Caring for a Geriatric Cat

Greetings everyone! I realize that I have not updated Purry Home Companion in a while. I have been alternatingly busy with graduate school and a bit under the weather lately. Additionally, Boudicca, being a nearly 18-year-old cat, has needed a lot of care to stabilize her health (namely symptoms stemming from small bowel disease) and closely monitor her quality of life. Last week I was alarmed when Boudicca’s appetite markedly dropped and she refused to eat her wet food (which has her medications mixed in), both of which are most unusual for her. She will be seeing the vet this week for a re-check.

I had just finished brushing Queen B when she sat like this on the window seat. I liked the way the sun shone through the window and illuminated her ears and whiskers.

Given Boudicca’s age and health, I have had the difficult conversations concerning her quality of life and knowing when it will be time to say goodbye. Having these conversations and making these incredibly difficult, poignant decisions are the most challenging parts of responsible pet ownership. In 2017 I made the hard decision to say goodbye to my 16-year-old cat Nala, whose quality of life had markedly declined due to increasing arthritis, which in turn complicated her diabetes. In some ways, I think saying goodbye to Boudicca will be harder since she is my first cat who has truly been my own and, after all, she chose me to be her human. She has always been my sweet girl and I will miss her VERY MUCH. (Cue tears welling up as I write this.) Because the idea of saying goodbye sometime in the future has been in the back of my mind, I have been making concerted efforts to spend as much time with Boudicca and cherish the time I have left with my googly girl.

Boudicca and I recently enjoyed a three-hour lap time session. She has always been a very enthusiastic reading buddy, lap warmer, and snuggler. Her eyes appear very green here too!

However, as I write this, we are not quite at that stage. We figured out why her appetite decreased: she apparently decided to be abruptly finicky about her wet food. We discovered that she prefers Friskies Salmon Pate. We were able to get her to eat something else when she did not want to eat wet food, and we were able to get medication into her in order to control inflammation, nausea, abdominal pain, and keeping her regular. Her appetite has since returned and now she gets very talkative whenever either of us is in the kitchen, because she automatically assumes that we will give her more food. (Either that, or she forgets quickly that we give her wet food twice a day. She still steals kitten kibble from Garrus even though she has her own bowl.) With that said, she has had accidents this past week–so messy and so much cleaning! She is not grooming herself very well, so I brush her regularly and will have to bathe her soon.

Caring for older cats (i.e. mature, senior, and geriatric cats) involves many factors related to health and what to expect at each stage. Aging affects cats in different ways; some will be rather frail at age 11 while others are still robust at 18 or older. Behavior can change in elderly cats. In Boudicca’s case, she is fussier about food, sleeps more, grooms less, talks less, and can be insecure around Charlie, whereas in the past she was quite confident and untroubled by the presence of other cats (Nala, neighborhood cats outside) and dogs. She requires a lot more vet care and medication due to her health problems. Nala and Boudicca aged differently with certain symptoms appearing at some stages with one but not the other. Caring for a senior cat has been a learning experience for both me and Aaron through our experiences with Nala and Boudicca. We are balancing being solicitous with Boudicca’s needs while meeting the needs of Garrus and Charlie, who are respectively six and two years old and have very different energy, nutrition, and health needs.

Googly cat is quite googly!

Snuggle Now

The other day I felt a migraine coming on and took a brief nap to deal with it. I woke up to the sound of loud purring. A foot away from my head was Charlie, who purred even louder when he realized I woke up. Next to him was Garrus, looking sleepy and content next to his cuddle buddy. He might have been purring too.

But I could not move. Why? Boudicca had stealthily sneaked up onto the bed and camped out on my hip. I was not allowed to stretch out toward the boys or roll over. Instead of feline lap paralysis, I had feline hip paralysis! She did, however, graciously allow me to pet her and snap a photo.

“You will snuggle NOW and MY WAY!” Her Majesty Queen Boudicca decrees. At least she’s cute and googly in her imperiousness.

Caught between three purring cats…it could be worse.

