pain caused by a hidden illness.
Bad breath can be an indicator of a number of age-related diseases and illnesses including diabetes, liver disease or kidney disease. If your cat’s breath changes it is best to have their blood taken at the vet to see if anything is going on.
Cats do sometimes lose weight as they get older, but it shouldn’t happen quickly. If it does, that’s a sign something could be wrong. As Dr. Jean says, if a Ragdoll cat loses a pound in a year then you’d want to closely monitor them because it can accelerate. Any faster than that, it needs to be checked.
With age comes decreased mobility, either due to conditions such as arthritis or just the muscles getting weaker. Make sure your cat is comfortable and that they don’t have to jump into high-sided litter boxes, or constantly climb up and downstairs if they don’t have to.
How to Care for Cats as They Age
Here are some tips for caring for cats as they get older.
Your cat will need places where they can relax and rest in peace. If their old favorite spots are a little noisy then try reducing the foot traffic through that area, or relocating their bed or other snooze-spot to a quieter part of your home, taking the time to make sure they’re comfortable with the move.
It’s important that your cat’s bed is in a comfortable position when they get older, somewhere they can easily access it. Cats also need warmth, so it’s a good idea to look into ways of making sure your cat’s bed is warm in a way that won’t bother them.
Adding more litter trays to your home is a good way of keeping your older cat comfortable. They may need to urinate more frequently and they won’t be happy if their only litter box is downstairs. One on each floor of your home is a good idea, make sure they’re easily accessible (add steps or a ramp if needed) and keep the litter fresh.
You’ll want to keep your cat’s mind sharp as they get older, and puzzle feeding is a great way to engage them and entertain them at the same time. Puzzle feeding toys task your kitty with a little bit of lateral thinking in order to get their food, making it more rewarding and helping them focus on a task. This can also help if your cat’s appetite has increased with old age. However, if they are eating less, don’t use puzzle feeding too often as this may discourage them.
Your cat will be less likely to use tall, vertical scratchers as they get older because the action can be painful if your cat has arthritis. Replace them with vertical scratchers, although be aware that some cats are less inclined to scratch anyway – you’ll need to monitor their claws closely.
Cats may seem like they’re less interested in their favorite look-out spots as they’re older but usually, that’s just a sign that getting there is becoming difficult. If your cat enjoys looking out of the window, use gentle ramps or shallow steps to help them still access their preferred spot.
Older cats don’t necessarily want to stop playing, but some toys may no longer be suitable. Play is still a great way to keep your cat exercised and mentally stimulated, and don’t just remove favorite toys even if they seem like they may be tricky for your cat to climb on. Instead look at how you can adapt them, so that they still have their favorites in their older life.
Your cat may be drinking more often already, but sometimes you may need to encourage it in your kitty to prevent them from dehydration as they’re older. Add more water bowls to your home if necessary.
There are a few different ways you can help to encourage your cat to eat. Smaller, more frequent meals may help, as could simple changes like elevating the food bowl from the floor to make it more comfortable. If your cat is going off their food, speak to your veterinarian, but be aware that sometimes it may just be that their smell and taste receptors aren’t as strong anymore.
Arthritis in older cats
Arthritis is common in older cats as their joints begin to become more painful, causing your cat to lose some of their mobility. There are a number of treatments available for arthritis – none will cure it, but they can help to make your cat more comfortable. Speak to your regular veterinarian but also consider talking to homoeopathic veterinarians as well if your regular vet doesn’t offer those treatments.
Home care for the elderly cat
You may need to make some adjustments to your home routine to help your cat manage their senior lifestyle.
Elderly cats can sometimes struggle to fully retract their claws, which can mean that they may get them caught in surfaces around your home. Claws can sometimes seem like they’re growing faster in old age, so keep them trimmed regularly to avoid causing your cat any pain or stress.
Your cat may need some extra help with grooming in their older age, including making sure any discharge from around the nose, eyes or anus is wiped away with a soft, clean item like cotton wool. Pay attention and look out for any unusual bumps or sores when you’re brushing your cat too.
Hairballs can become an issue for elderly cats since they digest food slower. If your cat is having issues with hairballs, speak to your regular vet to find out about certain dietary changes or supplements that could help.
Your cat’s toilet habits may change, so make sure it’s easy for them to get to their litter tray without needing to jump in. Check their stool for consistency, and keep a look out for blood in the urine or stools which is often a sign of illness.
Carry out regular checks of your cat’s mouth – you’re looking for any growths or reddening in the gums, or any signs of dental decay. Drooling, a chattering jaw or your cat pawing at their mouth are signs they are in pain and may need to be checked.
How do I evaluate my senior cat’s quality of life?
There are various ways you can measure your cat’s quality of life. The AAFP recommends you look at both mental and physical states including looking for signs of anxiety, fear and distress, along with chronic pain, breathing issues and problems with thirst. Your veterinarian will also have an idea of if it is time to let them go or not.
What kinds of preventative care can help extend the life of my cat?
Careful monitoring of your cat can help to spot any early signs of treatable illnesses. Monitor their diet and make sure they are eating and drinking the right amounts. Exercise remains important in later life, with gentle play a good compromise if your cat suffers from arthritis.
What is the right kind of food for my aging cat?
The right food will depend on your cat and any conditions they are suffering from in old age. A cat with diabetes may need a different diet to one suffering from constipation. Omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics, digestive enzymes and extra antioxidants are good supplements for most cats. Always consult your regular vet if your cat is struggling with their normal diet, to look at potential problems. It’s also good to feed senior cats more, smaller meals if possible.
What is the right kind of food for my aging cat?
The right food will depend on your cat and any conditions they are suffering from in old age. A cat with diabetes may need a different diet to one suffering from constipation. Omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics, digestive enzymes and extra antioxidants are good supplements for most cats. Always consult your regular vet if your cat is struggling with their normal diet, to look at potential problems. It’s also good to feed senior cats more, smaller meals if possible.
How can I help my aging cat thrive?
It’s important to ensure your cat still enjoys a happy, healthy life as they get older. Don’t take away toys, and help them to reach their favorite look-out spots with ease. Feed them a healthy diet tailored to their individual needs as they get older, and make sure they are comfortable with low-entry litter boxes and a warm bed.
What happens as my cat ages?
As your cat gets older they are more susceptible to certain diseases. They may need more help looking after themselves at home, and will ultimately begin to become weaker and suffer from cognitive deterioration. It’s important to keep a close eye on your cat and look out for signs of illness or discomfort.
What are the signs of aging in my cat?
There are various signs of aging in a cat that you can look out for. General signs include spending more time resting, having a harder time jumping around and climbing more vertical spaces, or changes in appetite or toilet habits. Also look out for more pressing concerns such as vision problems or cloudy eyes, changes in your cat’s temperament, increased vocalization and bad breath, all of which can be signs of hidden illnesses or pain that your cat is struggling to deal with.
What are the signs of aging in my cat?
There are various signs of aging in a cat that you can look out for. General signs include spending more time resting, having a harder time jumping around and climbing more vertical spaces, or changes in appetite or toilet habits.
Also lookout for more pressing concerns such as vision problems or cloudy eyes, changes in your cat’s temperament, increased vocalization, and bad breath, all of which can be signs of hidden illnesses or pain that your cat is struggling to deal with.