Elderly cat hints
December 1, 2018 9:08 PM   Subscribe

Our elderly cat (12-14 years) has gotten noticeably worse in the past week -- not in the 'should we put her down' way, but in terms of personality shifts and grooming troubles. The vet was unconcerned after testing and examination, but how do we deal with it?

Current system:
Feeding 2x daily
Arthritis pills 2x daily
Brushing 2x daily
More water bowls
No stairs in house
Subq fluids 2-3x weekly
Change of diet etc. to help with the vomiting (which still comes and goes)
Regular blood and urine tests for her kidney failure (currently stage 2)
Steps etc. to help her get into bed with us
Lifting her into our laps, as she is reluctant to try to jump into our laps now

Not really plausible:
More litterboxes, unless she starts having accidents. We're in a tiny downtown condo.

-Extreme neediness: yowls angrily if I shower when my husband isn't home. Always on our laps (was previously a "I might let you cuddle me for 30 seconds" cat). Which is fiine, except that I need to do things and she gets so angry and upset and it breaks my heart.
-"Failures of personal hygiene": Dandruff (not much we can do here). Bits of (non-poopy, dry) litter, dust in fur. Increase in dingleberries being left around house. Smeared... something... on the bed (probably vomit? less pleasantly, possibly poop from her butt). We can wipe her before bed, but that doesn't help with whatever she did in the middle of last night to smear on our bed (again, probably the vomit my husband cleaned up at 2am, but generally she doesn't wake us up when she expels bodily fluids).
posted by flibbertigibbet to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and I've already put a topsheet on our bed, over the blankets/comforters, so that if she gets it dirty it's just way easier to throw that in the wash than any of the other bedding. I

She is also irritatingly fixated on getting attention in the night by climbing on our faces and pillows (and sometimes yowling). It is not my favourite thing, even before you add her 'failures of personal hygiene'...

Again, vet doesn't think she's in pain (beyond the general arthritis, for which she has medication to reduce the pain), just wants attention.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:14 PM on December 1, 2018

This screams of cognitive issues. Is it possible to get a 2nd opinion?

Feliaway may help.
When my cat was aging like this and was, frankly, annoying, crying a lot, Prozac helped.
posted by k8t at 9:29 PM on December 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

Is she on Cerenia for the vomiting? Makes a huge difference in my elderly cat.

Other than that, im in the same boat for a lot of what youre going through. It breaks my heart, but my cat has a two strikes rule per night — first time she does something to wake me up ill let it go. Second time shes gets kicked out of the bedroom. I feel bad, but I need to sleep. I think she may be putting two and two together — theres definitely fewer wakeups now.
posted by cgg at 9:32 PM on December 1, 2018

For what it’s worth and this is hard to hear but my beloved 18 year old cat baby started acting like this and it was how I felt like she was not having a good time being a cat anymore. The next stage after this was “legs don’t work anymore”. I wish that she didn’t have to go through that. I mean what information would you have to know if she’s in pain besides her trying desperately to tell you something? We should know as well as anyone that pain meds don’t always work and are hard to get right even for people, who can tell the doctor exactly how they feel.
posted by bleep at 10:01 PM on December 1, 2018 [7 favorites]

My cat is not elderly but has a very fluffy butt, and dingleberries have been an on and off thing lately. (I try to not think about the cat butt portion of this answer too much.) I've definitely chased him down with a damp paper towel to wipe his little ass, but I got the best results from just straight-up clipping the fur around his butthole. I believe it is what's known as a hygiene cut. Your vet can probably give better practical advice than I can, but I just wait until he's chill and mostly asleep and go to town with dull-nosed scissors. (I use a pair I think i originally bought for clipping toenails, that have sharp blades and a very round point.) I find it most useful to clip about a half-inch around his butthole and then for an inch or two up towards his tail -- I think he just forgets to lift it sometimes, or he has a particularly wet poo. Basically, I have used the location of previous dingleberries to guide me.
posted by kalimac at 10:47 PM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

A heated cat bed has been incredibly popular with every cat I've met, with a bonus of easing arthritis symptoms and luring the cat off your lap for a while.

The "smeared...something" on your bed sounds possibly like gunk from inflamed or impacted anal sacs, with which I am depressingly familiar due to my cat. If you notice your cat scooting her butt and/or trying to lick the area more often, anal sacs may be the problem. Your vet can express the anal sacs for you or show you how to do it externally at home, if the butt is the problem.

I second k8t that this sounds like it could be the onset of cognitive issues like dementia.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:48 PM on December 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

Heated cat bed with top coverings you can wash and change easily. A+ because I’m heading here with my cat. Also +1 for mention of anti-vomiting meds above.
posted by jbenben at 11:18 PM on December 1, 2018

Ah, yes, the crazy old cat.

Some folks do bathe their cats, although I've never had to and I sure wouldn't relish it. Maybe it's time to think about it?

Does she still play? Playing with her might be a good way to work off some of her cranky energy. Try laser lights, string, the works. (Also catnip, if she can have it.) Does she have access to a good window to watch the birds and stuff, or could you take her for walks? Any way you could set up a "catio" so she could get some outdoor time while still being safe?