Evening Routine

We’re homebodies and like to just chill out at home in the evenings. In the past Aaron and I have watched a particular show together. We’ve watched several Star Trek shows (Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise), Friends, Downton Abbey, Futurama, Agents of SHIELD, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. Lately we’ve been doing video games (well, Aaron has been playing video games while I watch). We started with Horizon Zero Dawn (excellent), Ori and the Blind Forest, Unravel, and now The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its extension packs, Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine.

When we sit on the couch, all the cats assume their preferred locations. Boudicca cannot wait to climb onto my lap, receive pets and smooches, and purr contentedly.

Googly cat is googly.

Charlie often hangs out on the cat tree but if he is feeling lovey he ask to get onto the couch next to me. Then he flops repeatedly, purrs very loudly, and head bunts my hand as I pet him.

Charlie likes to curl his paws over the edge of the platform when I pet him.
We’ve been introducing him to snuggling (with humans) and lap time. He approves.

Somebody was being really cute!

Garrus generally hangs out on the floor on the other side of the ottoman but lately he has been sharing the ottoman with us. Garrus, reserved Gentleman Cat of the house, is most particular about his spot, is slow to warm up, and has an established bubble of personal space. He is slowly learning how to relax around us. We give him space so that he can decide if he wants to engage with us. If it takes him a while, that’s okay.

Isn’t he handsome?

Occasionally, Garrus has been brave and hung out on the couch with us! This has been a lovely breakthrough!

While I certainly hope that the boys will become lap kitties in time, I will not be heartbroken if they are not. They both have made leaps and bounds of progress in the seven months we have had them. They are less skittish, shy, and reactive, and now seek us out for attention. Working with shy cats can be a challenge (it requires a lot of patience) but I have found it worthwhile. Charlie, in particular, has blossomed from a very hidey cat to an incredibly sweet, squeaky boy who frequently looks like he has a blissful smile on his face. Garrus is a bit more inscrutable but when I get him to purr I take that as a win!

Do your cats adhere to a particular evening routine? Do they have preferred spots? Do they like lap time?

Kitty Yoga

I have recently started practicing gentle yoga, both by attending classes and at home. I am still getting the hang of timing it right so that all three cats are soundly asleep and thus won’t interrupt my practice with their irresistible cuteness. When I practiced at home for the first time, Boudicca woke up from her nap and immediately sought me out, talking and searching persistently for rubs. She was most confused that my lap was not really available when I tried to meditate.

Boudicca kept bugging me. With my concentration broken, I snapped a photo of her.

When Boudicca finally gave up and returned to the couch to resume her nap, I tried to finish my practice. Then the boys woke up and trotted into my office, with Charlie squeaking cutely in the lead. Sigh.

The next time I tried at home, Boudicca continued to chill out in her box (mostly). She did get up to investigate my blanket and blocks and quest briefly for ear scritches. After I finished my practice I smooched her head.

It appeared that as my practice at home became more of a regular occurrence, the novelty of it wore off. This is how Boudicca reacted when I practiced on Saturday:

Someone is not concerned.

Do your cats (or dogs) tend to interrupt you when you are exercising? Do you ignore them or do you give in and give them attention?

Update on Boudicca

This past week has been stressful. Boudicca became ill again, obviously having issues in the litterbox and, more distressing, her appetite noticeably decreased. She hunched over a lot and backed up when I tried to pick her up, something she has never done before. I took my girl to the vet for an abdominal ultrasound on Tuesday. She has intestinal/small bowel disease, which may or may not lead to cancer. One of the symptoms of this illness was constipation, which in turn led to the loss of appetite and abdominal pain. This is one of the challenges of responsible pet ownership: senior cats can develop more health issues and require more veterinary care. Thankfully, however, she is doing much better due to a cocktail of medications to stabilize her so that she has a healthy appetite and doesn’t have any litterbox issues (either constipation or diarrhea).

We have been able to mix her medications into wet food, which she eagerly awaits twice a day. Every time she sees one of us taking a small plate out of the cupboard she assumes it’s for her and gets very verbal about it. This, of course, alerts the boys and prompts Charlie to give his two cents in a number of ridiculously cute squeaks.

