A Day in the Life of a Senior Kitty and Her MomPosted: April 28, 2010
Another article in celebration of Peaches’ 100th Birthday.
Peaches didn’t awaken me this morning. All the black cats were on me or on my bed and Cookie was curled in the position of honor on my left against my ribs where she could feel my heart beat against her back. Kelly was having a bath on the sunny windowsill in hall and Dickie peeked in on his way from his favorite bed in the bathroom to the steps. I watched the doorway for a minute or two thinking she’d come upstairs once she noticed the activity. But no Peaches.
Not all my cats sleep with me every night, and not all participate in my awakening in the morning. But usually any cat who is in some chronic condition will be there in the morning or will show up in the doorway, make eye contact with me, our way of checking in with each other. If they don’t, it may not be a good sign. Peaches is very consistent and usually sleeps on me, and if not she doesn’t let me sleep late so this likely meant she wasn’t feeling well in one way or another.
She was fine last night, I thought, or just a few hours ago when I finally got to bed, and she was great all day yesterday. Things can change unexpectedly when the kitty is in chronic renal failure, though, so I bypassed my usual wakeup routine, put my glasses over my sore eyeballs and headed straight for the stairs.
She looked up at me from the butterfly rug where she was settled with all paws curled underneath, but she didn’t sit up or get up, and I could see her eyes were not as round and open as usual. Begin the diagnosis: she is dehydrated to a certain extent, she may be feeling some general indigestion as a side effect of the renal failure we’ve been fighting, and she might be constipated, an issue for Peaches as long as she’s been with me and common since she’s been in fluid therapy, plus she’d been eating very well but I hadn’t seen a significant “deposit” from her yesterday.
Well, let’s see how she eats at breakfast. Sometimes she’s a little sluggish. I was just buying time, though; I knew this wasn’t the case.
This was a very busy day ahead, I had stayed up late to get work done and especially made sure Peaches was in good shape so I wouldn’t have to worry while I was out. I really didn’t have time to fuss and fret over Peaches, but of course I would.
What was on the agenda for today? Complete minor corrections to design jobs customers had sent over yesterday; pick up post cards and greeting cards for the show I’m having Friday through Sunday, deliver them to another printer to score and fold, pick up the ones that are done, pack in boxes; call the nursing home I’d be moving my mother to later this week; call the personal care home she currently lived in and make arrangements to pack her belongings and settle paperwork; pick up a check from a customer at noon, deposit; order greeting card boxes; talk to disabled brother about his budget for May; work on a few of the bigger jobs on my desk right now; photograph some of the new pieces for the show; visit mom in the hospital…I knew I’d be out or otherwise occupied all day, so I got as much in order as I could before I went to bed.
Each of us has days that are full, and herein lies the quandary of caring for a chronically ill pet. When I worked away from home I was always frantic about leaving my cats when I knew they were ill. I also didn’t know symptoms and simple treatments as I do now. Working at home, even when I’m out for a good bit of the day, and with two family members who regularly need care, paperwork or more, I have the flexibility to treat my cats throughout the day. But I give thanks to all the senior cats who’ve come before and taught me what to look for and what to do.
Peaches came in the kitchen, ate a little dry food, ate a little canned food, then left. Eating in general is good, but Peaches usually eats like she didn’t just eat a few hours ago, pacing around on her countertop, waving her paw at me until she gets her food, focusing entirely on it until the first serving is done, having a good long drink of water. This could mean many things, and it was up to me to figure out.
She was on the butterfly rug again when I went to my computer a little later, and didn’t move to jump onto my lap, as usual. I looked at her and felt just a flash of irritation, then concern.
Right now Peaches is a priority, not just because she’s my sweet little senior cat and her birthday is Saturday, but also because at her age and in renal failure, she can crash fast. I’ve seen her feeling fine in the morning, by evening her skin feels like bread dough and I need to get a reasonable dose of sub-Q fluids into her, and it will often take until the middle of the next day before she’s eating well again and feeling comfortable. So, let’s start the triage, then I can observe her while I get some work done before I leave the house, which means working with one eye on Peaches and getting up to follow her if she gets up to leave the room, which I’ve been doing for so many years with a succession of cats that it’s second nature now.
First, Petromalt, which I found long ago softens up nicely in the pocket of my bathrobe so that when you shove it in the cat’s mouth they can’t spit it back out in a lump. Peaches got two half-inch gobs, all of which went in. Ooo, not happy.