Along with a heated bed, I've never known a cat who could resist a dish heater. (Our old heater had a picture of a sleeping cat on the box!) They'll notably raise your electric bill and they're not safe to leave alone, but your cat will probably be happy to pass out next to it and leave you alone. When our cat would get fussy and bothersome we always knew that we could fire up the dish and he'd soon be zonked out beside it.

Regarding more litter boxes, I've seen things where people actually build discreet boxes into their cabinets and under tables and stuff. Here's some products at the Petco site. You don't need to have litter boxes sitting out where people can see them. Even if they're hidden away, cats will find them.

It sounds like you're doing so much for her, and being so very patient, and I hope you're giving yourself credit for that. Don't assume this is stuff just anybody would do! You're being very kind to your kitty. While she may be a pain in the ass sometimes, try to enjoy this relatively healthy, cuddly time while it lasts. Believe me, there will come a time when you'll miss these bittersweet days. (Sorry to close on such a bummer note. I miss my little guy.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:01 AM on December 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

Did your cat have her thyroid hormone levels checked in the vet's tests? Hyperthyroidism in cats can cause symptoms like greasy fur or dandruff, hyperactivity (yowling and restlessness), vomiting, and diarrhea.
posted by nicebookrack at 1:00 AM on December 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

For the neediness and clinginess, that sounds like some cognitive issues which can sometimes be helped and sometimes can't. For right now, what would happen if you picked her up and plopped her on the bath rug when you took a shower? Would she be like "okay, I know where my person is, they are doing the crazy wet box thing but I am calm and it is warm in this room"? Similarly, does she have a place in your bedroom to watch you but not be on your bed that is soft and cozy? Like, the top of a dresser across from your bed with a cushion that has multiple easy to wash covers and a ramp there? That way, she can be in visual contact with you guys but might do more of her night time grossness on a more easily washable thing that is just for her.

You sort of obliquely mentioned wiping her, but if you're not already using unscented baby wipes definitely invest in a bunch. Good for more than butt stuff, you can just gently swipe her whole body down to get a lot of loose fur which can give her a big leg up on grooming herself. It's a good starting step before going to bathing or anything more traumatic.
posted by Mizu at 1:07 AM on December 2, 2018

When my sweet old cat started getting dementia, what helped him a lot was a food supplement called Cholodin. It really helped with the restlessness and yowling at night. It looks and tastes a lot like those kitty treats that are made with yeast so he was happy to take it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:09 AM on December 2, 2018

Oh dear, some of this sounds familiar. I'm sorry. One of our elderly cats had some feline dementia. She also had hyperthyroidism which did manifest as some yowling, and the meds helped a lot. We also had to brush her and wipe her down with unscented baby wipes as she got less able to groom herself. (Despite all this, God, I miss that cat.)

Anyway, for the heightened anxiety...have you tried a Thundershirt? I was skeptical until I tried an anxiety wrap on our dog and it is like night and day. We use a DIY technique that was recommended here on AskMe, but I imagine the real ones work just as well if not better. Our dog is docile so the DIY wrap is easy to put on him, but if I still had a cat I'd probably get an actual Thundershirt for ease of putting it on.

This person had a cat similar to yours (elderly, anxious) and their positive review on Amazon is a thing of beauty. (Everyone should read it--it ends with a tribute to AC/DC but instead of "Thunderstruck" it's "Thundershirt.") Maybe give it a try. I know I would not have believed in its ability to soothe an anxious animal until I saw it with my own eyes.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:14 AM on December 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ok so here is part of the Thundershirt review I linked to:

she has developed kitty dementia and random bouts of extreme separation anxiety. And by separation anxiety I include scenarios such as this: Gus-Gus gets off of your lap and walks around the corner of the room and then, completely alarmed by your sudden and inexplicable total disappearance from this earth, delves into epic bouts of operatic screaming and howling. Nothing helped this increasingly bizarre and frustrating behavior. All night long, the screaming. We tried putting her in her own little room but she ended up rubbing all the fur off of half her face. Kitty Valium just made her stoned and screamy. We were at our wits end.

So I got the Thundershirt and steeled myself for both the mockery of non-middle aged childless crazy cat lady people and the surely inevitable dissapointment of yet another failed attempt to calm Gus-Gus. I put the shirt on her. It was extremely easy to figure out how to get it on her. She took a few wobbly steps and the laid down on her side. She started purring, and then drooling, which is what she does when she is happy, because she's not weird enough. I left it on for an hour maybe and took it off. The next night, a few hours. Every bit of weird behavior stopped instantly with the shirt on.

Ever since then we have a little routine.... Around dusk she starts getting twitchy and howly. I take out the shirt. She makes a half-hearted attempt to run away. I start by fastening it around the chest. I make sure it's not too loose or too snug. She gives in after that and I snug her up, at which point she becomes the most chill, happy, laid back cat of all time. No more anxiety, no more screaming, no more sitting on your head and licking your face with disturbingly intense affection. Just..... Gus-Gus, the Thunder Cat.

