Saundra Whitehead first saw Cinder wandering around outside the local university. She started feeding him.
In time, she brought him home to live with her. He was 13.
Cinder adapted to his new life easily and, despite various health issues, “became the happiest pampered house cat.” He was 18 when Saundra finally had to “help him cross the Bridge.” But they’d had 5 wonderful years together simply because she was willing to take a chance on an older cat.
Seniors in Need
When you do rescue work, the odds are good that a high percentage of those rescues will be senior cats. The majority of the rescues we’ve seen at Northeast Abyssinian and Somali Rescue, for instance, have been 10 and older.
- Frequently, the cat is the longtime companion of an elderly person who can no longer take care of him or is going into a living situation where cats aren’t allowed. It’s a sad but understandable scenario.
- The other scenario is much sadder and a whole lot less understandable. The cat, who came into the house as a calendar-cute kitten, is now up in the double digits. The kids who clamored for “a kitten for Christmas” are older and don’t have time for her any longer.
Pluses and Minuses
Many people are hesitant to adopt older cats and worry about limited time with them.
But they don’t realize that these cats “end up in shelters due to no fault of their own,” observes Kevin Davis, writing for the Pat Brody Shelter for Cats in Massachusetts. “Separated from their loved ones, surrounded by other strange cats, confined, confused and sometimes frightened, many of them are emotionally devastated by their misfortune.”
The truth is, older cats are great because:
- They’re already socialized. “What you see is what you get,” says MEOW Cat Rescue. “Adult cats already know who they are.” They “will greet you at the door and be more than happy to curl up and watch your favorite show on TV. They’ve already learned about the unconditional love thing.” Yes, older cats can come with traumas. But once you’ve gotten them past them, they are all the more loving for what they’ve gone through.
- They’re mellower than kittens. Most of us have had to run around keeping kittens from chewing electrical cords or getting into paint. Kittens are, veteran cat rescuer Karen Waldron points out, “often high energy, and you need to kitten-proof your home…. I will always take a senior over a kitten.”
Kittens are fearless. Or, as Davis says, they “stumble in blindly where adult cats fear to tread.” You still have to watch older cats, but they’re more wary and less apt to put themselves in risky situations.
The Golden Years
When older cats “make friends with you, it’s pure love,” Susan Graham of Aksum Abyssinians says. But it can’t be a one-sided relationship — you need to “take care of the regular maintenance stuff, like checking their blood test results and keeping their teeth clean and pulled when necessary.”
Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Arthritis is a big problem. Zorro and Dervish both had it. Derv was on Cosequin. Zorro didn’t do as well with pills or capsules, but he had a heated cat bed that made his last year more comfortable. (A word of caution: Unplug the bed if you’re going out.) Also, a set of carpeted steps will make it easier for him to get up on the bed or the sofa.
- Clip your senior cat’s claws regularly. Elderly cats don’t move around as much as younger ones, and their claws can grow into their paw pads.
- Remember, your cat may have vision and/or hearing problems. Karen Olkowski suspects her new-old cat, Kramer, is deaf in one ear, and she recognizes that this makes dealing with a new environment trickier for him.
Here are a few more benefits to bringing an older cat into your family:
A cat with vision or hearing problems shouldn’t be allowed outside. Actually, all elderly felines should be kept inside — they are easy targets for predators.
Older cats “take time and patience to settle into their new home,” says Tracy Weed, who has taken in several over the years. “Even if there hasn’t been any trauma, they are so sensitive to their ‘displacement,’ they can be depressed, [have] low appetite, litter accidents and fear.”
Once they “feel stable and secure,” she says, “then it is a magical discovery time for both human and cat.”