I know Boudicca is feeling better because she has been seeking us out for attention, especially when we sleep. Several nights I have woken up with a very purry Boudicca sitting on my chest or claiming half my pillow. Occasionally she has successfully executed stealth snuggles! I am happy to see Queen B feeling more like her usual sweet, lovey, and quite googly self.


After her vet visit, Boudicca happily reclaimed her box and spent a lot of time keeping me company in my office. She is an excellent supurrviser!

“Helpful” Cats

This afternoon I tried to practice gentle yoga for at least half an hour. All the cats were sleeping. I figured I should do yoga instead of succumbing to the cats’ charms and taking a nap with them. So I pulled out my yoga mat and started to meditate.

Then who shows up? Queen Boudicca. Talking a bit, she was very curious and slightly confused as to what exactly I was doing. She tried her best to nudge my hands into petting her and climb onto my lap.

“Excuse me, Mother, I have declared that it is time for you to adore me. Not meditate.”

I did a few poses and suppressed a giggle as Boudicca wound herself around my legs and persistently sought out my hands for pets. Do you realize how difficult it is to execute yoga when your cat is giving you a tail hug and giving you a running commentary at the same time?

Needless to say, my yoga practice was not very successful. Finally I gave in–my focus had been entirely interrupted and I could not resist Boudicca’s hopeful eyes‒and petted her. Then she presented her head for me to kiss, purring all the while. Queen B was victorious. She can only get away with this because she’s cute.

After she left I attempted to refocus and restart my yoga practice. However, the boys decided to wake up at that time and start their afternoon scamper session, which included venturing into my office, squeaking, playing, and wanting pets too. Sigh.

Do your cats try to “help” you do tasks, such as making the bed or laundry? Do they get in the way when you try to exercise or work? What do you do when they do this? Do your cats ultimately win?

Window Watching

Today was a beautiful day–a balmy 70 degrees, sunny with a cool breeze. In order to take advantage of the lovely fresh air, we opened the windows in the house. Naturally, all three cats were most intrigued by what lay outside. So many smells! Sassy birds!

Boudicca opted for a more secluded window in Aaron’s office.

Charlie found sniffing the screen a most enjoyable pastime.

Charlie watched the birds alighting on the peach tree in the backyard. As I snapped this photo, he stretched languorously.

Boudicca came to visit me in my office.

Where was Garrus during this time? He was oddly difficult to photograph. A couple of times I saw him sitting on a windowsill next to Charlie but he jumped down before I could get the shot.

Garrus seemed most content to sunbathe on this scratching pad.

I tried to get a good photo of Garrus sleeping on this blue elephant pillow. Charlie saw me and inserted himself into the photo too. Notice that he had to show me all of his toes.

“Hi Mom, you’ve come to pet me, right?”

Notice the subtle shift in expression from this photo…

…to this one. Garrus is often inscrutable but I find his expressions amusing.

As always, the boy like to enjoy a lounge together after a scamper session. Clearly they have a busy schedule.

Do your kitties like to watch the goings-on outside through windows? Are they keen birdwatchers or do they have a running vendetta with squirrels or rabbits? Do your cats find choice spots in which to sun themselves?

Mornings with the Cats

Cats are creatures of routine, and this definitely applies to my little pounce. While Garrus does not always come up onto the bed for a visit as we wake up, as Boudicca and Charlie do on a regular basis, Garrus greets us with his characteristically jaunty trot and lots of tail hugs. He habitually escorts one of us into Aaron’s office to his food bowl and waits patiently by the door. “Good morning, my caretakers! I trust you slept well. It’s time for breakfast!” he seems to say. Keep in mind that Garrus only meows (politely, mind you) when in the carrier; otherwise he does not meow, squeak, chatter, or make any other noise. Even his purr is so quiet most of the time that you can’t tell he is purring unless you feel his neck.

