Toothless King of the House

It’s hard to believe that Mau has been with us for two months now. When we brought him home in late June, he was timid and certainly not feeling his best given the advanced state of her periodontal disease. In the Pflugerville Animal Shelter, prior to his transfer to Austin Pets Alive! and foster care, he was withdrawn, gaunt, not eating much, and spending most of his time in a plastic bin in his cat condo.

He just looked so sad, stressed out, and in need of serious TLC. Although volunteers regularly loved on him and brushed him, his coat was in a sorry state because he did not groom himself very well.

We breathed a huge sigh of relief when Mau started eating wet food and ate with relish! Because he was underweight, we gave him additional small meals. What does it say about our house that two out of three cats need to eat like Hobbits in order to get to a healthy weight?

When Aaron and I spent time with him, we were nevertheless struck by how sweet he was. With photos like this, it was quite apparent that we had a most handsome boy on our hands too.

One month later, he showed us how much he loved human company and that he was thoroughly down with snuggles. Lap time is an imperative!

After he had his long-awaited and much-needed dental surgery, he started to blossom. While sick, he demonstrated little interest in playing (understandable) but once he started feeling better, we caught him batting crinkle balls and springs around the house. He hopped into boxes and raced up the cat tree, unceremoniously unseating Charlie from his favorite platform.

Our evenings are MC’d by this lovey boy. Isn’t he cute? He greets us with an enthusiastic  and demanding “MEH!” and purrs when he receives the attention he wants. And he’s charmingly fluffy too!

Update on Mau

On Sunday Aaron and I took Mau to his vet appointment. He walked right into the carrier but once he realized Aaron shut the door behind him, Mau was decidedly upset about it. He complained a bit when carried and in the car but became quiet in the waiting room.

One of the vets looked him over and diagnosed him with severe gingivitis and multiple abscessed teeth. It is likely that he will have most, if not all, of his teeth removed. Because his teeth are rotting, that is why his breath smells like death. We just have to wait for a slot to open up so Mau can have his surgery. Also, judging from the age and condition of his teeth, it looks like Mau is older than I initially thought. Rather than being 10, he’s 15 years old! He is a sweet old man and a good houseguest.

He hid and slept under the desk after we brought him back from the vet. Poor guy.

On the bright side, Mau is eating wet food well. Both he and Garrus eat about 1-1.5 cans a day! It appears that since Mau was surrendered to the shelter in May, he has gained about half a pound of weight. We spend time with him every day, brushing him frequently and providing comfy laps and scritches. He is most grateful for any and all types of attention and responds by being most affectionate.

I also recently learned that Mau and his housemates came from a hoarding situation, which shed light as to why all three had significant dental problems. The oldest of the three went into foster care and recently passed away in his sleep. The female, also older than Mau, has one eye, if I recall correctly, and chronic bronchitis. When I gave the shelter director an update on Mau, she thought that he was lucky to be in our house. Aaron and I genuinely hope that we can help him get healthy and find a loving home in which he can live out the rest of his life, preferably most of it in someone’s lap and purring.

We think that Mau may be a Himalayan or possibly a Balinese cat! Look at that sweet face!

Mau did not want me to read my book (pictured on the desk) and instead wanted me to devote all my attention to him. After all, he takes lap time most seriously, even more so than Boudicca did!

Greetings from Mau

Aaron and I visited Mau this morning as we brought him food and cleaned his litterbox. He was firmly camped out behind the desk in the corner but looked at us curiously as we sat on the floor. If he wanted to hide, that was OK with us. A bit later I came back into the red room and chilled on the chair, reading a book. I babbled at him and beckoned him to come over to my hand for rubs if he wanted any. He did not, apparently, but he made eye contact with me on several occasions.

I checked on him throughout the day and found him sleeping. I did not want to disturb him so I didn’t linger.

When Aaron came home, we visited our foster kitty. We were so happy when Mau came out of hiding! Very casually, he waltzed right into Aaron’s lap and started purring.

