How do I make my senior cat comfortable?
March 20, 2017 5:51 PM   Subscribe

My old man cat has been slowing down for a while, and I think we may be moving into a new phase of old-man-cat-ness. I can handle the medical aspects, but what might I not be thinking of to make his life at home as comfortable and easy as I can for whatever time he has left? (Difficulty levels: Deaf, getting very stiff in the back legs, was never a good jumper to begin with, underweight, seems to be getting maybe a little confused).

Schroedinger is going on 18. He's been deaf for a couple of years now and it doesn't seem to cause him any distress. His back legs have been stiff for a while but he's been able to walk it off, and now it seems like that's less possible for him. He's started peeing outside the box - I think maybe he's having trouble getting into the somewhat high entrance. And just the last couple of days he's been wandering around the house meowing a lot, looking a a bit confused. He's hyperthyroid and only partly under control so he's always hungry.

I've got a vet appointment coming up. I've ordered a new litterbox with a lower entrance, and a ramp to help him get to the current litterbox, and a step to help him reach his favorite spot on the sofa. I'm about to order a couple of heated beds. He has a few drinking fountains around the house. I switched him to kitten food a while back so he gets more calories, and am giving him some additional small snacks. He's leash-trained, so as soon as it warms up a bit more outside, I'm going to make a point of taking him out more to hang out in the sunshine and sniff grass and bugs and things.

He gets lots of love and snuggles on demand from the humans he lives with, and sometimes from the younger cats that he lives with, if they feel snuggly. He's got, and has long had, a pretty good life, I think. But I have a sense that his clock is starting to run out, and I want to make him as comfortable and happy as I can while I have him.

Is there any big obvious thing I'm missing that is good to do or provide for an elderly, slow-moving, perpetually hungry, confused but very cheerful, cat? He's the first cat I've had that's lived long enough to get to Arthritic Old Man status, so this is new to me. Any and all suggestions gratefully welcomed.
posted by Stacey to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Very gentle massaging, and keeping his fur clean and brushed.
posted by scrubjay at 6:01 PM on March 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

Try him on the Hill's thyroid food (y/d diet), it comes in wet or dry food. My cat, who's 15, is on the dry food exclusively, with no other food allowed, including treats (I put the thyroid food in her treat box and she thinks it's treats), and it's been a revelation. She's gained weight and her thyroid levels are normal.

If your cat likes to get on the couch or your bed, maybe get a couple of little footstools to make it easier for him to get up onto them.
posted by essexjan at 6:01 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, this picture of him frowning is freaking hilarious.
posted by essexjan at 6:03 PM on March 20, 2017 [17 favorites]

Best answer: He's adorable and it sounds like he's got a great life.

The only quality of life thing that you haven't got on lockdown is comfy ways for him to play without depending on you to take him outside. I've seen good results with friends' older and special needs cats with a sensory play mat type of thing. Get a little crafty and attach a bunch of different toys (different textures, sounds, smells) to a soft blanket. Give some a short length of rope and attach some directly to the blanket. Tie on different kinds of fringe, too, whatever he likes to chew on. As a bonus you can make a pocket underneath to slip in one of those microwaveable rice bags for soft heat, but that's only if the floors are cold. Leave it in a place that is really easy for him to access (probably somewhere inconvenient for humans). Then he will be able to settle down and fiddle with all sorts of things without them rolling away from him and he'll always know where the toys are.

Also think about wipes for helping him keep clean. They make special pet ones but unscented baby wipes are the same product. Especially if he has trouble with his back legs, getting him used to you helping him wipe down his business end and drumsticks will help him stay relaxed later down the road when he's in more pain than he is now when he can't do it himself.
posted by Mizu at 6:08 PM on March 20, 2017 [14 favorites]

Seconding Hill's prescription diets. They are all fantastic. The thyroid formula is good as is the A/D urgent care for kitties that are really having a hard time gaining weight. Hill's is what the university animal hospital here uses, and it's actually what I feed my very elderly ferret so he helps keep his weight on(ferrets are hard to feed at the best of times, and my boy is 8 year old and blind). Pure pumpkin puree is also a good digestive aid for elderly cats to regulate stool consistency.

Other than that it really does sound like you're giving him the best possible life an elderly cat can have. Bless you for that, and good luck with your lovely boy.
posted by InkDrinker at 6:18 PM on March 20, 2017

We use pet stairs so our geriatric cat can get into bed where he likes it. He gets Dasuquin which has seemed to make him less stiff. We use puppy pads around the box cause our guy also does not always squat all the way inside the box. He gets turkey babyfood as enticement when he seems less interested in cat food (our vet approved) and I keep the heating pad for him to sleep on when it's cold. And I just use warm washcloths for the cat litter that gets stuck to his back legs when he dribbles a bit while urinating.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:22 PM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

My family's first cat had been an enthusiastic jumper, and was clearly ticked when his arthritis started getting in the way. So my mother jury-rigged ramps so that he could still reach his favorite spots.