Second, just in case she’s developed any type of an infection, I take her temperature, finding it normal but also serving to grease up her other end. Just in case she is constipated, the thermometer and the petroleum jelly will help to dislodge something that may be in the way. Peaches has had bowel problems since before she was with me, and even on a mostly wet food diet with fiber supplement and a little sip of milk every few days—nope, I don’t like to give them milk either, but I discovered years ago that the extra fluid plus the fat in the milk can help an older cat with hairballs and constipation, and a tablespoon won’t hurt—she’ll still have occasional problems.
Third, aforementioned milk. Peaches was mad at me and ran, she’s a little suspicious but forgets she’s mad when she sees her dish and the milk carton. She doesn’t finish it, also not a good sign.
Let her sit, get more work done. Posting on Facebook, calling to confirm my order for greeting card boxes, calling printer to ensure my printing is done. Peaches leaves several times, always just to the water bowl in the kitchen and back; this is good. I make one more call, and off goes Peaches, headed for the basement. I finish my call and follow.
I’m not sure if she’s not entirely comfortable with any of the ten litterboxes in the house, but Peaches no longer uses one, even the empty, fairly flat one I added just for her. She prefers the floor in two areas. Fine, I can clean up after that very easily, and it’s almost convenient because I always know what she’s “done”; this can be hard to tell in a house with nine cats unless I confine her, which upsets her.
Okay, there’s number 1 in the number 1 area, then number 2 in the number 2 area. Good girl! Yes, it was more than her usual, so that likely was the problem. Clean up, back up to the kitchen. After a little clean-up on the butterfly rug, Peaches is actually hungry.
I call my neighbor who recently graduated from vet tech school and who watched my cats while I was away three weeks ago, leaving a message asking if she has the time for fluids for Peaches. I can dose Peaches myself but it’s a little bit of a struggle. I also like Teri’s help; she will make a wonderful vet tech some day when the job market opens up again. Peaches really likes her and is completely relaxed when the two of us give her fluids; I also like being able to help Teri keep her hands in the business while she’s applying for jobs and working in a pet food store.
So between other phone calls and getting work done for customers, I feed Peaches a little at a time as she asks. By mid-morning she’s resting on my lap, by late morning when I’m ready to start my errands—a little later than anticipated because I wanted to be sure she was comfortable before I left—she is pretty much back to normal.
This was an easy morning, made easier by years of experiences with many other cats growing older. With each one I sharpened my observational ability, learned a new physical skill in caring for them such as dosing subcutaneous fluids, learned a lesson in symptoms and side effects, learned to control my fears and relax because I’d project my feelings on the cat, sensitive to me in return, and only make the situation worse.
Being an artist I’m attuned to minute physical changes in familiar things, especially my cats. After finding a veterinarian who didn’t wave me off when, for instance, I said my cat’s eyes weren’t as big as they normally were, I learned to trust these observations as well learning that a squint can be a sign of pain and sunken eyes appearing smaller than normal can be a sign of dehydration.
And I’ve been able to use the knowledge I’ve gained in treating my cats to understand the same illnesses in humans, and vice versa. My mother has a history of illnesses and surgeries, including with the lung cancer surgery and subsequent COPD, renal failure and congestive heart failure that necessitated her move to personal care several years ago. I had learned about renal failure prior to that from treating one of my cats, so I understood what was happening with her when I saw the symptoms.
And when my Namir was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure he was prescribed the same medications as my mother, and it was comforting to be familiar with what each would do for him.
In fact, I had the same conversation with my mother’s doctor and with my veterinarian on nearly the same day about the importance of hydration: if we could keep these older bodies hydrated they’d be much healthier generally, my mother’s medications would work better, my cats would have a better appetite, both would have more vitality and their organs would function better and for longer. It’s a struggle to get my mother to drink enough liquids, and I can’t just pop a needle under her skin to hydrate her as I can my cats, and it’s always a comfort to me when I see the sometimes miraculous recovery after a simple dose of fluids.
I ran all my errands, made all my calls, checked on Peaches, checked on my mother, at the end of another day all is as well as it can be. I still have hours of packaging and tagging merchandise for the upcoming sale, and I can use those hours to muse about the spectrum of life, the slower span of humans arching over the faster span of our companion animals like the arcs of the rainbow where, perhaps, we all mingle at the end.
Other articles celebrating Peaches’ 100th Birthday
On The Conscious Cat
Donate to FosterCat Through Other Blogs and Websites
Other articles about Peaches
This is a short list—Peaches appears in many articles I’ve written on my household, on pet loss, and even some silly things I’ve written on my website before I had a blog! Search “peaches” in the search box for more articles.