He came over to me too, showed me his floofy tail, and asked for pets. He’s a sweetheart.

We were quite happy when he ate up all the wet food we offered. At the shelter, he had refused to eat the wet food they presented. Maybe that was due to stress or a matter of preference. In any case, we’ll be going through a lot more cat food at this rate! It’s all good though. We’re just happy to help this sweet boy.

Foster Parents Again!

We received word yesterday that Mau was ready for us to pick him up at the Austin Pets Alive facility. Although we were not stoked about the drive downtown, we were looking forward to helping a sweet senior cat decompress away from the shelter and receive much needed dental care.

Here is his photo from the shelter. Because his pupils are so dilated, you can’t see how blue his eyes really are. You can also see his lovely colorpoint markings and medium-length fluffiness.

When we picked him up, he meowed pitifully. I’m pretty sure he wanted to lodge a formal complaint with the management when he was transferred between carriers. I’m sure he was completely discombobulated from being transferred to the shelter to APA to us. Once in the car, though, he was quiet.

Aaron was magnanimous in loaning his office as a foster space. We set Mau up with food, water, a litter box, a bed (Boudicca’s pink one), a scratching pad, and a few toys. We visited but he remained put in the corner behind the desk. We spoke soothingly to him and sat on the floor but did not try to dig him out. If he wants to hide, that’s OK. Garrus and Charlie did that for the first couple of days in foster care.

We were pleased to note that he ate the wet food that APA provided for him, drank water, and used the litter box. At the shelter, he always snubbed wet food, preferring and apparently accustomed to eating hard food. We will continue to offer him both options. I will check on him throughout the day and hang out in the room with him, reading a book, so he can become used to my presence.

For their part, Garrus and Charlie knew something was up. As we moved the boys’ food out of the red room, Garrus came in and spotted Mau in the carrier before he left. He seemed mildly uneasy about the whole thing, but we also believe that he does not like change or the door shut. Charlie was puzzled by the shut door and investigated thoroughly, chirping. We made sure that Garrus and Charlie received ample visits and endeavored to disrupt their routine as little as possible. Of course, Garrus needed to go to the vet for his follow-up appointment so he won’t be happy about that either…

Visiting Mau

Our original goal of visiting the shelter on Sunday afternoon was to visit Mau. We had a lovely time with him. He doesn’t mind the kittens and apparently likes other cats, although one of his previous housemates, Virginia, did not like him. He enjoys being brushed and, when taken to the interaction room, evidently knows about lap time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to snap a photo of him climbing into Aaron’s lap.

One of the volunteers suggested that he be renamed Frankie or Sinatra because of those beautiful blue eyes!

Compared to Garrus and Charlie, he has big paws! He’s also heavier than I expected, given that he is on the skinny side. On this visit, we were able to pick him up and hold him. He also purred! Cue warm fuzzies.

Boudicca’s Recheck

Over the last two weeks, Boudicca has had intermittent diarrhea and bouts of appetite loss, and recently she had been straining quite a bit in the litter box. Aaron noted that she appeared to have lost weight as well. When I picked her up to put her in the carrier, she felt incredibly light. Since Tuesday was the vet office’s surgery day, I scheduled to drop her off in the morning so Dr. R could see her when she had a free moment (Dr. R is very popular). As usual, Queen B behaved herself in the cat ward, talking up a storm and making dancy paws whenever a tech stopped by to give her any attention.

In the afternoon I consulted with Dr. R. It turns out that Boudicca actually had been rather constipated, hence the straining. This isn’t the first time that this has happened but I had been caught off guard by the diarrhea. She had indeed lost a pound since February. While she responded well to the anti-inflammatory and the vitamin B-12 injections, she did not respond to the steroid, which indicated that she did not have inflammatory small bowel disease. So that leaves cancerous small bowel disease, such as small cell lymphoma. While of course I was incredibly concerned about this turn of event, I knew that this was a possibility due to our previous conversations.