One of my parents' late elder cats, who had severe arthritis in his back, was on Adequan. This worked really well for him--he would be swaggering around the house within minutes. Glucosamine is also helpful.

Ditto puppy pads for cleanup.

My late female cat was on Hill's, first for hyperthyroid and then for renal failure.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:46 PM on March 20, 2017

Our kitty is in his final days. N'thing the puppy pads. In the vein of maximizing his happiness in what time he has left: We spoil the hell out of our little guy with a constantly refreshed supply of ice water (which he loves--we had a fountain but it got gross, and he prefers a glass--probably because we've let him think he's a human), high quality wet cat food, a variety of kitty treats whenever he wants them (he's got us trained to dispense them nightly around 8 pm--one meow by the treat bowl and one of us jumps up) and however many bites he wants of whatever protein we are having for dinner that night (usually chicken, tuna, or salmon--we make sure to set aside an unseasoned part for him). I realize this sounds insane and of course none of of it would be sustainable long-term (for his health or our wallets)...but he's enriched our lives so much, we figure if we have a limited time left with him, we may as well treat him like a king. Sending positive thoughts your way during this tough time.
posted by lovableiago at 7:08 PM on March 20, 2017 [26 favorites]

Glucosamine worked wonders for our geriatric cat's mobility.

Another thing she enjoyed was a warm pad to lie on; we started with a heat-reflecting mat, and when she was in her 20s, we got her a plug-in heated pad which she was quite fond of.
posted by mogget at 7:14 PM on March 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

My vet prescribed cosequin for my 19-year-old kitty when she started having trouble jumping onto stuff. After 3 weeks of cosequin she went back to being nearly as agile as she was five years ago. You can buy it on Amazon OTC, it doesn't require a prescription.

I've also started bringing her in to the nail clipping clinic whenever her nails get really long. She never needed her nails clipped before, but cats who are older are less active, and they wear down their nails less, and so they may require claw clips to avoid ingrown claws.

She also loves her heated cat bed. It's right under the TV stand and she spends so much time there that I like to joke that we maximize the space in our tiny apartment by storing the cat under the TV.

I don't know how you're treating his hyperthyroid, but my cat's quality of life went way up thanks to SVP Meds. My vet sold me methimazole (thyroid medication) in a liquid form that I had to squirt into the cat's mouth twice a day, which she hated. SVP Meds compounds the medicine into a delicious tuna-flavored treat that she is excited to eat.
posted by phoenixy at 7:16 PM on March 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'd also advise that you ask your vet *now* who does in-home euthanasia in your town. When it comes time, you don't want the stress of searching for it. Especially if you have multiple pets, giving the other pets the option of seeing and smelling the body has been recommended to me.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:46 PM on March 20, 2017 [9 favorites]

Our little old man (content warning: adorableness) has developed spondylosis in his lower spine, which could be the cause of the stiffness you describe. The vet can check that with an x-ray, and it can be treated with pentosan and anti-inflammatories like meloxicam (Metacam). There are some risks associated with the general anaesthetic for x-rays and with meloxicam, so talk with your vet first (aforesaid little man is allergic to meloxicam, which makes him Exorcist-vomit everywhere).

Another vote for the Hills prescription foods - Sloane is on the dental version (he has dental issues) rather than the bones version, as the pentosan seems to be working sufficiently.

We've found the Ikea BEKVÄM step stool to be helpful for getting him places that he likes to go, as well as keeping a watch for ways he helps himself to do things and troubleshooting mobility aids for that.

The best thing, though, you're already doing: you love your old man, and you're doing the best you can for him. I'm sure he knows that.
posted by prismatic7 at 8:08 PM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Random bits: this winter we bought this electric pad that's meant to go on the foot of the bed for cold feet. Even on Hi it doesn't get terribly hot, and we keep a blanket over it. I had assumed when we bought it that it had a 10-hour shutoff or does not. That's either a warning or a feature.

Around the litter box, boot trays. I'd rather have 2-3 small ones that are easy to carry to the sink/bathtub than one huge one.

One of my dogs is aging faster than the others, and I'm starting to worry that his vision in dark rooms is not fantastic. I sure hate sleeping in a lit room but I'm probably going to have to at least figure out something that will increase the contrast between the edge of the bed and...not that. I may also switch to a light-colored bedspread.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:21 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

With my old tuxedo kitty Eli, I tucked a heating pad beneath a blanket on his favorite chair, which kept him toasty all the way to 19 years of age. Thanks for being such a good pet owner!
posted by porn in the woods at 9:55 PM on March 20, 2017

All great suggestions above. My dear departed Mr. Whiskers had a bad back and game legs in his older years, and very much appreciated the carpeted ramp that went up to his favorite couch. He also took comfort in regular doses of medicinal catnip, but that might not work for every cat. That is one handsome and lucky boy.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:55 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

He also liked having a place to get away by himself, away from those pesky younger cats who wouldn't get off his lawn.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:56 PM on March 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: #1 cat I've ever seen on Metafilter, no joke. What a beauty!

