Two cats recently joined the household.
Jericho (a.k.a. Jerry) is a 17-year-old pale-yellow fluffy character with a vaguely Maine Coon look to him. (Maine Coons are highly popular in this neck of the woods – they are, you might say, the official cat of New England.) He looks like a toy lion come to life.
Merci is a 12-year-old calico whose person recently died. She’s good with me, but she doesn’t play well with other felines. So she mostly stays in my study, sleeping in my inbox and keeping me company at the computer. She is in kidney failure.
In all probability, neither newcomer will be here very long. Merci is pretty boney, her stomach gets upset easily and she’s hitting the water bowl frequently.
Jerry is a happier camper, content with pats, an occasional treat (boiled chicken or a helping of wet cat food) and the lair he has made for himself under a bureau in the breezeway. But he is also an elderly gent and has lost a lot of weight and tone since I first met him 4 years ago.
For both of them, this is a sort of way station, a last post before heading over the Rainbow Bridge. In other words, we’re talking hospice.
When facing the inevitable loss of an elderly pet, it’s important to stay in the moment and not let your mind rush wildly ahead to that last visit to the veterinary clinic and how you’re going to bear the emptiness afterward.
When the time comes, you’ll find a way to deal with all those last things, same as you do with a human loss.
Mercy is a vital word to keep in mind during this. “Mercy requires not doing what is convenient, economical or practical at the moment, but rather what is called for on a very high level of consideration for another living, sentient being,” writes Rita Reynolds in her incredible book Blessing the Bridge: What Animals Teach Us About Death, Dying and Beyond.
“Mercy might mean administering euthanasia to ease pain and suffering,” Reynolds writes. “Or perhaps mercy means offering that extra measure of comfort, support, encouragement, food or medicine.”
More than anything else, she explains, it’s about “making the effort to center myself and find my inner peace. Then I can be still, to listen and accept whatever the animal asks for.”
Comfort and Love
There are lots of ways to give comfort and love to your elderly and/or dying feline: You can talk, read or even sing to them. The sound of your voice will soothe them and make them feel that they still have your attention.
Here are some other ways to let them know you still care:
- Play music for them. “Through a Cat’s Ear, Music for Calming” is an obvious choice, and it helped Merci de-stress when she first arrived. But anything sufficiently mellow will work, and my calico friend is really into Kate Wolf just now.
- Surrounding your elderly cat with their favorite things, like a beloved toy or blanket, is a great way to provide them some comfort. So does making sure they are warm and comfortable, with a nice, soft bed.
Both Merci and Jerry have definite, albeit quirky, preferences when it comes to sleeping spots. I’ve put a small scratching post and an interactive cat toy in the study for Merci; Jerry, being a free-range guy, has more options.
Both, however, seem to have reached that stage where they don’t want to play and are just content to be.
Check out these well-loved senior cats:
Ordinary and Extraordinary Measures
“Hospice makes no attempt to prolong life or hasten death,” explains the Cat Practice in Birmingham, Michigan. “The goal of hospice care is to keep pets as alert and pain-free as possible, allowing them to live out their remaining days in comfort, in their own homes.”
Going the hospice route involves weighing the pros and cons of various treatments. My son and I have administered subcutaneous (SubQ or SC) fluids to some of our cats with chronic kidney disease (CKD). But Merci is not a candidate for them — she’s much too temperamental.
So I tried a special CKD diet. Merci couldn’t even be bothered to give it a good “this belongs in the litter box” scuff-scuff. So I let her have the cheap grocery-store stuff that she likes. At this stage, she can’t afford not to eat.
Any kind of treatment has to be done on a case-by-case basis, I believe. That means taking the cat’s personality and situation into consideration.
In the end, it really is about quality of life — the cat’s life, not yours. Work with your vet, but remember, as Reynolds says, to listen to what your cat is asking for.