(Segue into "Thunder Gus" by AC/DC)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:19 AM on December 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

Has she been checked for high blood pressure? It's common in cats with kidney issues. I sit for a 19-year-old cat with waning kidneys who started to act very clingy and senile this year. She demanded to sit on you, would get upset if you had to get up to do something, and several times a day I'd find her in an empty room staring at a wall and bellowing Klingon opera. At first her owner assumed it was sundowning, but it turned out to be high blood pressure. The vet put her on a dose of Amlodipine and it was an instant 180. She's still very cuddly but the howling has stopped and she's not agitated anymore.

For hygiene purposes, once every week or so we used a foaming, no-rinse cat shampoo on our dear departed lady cat when she got crusty in her old age. That and adding fish oil to her diet helped her fur stay clean and soft. She didn't love getting bathed, but she adored all the petting and warm towels that went with it, and it turned into good, dedicated snuggle time.

Good luck to you and your girl.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 6:57 AM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the vet first brought up kitty dementia 6 months ago, when we mentioned her new habit of staring at walls for 2 minutes and her (then significantly more manageable) clinginess.

We're considering bringing the cat back to the vet to explore some more options, and will bring up a lot of what y'all mentioned to the vet, and will be buying baby wipes and maybe a heated cat bed. Thanks, everyone.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:21 AM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sorry to hear this, and I wish you and the kitty the best. I'm certainly not an expert, but recently spent a few years caring for a failing cat.

One thing to consider is checking her vision, which could explain both sudden confused yowling and hesitancy to jump into your laps. Cats are surprisingly good at hiding failing sight, and I've been told it's common with kidney failure and associated high blood pressure.

Our strategy was basically to accept that our elderly cat was going to be a huge pain in the ass for the rest of her life and try to make her as happy as possible. You really can get used to cleaning up poo spots and changing sheets daily. She had an astonishingly happy last year, while we made frequent trips to buy gallon jugs of Simple Green, bleach, and whipped cream (the only thing she would eat at the very end).

You could also take an electric trimmer to the cat butt, especially if she's not short-haired. Cat skin is incredibly delicate and small cuts can grow, so be very careful about keeping the blades away from the skin. A warm bath in the sink a couple of times a week (poured from a pitcher) helped keep our short-haired cat smelling clean enough to cuddle even when her incontinence became severe.
posted by eotvos at 9:40 AM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding Feliway for cats and a strong second for a heated cat bed. Also, try to find a soft litter not too hard on paws (ground walnut shell litter is nice) and don’t overfill the box because it can be hard on older kitties if they sink. Full anal glands, suggested above, could be if kitty is holding on visiting the box as often as she needs to go due to discomfort.

For general comfort: the shelter that I volunteer with trains on and promotes T-touch, this principle is actually what thundershirts are based on. I wouldn’t make an older kitty wear a Thundershirt but T-Touch is super easy to learn and practice and is pretty incredible for comforting animals. Classes are pricey but you can find all you need to get started online or on books from the library/Amazon. Speaking of books, Jackson Galaxy is a genius and his Total Cat Mojo book is a fun and informative read for enriching any environment.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:40 PM on December 2, 2018

Seconding that hyperthyroidism and hypertension should be ruled out.
posted by SinAesthetic at 11:07 AM on December 5, 2018

Unfortunately, not a lot of good news.

She loathes the cat bed we bought, and hates the heating pad. She also hates all wet food to the point of fleeing from it, so this is par for the course for our weird-ass cat.

I did eventually get her to calm down at night by lavishing attention on her when she wasn't pissing me off (e.g. laying down calmly near my arms), and ignoring her strenuously when she was punching me in the face or using my head as a trampoline or trying to get into the blankets by flexing her claws on me (...through blankets). This was a long, difficult, multiweek process. She's still more active at night than she was, but isn't keeping me up... so, y'know, good enough.

The vet expressed her anal glands ("I'll do anything for love... but I won't... do... that.") One was full-ish, the other wasn't.

Last blood test (earlier this year) showed no hyperthyroidism; rerunning it alongside a full blood panel, urine test, and urine culture (see below). Blood pressure seemed fine.

Unfortunately, she has a new hobby: leaking urine when she falls asleep (well, probably urine; because of kidney disease it is very dilute, and the vet said her vulva was fine and that there was no evidence of mucous hanging out of her butthole) . I discovered this was she was falling asleep in my lap, and suddenly my lap had a small warm patch on it. There have been other incidents since; she went to the vet after the first incident. The vet is doing a bunch of tests as this kind of urinary incontinence is apparently uncommon in cats (she has never seen it, personally) and she wants to rule things out.

I bought the cat book by Jackson Galaxy. Haven't had time to read it yet.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:04 PM on January 5

Also, my husband is understandably distressed* at the thought of barring the kitty from the bed because of the leakage problem. If the adorable little fucker liked cat beds, we could find a solution here (stick cat in cat bed on top of human bed). Alas, no.

*That cat has been part of his life for twice as long as I have, and has always slept in bed with him.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:19 PM on January 5

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