After we feed the cats and refresh their water, it is our routine to visit each of the cats, or sometimes, they come to us. Boudicca wakes up and joins us by the kitchen table, where she stares intently at Aaron as she attempts to execute the Schnauzer Mind Meld. (As I have mentioned before, Boudicca has not yet figured out that she is, in fact, not a Miniature Schnauzer.) Aaron sits on the Morsel Distribution Throne and has the Morsel Distribution Hand. Apparently his morsels taste better than mine. We occasionally give her tiny bits of egg (good for her coat) or meat. (There are people food items that are safe for cats.) When Aaron has waffles or pancakes, Boudicca seems to pout, since she firmly believes that all people food is for kitties and does not understand when we don’t share.

This past week, there was a beautifully choreographed kitty ballet in our kitchen whenever we gave Boudicca her medication in wet food. The boys were keenly interested in what prompted Boudicca to become such a Meower Mouth. Charlie had to contribute his two cents by squeaking. Garrus, a characteristically quiet Gentleman Cat, simply pirouetted with his tail high and a hopeful expression, “I used to eat wet food. I like it…May I have some please?” Unfortunately I was not able to get the kitty ballet on video but I did capture a short video of Boudicca demonstrating her Meower Mouth alter ego.

Usually Charlie comes to us as we wake up and happily purrs when we give him rubs. Once we wake up, he trots off to play in the living room, snuggle with Garrus on the ottoman, or hang out on his favorite platform on the cat tower. Sometimes he will stroll by the kitchen table as we eat breakfast, squeaking, polishing our ankles, giving tail hugs, and generally being cute. Incidentally, his presence occasionally bugs Boudicca, although she will ignore him if she is intent on begging. After breakfast, we stop by the cat tower, where Charlie has taken up his post, and remind him how cute he is. Cue slow blinks.

Garrus doesn’t often visit us while we eat breakfast. He tends to hang out in the living room, where his favorite spot (the ottoman) is. Boudicca meanwhile claims her spot on the couch. Garrus has a habit of following us into the bedroom–or me into the bathroom–and asks for pets. If I am standing up and wiggle my fingers in invitation, he can be convinced to jump onto the bed for scritches. His preferred spot for visits, however, is on the ottoman.

This morning I sat on the ottoman and called Garrus. He trotted over with a marked spring in his step and tail-hugged my legs. Then he hopped up onto the ottoman and rubbed himself against my back and hands, semi-flopping next to me. He started purring quietly when I scritched this side of his neck and shoulder, or when I scritched the base of his tail. (Cue elevator butt.)

Since we’ve been working on getting him acclimated to being handled, I gently picked him up and placed him on my lap. I do this regularly but he tends to jump off after about 10-30 seconds. This morning he appeared to be calmer and more relaxed because he remained on my lap for a few minutes. I gently stroked him (not too much so he would not get over-stimulated) and talked to him, telling him how handsome and good he was. He continued to purr and slow blinked. When he decided to end our lovely lap session, he did not abruptly kick off my lap but instead stood up and leisurely walked over to the free space on the ottoman next to me. Lying down, he looked up at me with those big yellow eyes and asked me to continue petting him, which of course I did. What a breakthrough!

During our visit, Charlie woke up and started playing. As per his habit, he plucked the toy mice from the highest platform, choosing one by one with his mouth or paws and deliberately throwing them onto the floor. He held the largest (his newest prize) in his mouth and carried it as he climbed down the cat tree and strolled over to me. He gave one muffled squeak, dropped the mouse at my feet, and flopped over so I could give him a belly rub. Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me or else I would have recorded it. But he was SO CUTE. All in all it was a very pleasant morning!

Do your cats like to greet you in the morning? What are your morning routines with your fur people? Are they lovey in the morning or in the evening? Tell your stories in the comments section!

Cat Toys: Part Two

Keeping cats physically and mentally busy can be a challenge, especially since most people cannot afford to spend huge chunks of their day playing with their cats. It is advisable to regularly spend some time, such as 10 to 15 minutes, playing with your cat, whether it involves throwing toys around (some cats will fetch), being the Keeper of the Elusive Red Dot, or dangling a wand toy.