Despite it becoming a silly panacea lately, I came to recommend bone broth as a great way to get some extra nutrition, and more importantly, hydration, in an older kitty. A couple companies (I think The Honest Kitchen is one) make specific bone broth for pets so you don't have to worry about sodium or not-cat friendly ingredients like onions/garlic. Plenty of recipes out there for pets, though! (My cat loves the super soft boiled chicken bits I pick off the bone after I make stock, too.)

It's not a miracle cure but for an always-hungry cat it's a great treat with joint-friendly ingredients and cats can almost always use more water.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:44 PM on March 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

My boyfriend's beloved cat is 20 years old, and seems to be pretty deaf - his trick for getting the cat's attention now that he can't call him? he flicks the lights on and off. it works!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:56 PM on March 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Before she passed, our old lady really really liked her nubby silicone brush, and so does the younger kitty. It's like spa massage time for cats. Highly recommended for creaky old kitties who might not want to wash themselves.
Seconding heat pad.
If you have access to an enclosed chicken pen or bird feeder, might be fun for sitting around and fantasizing about being a Mighty Hunter.
posted by sacchan at 12:57 AM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

When my sweet old Tigger developed dementia, he felt a lot calmer and happier when I started giving him Cholodin. It's a food supplement that tastes like cat treats and helps a lot with the confusion. You might want to ask your vet about it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:16 AM on March 21, 2017

Baby food in meaty flavors is a nice treat -- limited ingredients, nothing to chew. Obviously it doesn't have the nutrients a cat needs, but you can give a spoonful or a dab anytime.

Heating pads everywhere -- I think I had three available at one time, and the cats would choose their favorites and circulate between them through the day.

I had little step stools and/or boxes so they could get up onto the couch without having to pull themselves up.
posted by vickyverky at 8:48 AM on March 21, 2017

Best answer: Prepare for a sudden health emergency. My own geriatric kitties had quick, unexpected downturns in health, which resulted in a few days of dedicated palliative care before I decided it was Time. You should create a kitty hospice kit now. Plan on 3-5 days of supplies -- it will cut down on stress while you ponder The Decision. Include favorite food/treats, bowls, baby wipes, puppy pads, towels, and a change of litter. Store in the cat carrier or an unused litter box.

Consider starting an end-of-life health journal to monitor his vitals. There's a tool at When you give Schroedinger pets, get in the habit of checking for signs of dehydration, weight loss, energy loss, jaundice, etc, etc. Old age can creep up on us, and it's easy to suddenly wake up one morning, notice your dear pet is absolutely miserable, and go, "oh, god, why didn't I make The Decision sooner."

Also, put aside an emergency fund to cover end-of-life vet care. I strongly second in-home euthanasia, and used

All that unpleasantness aside, the mantra in my house when Kip was in his final 2 years was, "He's old, he can do whatever he wants." Spoil your boy (within reason). :3
posted by Wossname at 9:00 AM on March 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

We had a 25 yo cat, Junior (aka Junieman) who was, the last few years, feeble, nearly blind and rather cranky. A heating pad made him so very happy. Be careful to not let it get too hot, we had a issue with dry, itchy skin til we got it regulated. It made a huge difference in his ability to move without pain and stiffness.

One last thing, and I don't want to be a downer, but pay attention to what is best for the cat. That may mean letting him go before YOU are ready. We've had many cats, more than a few who got to old age, and we waited too long in some instances. Now, when we get to the "is it time" stage, we aim to make it a gentle, painless and loving ending. It's the least we can do for our pets, especially since they have given us so much.
posted by LaBellaStella at 9:40 AM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

To add to what phoenixy said, if the vet wants to put Schroedinger on methimazole, it also comes compounded into a transdermal gel. That has been a lot easier for me to give my old man cat. You rub it into his ear. He gained a little weight and he looks like he's sleeping more soundly. Before he was pretty antsy and howly. It may be worth asking about.
posted by Bistyfrass at 11:03 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mostly just seconding/thirding/etc stuff that it sounds like you're already on top of. My cats loooooove the heated beds by K&H. They don't get too hot, so we leave them plugged in all the time. It made an enormous difference in my elderly arthritic cat's quality of life, probably more than anything else I did. When she found it too hard to step over the side of the bed, I took the heating pad part out (it's designed to come out) and put it under a blanket for her, where it worked just as well.