Ultimately, I DO NOT have to say goodbye to Boudicca just yet. First, we have to deal with her constipation and find a balance there. Second, the anti-inflammatory improves her quality of life. Third, she is still perky, talkative, interested in engaging (i.e. snuggling), and demonstrates doglike traits like she has all her life. If she was lethargic, withdrawn, shuffling around, and recoiling from me, that would indicate that she was in pain and not herself anymore.

Following Dr. R’s advice, we gave her ¼ tsp Miralax mixed in with her wet food (apparently Boudicca is fond of Friskies Seafood Pate) and, after a couple of doses, she is no longer constipated. Her appetite increased and she is very vocal any time she thinks we are in the vicinity or preparing to give her food. Her Meower Mouthiness cues the boys, so then it becomes a party. (“Excuse me, may we have some of whatever Her Majesty is having too please? We would be most grateful!”) We distract them with toys and/or treats so they don’t come to investigate and inadvertently make Boudicca food insecure. (We have noticed that Boudicca prefers to not only eat in private but with me as her escort/bodyguard. She will often stop eating if she notices either Charlie or Garrus nearby, even if they are just walking down the hallway.)

Nevertheless, we will continue to monitor Boudicca’ hyperthyroidism, small bowel disease, and weight. Now that she is eating kitten kibble and small portions of wet food (we were encouraged to give her whatever she would eat), perhaps she will gain a little. I want her to be comfortable, happy, and as healthy as possible. I am cherishing the time I have left with my sweet, googly girl.

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!

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!

Adopt a Senior Pet Month

IMG_1841November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month!

Before I start talking about senior pets, it’s important to understand the basics of pet lifespans. Pets age and grow similar to how humans develop over time. They start out as babies (puppy- and kittenhood), go through a youthful period (adolescence), reach adulthood, and continue to their twilight years (senior and geriatric period). Cats, in particular, can live a long time–15 or more years. Here’s how cat life ages break down:

  1. Kitten: Birth to 6 months [human equivalent: 0-10 years]
  2. Junior: 7 months to 2 years [human equivalent: 12-24 years]
  3. Prime: 3-6 years [human equivalent: 28-40 years] 
  4. Mature: 7-10 years [human equivalent: 44-56 years]
  5. Senior: 11-14 years [human equivalent: 60-72 years]
  6. Geriatric: 15 years+ [human equivalent: 76 years for a 15 year old cat to 116 years for a 25 year old cat!]

Charlie is the equivalent of a 24 year old, although I must admit he seems more like a furry toddler. Garrus, being 6, is the mature one of the boys, being the equivalent of a 40 year old in human years. Boudicca is 17, which would make her roughly 84 in human years! 

Dogs’ lifespans are a bit different and depend on the breed and the dog’s size. Large dog breeds tend to have shorter lifespans than smaller dog breeds. For example, a large dog breed, say a 1-year-old Golden Retriever, would be 18 in human years. An 11-year-old Golden Retriever would be 96! A Great Dane or an Irish Wolfhound may only live 8 years. By contrast, a small dog breed like a West Highland White Terrier would be the human equivalent of 12 at 1 year old and 96 at age 16.

In animal shelters, adult pets and especially seniors are considerably more likely to be overlooked and, consequently, take a longer time to find their furever home. I think a lot of this has to do with myths about senior pets and just how “old” a pet is.

As part of my volunteer work at the Pflugerville Animal Shelter, I help out in the cat room and show adoptable animals there, especially during adoption events. Almost every person who comes in to look at a cat asks first, “Do you have any kittens?” (NB: I have nothing against kittens. Kittens are friggin’ adorable and they deserve good homes too.) Please look at adult cats!

A number of people I’ve spoken to in the cat room positively balked at adopting an 8-year-old cat and often wouldn’t even look at a cat over the age of 5. I have had at least one person directly state that they were under the impression that adult animals (cats and dogs alike) would not bond with new owners but only kittens and puppies would because they were more “moldable”. This idea floored me. I had never heard that before and, in my experience, certainly not true.