Changing things up and giving different types of enrichment, toys, and stimulation can put some pizzazz back into your cat’s step. Giving them something constructive to do can prevent your cat from getting into trouble or growing bored. Here are some ideas:

  1. Window watching. According to The Fur Person by May Sarton, the feline equivalent of reading the newspaper is watching the goings on outside through a window. (By the way, if you have a chance, do read The Fur Person. It is a truly delightful little book.) Every cat I have had enjoys looking out the window, often excitedly at the birds on the patio or the trees in the yard. It gets very animated in the house when the birds, squirrels, and cat(s) start sassing and chattering away at one another. Boudicca does not know what to do when she sees rabbits, especially when they come close to the patio door. There are ways to maximize your cat’s ability to know what’s going outside safely and easily.

  1. Catnip. There are different types of catnip out there, and if you want, you can even grow your own. Toys laced with catnip can make your cats frisky. Some cats prefer to play with catnip toys while others go “meh”. (On the other hand, there are cats that can react aggressively in response to catnip. Every cat responds differently.) Spreading a pinch of catnip on scratching poles or sprinkled over scratching pads may reinvigorate a cat’s interest in these areas and give an added incentive to scratch where you want them to, as opposed to your furniture.
  2. Boxes. Occasionally putting a box out for your cat to explore gives them something new to do. Boudicca prefers to have one of her beds placed inside a box and likes to hang out in another. Does your cat sprawl on top of your keyboard while you are trying to work? Try putting a shallow box on the edge of or near your desk. This way your cat can have a space near you without getting in your way. Bonus: cat will be conveniently located for spontaneous rubs.

  1. Mazes. You can take giving a cat a box one step further by creating a cat maze out of boxes like Cat Man Chris did for his beautiful cats, Cole and Marmalade. You can always scale it down if you are feeling less ambitious.
  2. Structures. Unleash your creativity and make castles, forts, condos, tunnels, and other fun things for your cat to explore. You can make kitty castles out of boxes and all finds of furniture projects including a TARDIS for the Whovian feline. NB: Your cat may want to “help” you as you build these.
  3. Towers or trees. Some cats, like Boudicca, fall definitively in the box camp. The boys, on the other hand, prefer going high. Because of that, they benefit considerably from their tall cat tree. (Photo below: Within 5 minutes of the cat tree being assembled, Charlie and Garrus inducted it by playing a game of hide-and-pounce.)

  1. Puzzle toys. These can either be purchased or created DIY fashion, so there are a number of options available!

My friend Christina, cat foster mom extraordinaire and guru of all things feline, was thoughtful and generous enough to send me a few puzzle toys: two eggs and a piñata. These were originally intended to pique Boudicca’s interest and offer my senior girl some enrichment after Nala’s passing in January 2017. Boudicca wasn’t sure what to do with them when I first showed them to her. She still is somewhat undecided but will at least investigate them because she likes treats. (In this way she is rather doglike.) After we adopted the boys and they started to settle in, we introduced them to eggs for starters. Both were fascinated by the idea of a strange rattling thing that rolls around, spins, and produces treats!

What toys do your cats like? Are their toys they absolutely dislike? Do your cat play with odd things? In her youth Boudicca stole hair bands on a regular basis. Nala was a known thief of Post-Its. How do you play with your cats? If you have fun and/or creative ideas or just cute stories, please feel free to share by adding them in the comments.

Cat Toys: Part One

Although cats frequently are stereotyped as aloof and self-contained (some cats indeed are), many cats enjoy play time! Whether I bring a new toy home or simply recover one from beneath the couch, Charlie in particular reacts as though it is his birthday, Christmas, and Halloween all rolled into one because he is SO THRILLED that I am giving him a toy. Even Garrus drops his usual reserve and makes some spectacular leaps while chasing after one of his favorite toys.

Boudicca has never been a very playful cat with a high prey drive. When she was younger, she would chase the red dot and half-heartedly bat at toys, but now that she is a senior who will be 18 in May, she has lost most interest in playing. She will occasionally demonstrate a willingness to investigate puzzle toys chiefly because she wants treats. Garrus and Charlie, on the other hand, love to play. This is especially true for Charlie, who can best be described as a busy, happy-go-lucky furry toddler. (He is, after all, two years old, which makes him the feline equivalent of a college student.)