We didn't realize until very late in her life that she was sometimes standing in the litterbox but peeing outside of it because she couldn't squat well anymore. Puppy pads can get expensive, but Target sells 24x36ish "underpads" in their human incontinence section at about $6 for 18. We covered the area around the box and it made our lives much easier. As her arthritis got worse, we actually switched to a SUPER low pan in the form of a rodent cage bottom pan.

Also on the arthritis/leg stiffness front, if you suspect he's in pain you could ask the vet about trying Buprenex. It's simple to administer (squirt a tasteless liquid on the gums) and it did seem to help. Some cats get a bit loopy on it, but mine didn't; she just rested more comfortably. I wish we'd started it sooner.
posted by kite at 11:46 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the advice! I'm going to hold out another day or two before marking up some best answers in the hopes of getting a few more, but this is all really helpful.

Mostly I am just here to tell you all that I was bragging a bit on Twitter about having my cat declared the #1 Metafilter Cat, and my friend who loves him said she would make him a beauty-queen sash declaring him to be such. So stay tuned, I hope to be back before long with a new picture of my sweet old man in his new sash.
posted by Stacey at 1:18 PM on March 21, 2017 [13 favorites]

Steps made a big difference for our older cat, but it sounds like you have that covered. Ours also liked the thermal blanket we got her -- it had a lining that reflected heat back, so it helped warm her without needing to be powered. Here is one example:
posted by nalyd at 6:13 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

My sweet old boy Mr. Cat is also 18ish. I'm not really sure of his real age since I adopted him in 2001 and the vet said he was 2 to 2.5 then. I'm bookmarking this because there are a lot of great ideas--thanks, everyone! I've got a silicone grooming glove and a pet bed heater in my Amazon cart right now. He's so bony that I have to be really careful about bonking him with his old brush.

I got some of these small plugin LED lights to help him see at night. I also have some soft pet stairs for my bed and the couch so he can move between them since he's a fuzzy blanket addict. I found them at Marshalls/TJ Maxx pretty cheap.

His litter box is in a closet with a pet door, and I leave the door propped open now so he doesn't have to step up into the pet door anymore.

He's always been vocal, and I used to ignore him if he started up while I was sleeping but now I answer him just in case he's disoriented.

He's on daily heart medicine that I crush with a mortar and pestle and hide in some "bisque" wet food (shhh). I bet baby food would also work, as long as it can cover the medicine taste. This chicken + tuna bisque has been working for several weeks now.

I tried this calorie gel that a lot of people recommend for helping with weight gain but my little booger wouldn't touch it. He also turned his nose up at fish oil made for pets, but maybe you'd have better luck.
posted by tace at 9:15 AM on March 23, 2017

OMG, what a handsome devil Mr. Cat is! I want to reach through the screen and pet that sweet little white blaze on his forehead.

Our Sam, who lived to the ripe old age of 21, also loved those fuzzy blankets. She had several in different colors, and they were all named Snorfly. Blue Snorfly lived on the bed, Green Snorfly hung out on the couch, Purple Snorfly lay on the box by the window, etc.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:09 AM on March 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update for anyone coming to this later and wondering what was helpful:

So, the good news is that Schro isn't confused because of dementia or pain. The bad news is, it's because his retinas detached and he's gone abruptly blind. So, you know, that's a thing. We're medicating him and there's a chance one or both will re-attach, but it's a small chance, so we're not holding our breaths. I suppose you can expect another question from me in a week or two about blind cat accomodations.

So some of these ideas, while wonderful, ended up not being needed - we didn't actually need a ramp or steps, it's not that he can't get into the litterbox or onto the sofa, it's that he couldn't find the box. That said, I now have a little cat ramp tucked away because I'm sure we're going to need it eventually.

The heating pad hasn't been a big success with him, but his little sister loves it, so I'm glad we got it. He seems to like the nubbly silicone massage brush. He's figured out two of his litterboxes but not the third, which he seems to be able to get near but not in, so puppy pads are helping there, and we're hoping as he adjusts he'll get better at using all the boxes consistently.

The vet did think it was a good idea to start medicating the arthritis at this point, so we've started him on Tramadol. Too soon to say whether it's helping, but I think maybe it is, a little?

Anyway, he's adjusting pretty well to being a blind-deaf old man, he's mapping out the house slowly with nose and whiskers, he's enjoying plenty of treats and naps in the sun, and he and I (and our other household members, feline and human) appreciate everyone's extremely kind and helpful input.
posted by Stacey at 7:12 AM on March 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

My Melanie was born blind and led a long and happy life as undisputed queen of the castle. So your Number One Best Cat of Metafilter should do just fine! Both sorry and glad to hear the mixed news. Pets and scritches from the Monster household.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:50 PM on March 25, 2017

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