Whether a pet is 6 months old or 6 years old, a pet can certainly bond with a new owner. Take my two former foster cats, Charlie and Garrus. They are two and six years old, respectively. Charlie had been adopted at least three times, albeit briefly, and Garrus had at least one prior owner. When we first took them home, they were timid, skittish, and prone to hiding. We sat on the floor and waited for them to feel confident and comfortable enough to come out. This patience paid off because they started to show affection toward us and slowly started to bond. (Getting shy animals to build trust and bond can be a challenge.) By contrast, when I adopted Boudicca, I’m fairly sure she had already started to bond with me before we left the ASPCA. (She was about 5 months old at the time and it should not be overlooked that she chose me.)

When I work in the cat room, I often get to love on cats who are so eager to love on anyone and grateful for any attention, whether it is playtime, chin scritches, or being held. Most of them definitely want to engage with humans; the rest may be anxious, afraid, or need more socialization in order to feel comfortable with human company. Socializing and loving on cats are my primary duties as a volunteer. Now that I’ve worked with shy and timid cats, I’m happy to help other cats come out of their shells so they can find a loving home!

There are a number of advantages to adopting a senior pet. Here are a few:

  1. Personality. A senior pet has an established personality and disposition. Older animals tend to be calmer as well. Even-tempered, low-key pets are companions with whom you can relax. They also often make excellent snuggle buddies. Who wouldn’t want that?!
  2. Manners. Older pets know basic manners and household etiquette. That is because they are generally familiar with home environments and some kind of training. Many already have experience living with other animals and children. Kittens and puppies, while adorable, don’t have manners yet because they lack experience. They need to be taught manners and doing that requires a lot of work. 
  3. Size and activity level. An adult or senior pet has achieved their adult size and generally has an established activity level. These are important things to consider when adopting, as a unique pet’s needs (high energy, big size) may impact your lifestyle (will need lots of exercise and space). It is also important to consider whether an energetic or laid-back animal would best suit your lifestyle and if your lifestyle suits that animal. Look at the differences in energy levels between Charlie, Garrus, and Boudicca. Charlie likes to be busy, Garrus enjoys both playing and chilling out, and the highlight of Boudicca’s day is regularly scheduled lap time. 
  4. Trainability. Because senior pets have well-developed personalities, manners, and experience, they are generally easier to train and require less monitoring than kittens or puppies. Young animals frequently get into something they’re not supposed and can’t always distinguish between a safe situation and a dangerous one. An adult pet, by contrast, is more likely to know what “no” means and be less of a troublemaker.
  5. Housebroken. Senior pets don’t have teething issues and are already house-trained. In short, they tend to be less destructive. (A group of kittens is called a destruction for a reason! Kittens can be nuts.) Older pets are generally more in sync with human daytime and nighttime patterns of activity and sleep.
  6. Not problem pets. Senior pets are not necessarily “problem pets” as some tend to think. A senior pet may lose their homes for any number of reasons: novelty of a pet wearing off, allergies, death of an owner, new baby, loss of a job, a move, or a change in work schedule, to name a few. None of these reasons indicate that there was something wrong with the pet. With Charlie and Garrus, their last owners were seniors and in ill health; I believe both went into nursing homes and could not take their cats with them, so they were surrendered.
  7. Health. Senior pets are not necessarily sick and decrepit. Some pets have health challenges their whole lives while others are pretty healthy well into their twilight years. Any health issues a senior pet has may already be diagnosed and receiving treatment. Being fully prepared and knowing what you’re getting when adopting a pet is empowering.
  8. Save a life! Adopting a senior pet saves lives. Seriously. Senior pets are more likely to be put down if they cannot find a home and the shelter faces overcrowding.
  9. Love in action. Adopting a senior pet or a special needs pet can be the ultimate act of generosity and love. They need loving homes just as much as kittens and puppies do!