Both of the boys have their unique preferences. Garrus prefers the wand ribbon toy (I think it’s actually called a Cat Dancer but that term has always made me giggle) and the laser pointer, especially if there are treats beneath the red dot. He will occasionally bat around toys that we have lying around. (During a particularly active play session, my living room looks like a daycare center. Charlie also has developed a habit of leaving his toys in odd places around the house.) Garrus also is intrigued by puzzle toys and is generally more willing (and brave enough) to explore new things, like a big paper bag.

Charlie, as I mentioned earlier, likes to be busy. While he is not really mischievous, he very well could be if he ever became bored. This is one of the many reasons why I am so grateful that we fostered and adopted both boys. Charlie is so much happier with a cat buddy and is generally appreciative of having a playmate. In between naps and being cute, ambushing, chasing, wrestling, and playing tag with Garrus fill his daily calendar. However, Garrus does not always want to play, so when that happens Charlie has to entertain himself. While both boys immediately claimed the cat tower for themselves (Boudicca prefers boxes), Charlie regularly runs up and down the tower, either chasing Garrus or inventing a game for himself. (The rules of these new games are not always clear to me. In fact several of them appear to have fluid parameters.) Having a tower gives Charlie a place to exercise, hide in a cubby if he feels insecure or just wants a cave-like environment, a convenient perch, and his preferred sleeping spot (a high platform).

Within days of erecting the tower, Charlie tore off all three of the toys that had been attached to it. (I cut off the remaining elastic string on both the tower and the toys so that he could not chew on it.) For some reason, these are his absolute favorite: two fuzzy brown mice and a ball.

Charlie had actually left one of the mice in the bed. I moved the other two toys there to take this photo. He was very curious about what I was doing and nearly bumped into my phone and photobombed the shot.

“Hi Mama…whatcha doin’?”

My friend Tracey proposed a theory that some cats are more “birdy” and others are “mousy”. “Birdy” cats like toys that they swat or chase in the air while “mousy” cats prefer to stalk toys on the ground. This makes sense to me, and I think a fair number of cats fall into one of these two categories or are a blend of them. Garrus may fall more into the “birdy” cat category while Charlie is “mousy”. Where does that leave Boudicca? She’s in the final category: lazy and/or googly.

How many toys does my little pounce have? After fishing them out from under and behind furniture (the boys looked on, rather bewildered and intrigued), I found most of them. Although I originally bought a pack of eight springs, I only found four. I do not know where the others went. I suspect gnomes kidnapped them.

Note that I do not have any feathery toys in my collection. I don’t have anything against feather toys; some cats like them very much. However, Mr. Charlie demonstrated that he will eat the feathers and that makes him sick. The vet told me no more feathery toys for him.

Garrus stared intently at his wand toys as I lay them out for the above photo. He was totally game to play. So we did. Charlie joined in as well.

Here Garrus pauses before he executes his trademark swat and pounce move. His face is a study in concentration.

Because we have all these toys, we collect them and put them on the platforms the cats generally don’t use. This habit started inadvertently; I believe I needed to vacuum the living room and the toys were everywhere, so I put them on one platform to get them out of the way and apparently forgot about them for a bit. Charlie, however, discovered them as soon as I put away the dreaded vacuum monster. I watched him fish out toys he wanted to play with and either swat them to the floor or carry them in his mouth. (Garrus has selected toys using his paws this way but does it less often.) Charlie does this very consistently with his fuzzy mice and ball, which I now put on the uppermost platform. I cannot tell if Charlie is slightly offended when I put them up there or just feels strangely compelled to throw all his toys onto the floor. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to catch Charlie doing this with my camera yet but I will keep trying. It’s pretty adorable and usually involves a squeaky commentary.

Toy shelf #1

Toy shelf #2

Charlie danced all over the platforms, trilling and sniffing all his toys intently, as though personally checking that I returned them to their proper spot.

Stay tuned for Part Two!