Thursday, October 05, 2006

Children and Your Senior Cat

Most children love cats but they need to be taught how to hold them and things that they should not do with them. Always begin young with this type of education. Young, spry kittens and cats are often eager to play with youngsters but as they get older they often seek to be by themselves more. Their desire for play and excitement decreases while their desire for rest and relaxation as well as privacy increases. Some senior cats do not even like to be bothered by other cats in the family so they choose places to sleep in the home where they are not likely to be bothered, such as high up on a bookcase, on a table, or in a corner somewhere in the home that is rarely used. Let's take a look at what it means for a cat to become a senior citizen.

It is generally recognized that a cat becomes a senior at approximately 8 years of age (48 years in human years) and he/she is considered elderly or geriatric at 14 years (72 years human) and over. A 19-year-old cat is actually 92 years old (almost 100!).
So other than actual age in years, what signs of getting older do cats make known to us humans?

As cats age they tend to sleep more and are less active. There's less jumping, playing, running and general cat excitement and enthusiasm (and cat toys don't impress them anymore, if at all!). Sometimes they are unresponsive when spoken to and seem a bit disoriented. My cat Barry became a "senile old guy" around the age of 12. I would feed him and then 10-15 minutes later he would cry at me to feed him again! It was as if he'd completely forgotten that he had already had a meal!

Vision and hearing loss often occur, as does stiffness in joints. That may account for why older cats hesitate to jump up on countertops, tables and windowsills, etc. while younger ones eagerly go forward. Older cats are not as interested in the goings on of their brother and/or sister cats as much. As a rule they want to be left alone and left strictly to their own devices. "Leave me alone or pay the price." I could almost see that very proclamation written across the annoyed face of my elderly cat Sherisse when her younger, spryer brother chose to invade her sacred "me" territory.

Physical changes can be noted as well. Older cats have less muscle tone and their backbones often have a more separated, brittle quality to them. Some seniors gain weight while other lose it. Appetites change as well as the taste buds of older cats (just like humans). Older cats generally drink more water so having a full water dish or bowl (and not just during the warmer months) is extremely important.

Dental problems are more common in older cats. An ounce of prevention when they are young and just starting out helps promote good dental hygiene and see them through their elderly years. Word of warning- best to leave teeth cleaning to the veterinarians otherwise you are liable to end up with some very painful cuts on your fingers. Cats do not like people poking around in their mouths (even their loving and faithful owners- ouch!).

Bladder control problems plague some cats so an extra dose of patience and understanding is necessary to cope with your aging cat. Vomiting is very common in older cats as the digestive system doesn't function as well as it did when your sweetie was young. Again be patient, and it would be a really good idea to keep a fair share of sponges, rags and cleaning supplies on hand for the accident days. I've cleaned up so much regurgitated food over the years (and stepped in some too!) that I can laugh about it now. When you love your cat (s) vomit becomes par for the course! I've become an incredibly good cleaning lady as I've had lots of experience. Another thing to be aware of- older cats sometimes misinterpret their positions when they are using their litter pans so it's a smart move to put newspapers under the pan to catch any of the residual mess they leave.

Senior citizen cats have a worse sense of balance than their younger counterparts so if you have a stubborn cat who still insists on jumping up on ledges, high shelves or windowsills consider placing step ladders or chairs near their favorite spots to make it easier for them. Older lap cats tend to become even more "lapalicious" as they age. If your young cat always wants to fall asleep on your lap when you sit down to watch television, prepare yourself for even more time in front of the tube as your cat ages. Get comfortable because you'll be there awhile!

Aging happens to all cats but if yours seems to be in obvious pain or discomfort that's a sign that something is very wrong and a visit to the vet will be necessary. Older cats are less limber and less energetic but don't make the mistake of assuming that pain and aging naturally go hand in hand. They don't.

Older cats want less of your time and attention, which makes them even better home buddies. They will let you know when they want something from you, like food or their litter pan cleaned. Oh how they will tell you! In my experience felines often "talk" more in their senior years. It makes for interesting communication. I swear my cats know exactly what I'm saying to them- they learn keywords and sounds through repetition- and respond in their own way to my words and mannerisms.

It's not a diehard rule of senior cats but I find that some seek more comfort and reassurance from their owners in their later years. My female cat Georgia rarely slept on my bed at night when she was little but now that she's 9 she waits for me to get into bed and settle in and then she herself settles in for a good night's sleep, usually nestled close to me.

Older cats have special needs and considerations but can be every bit as funny, loving and sweet as they were as younger cats. Take good care of your cat and he/she might have many more "cat" years ahead. Some cats have been known to hit the 20 year mark and upwards. And remember that senior and sickly are not synonymous. Enjoy your time with your feline friend and in his or her own special way, he/she will thank you for it. Sometimes the presence of a cat alone is reward enough.

Teach your children to be kind and gentle to your cats and show them the proper way to pat and hold them. Children often want to touch a cat's tail and for most cats that is sacred territory that is off limits so make sure you act accordingly and teach your children to keep their hands away from the cat's tail. Young cats will get upset at this enough, but an older cat has a shorter fuse and is likely to hiss, snarl or even bring out his or her claws and scratch the child. Avoid this by making sure your children learn to respect the animals in the house. This can also be said for dogs as well. Once the pattern of kind treatment is established, it should stay with a child for life.

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