Adopting the Senior Cat

I didn’t intend for my home to become a haven or hospice for senior cats. In fact, I love the unruly kitten as much as the next person, but in adjusting to a home with senior cats, I’ve learned a thing or two about these senior felines.
Norma found us and on the first trip to the vet, they were able to give me an “age-range” but not an exact birth date. She had been through major trauma and had some injuries and apparent brain damage. We adopted her anyway (or because of her condition) and she is still with us – now somewhere around ten years old. Norma has been a challenging pet due mostly to her injuries and strange behavior. Now that she is a senior cat, and we’ve had her so long, we’ve adjusted to her odd behavior and are facing some new challenges with her aging.

Recently, I adopted Ruby from our local animal shelter. She was in the enclosed room with the senior cats and she had been surrendered when her owner went into an assisted living facility. I couldn’t bear to know she was living out her final days in a shelter when she’d been someone’s cherished pet since kittenhood. So, even though she was fifteen years old, I brought her home and she lived with us for nearly three months before passing. Although I knew she was older when I brought her home, I had no idea I would be providing hospice for the elderly calico.

In a multi-cat household (With Ruby’s adoption, we had four), bringing home a new resident forces the clan into a reorganization. I’ve found with senior cats, the affect on the household has been less than with the adoption of a kitten (PJ, a rowdy one-year-old joined our household last year at about twelve weeks old.) But, there is a need for careful consideration of the senior cat. They are more used to routine and set in their ways and you may notice a despondency that isn’t obvious with a younger cat. It is important to set aside a safe space, with plenty of hiding, and provide lots of attention when the cat joins the household.

While the other cats will be curious, the senior will need a chance to get acclimated and feel safe before venturing out socially. I like to leave the carry box or cage out for the other cats to wallow and sniff, so they can get used to the new cat’s scent, but let the older cat find solace in a protected room.

Older cats seem to need more warmth and sun than the squirmy younger cats. They need places to go to get away from the hubbub of a busy household, but they will also need plenty of attention and lap-time – especially if this is what they’ve been used to. A visit to the vet will help you determine if there are any medical conditions, or if a special diet will be necessary. In a multi-cat household, special diet considerations can be a real challenge and you may need to create separate eating spaces. Also, make sure to look after their coat – older cats need a good, regular brushing and since they may not be as attentive to grooming, you may need to help with the occassional bath.

Trying to get to know an older cat can be both easier and more difficult than a young kitten. The older cat has a very established personality and way of going about things, but he or she may also be less adaptive to the change of a new home. Each cat is an individual, however, and sensitivity, affection and attention will go a long way in helping you incorporate a senior cat into your home.

Just like older adult humans, senior cats have a lot to offer a household and adopting the mature elder can be both rewarding and challenging. As the vet told me when we had to help Ruby pass, more people should adopt the senior cats and give them loving, comfortable homes in their final days. Although you may not share your home with them as long as you might a cat adopted as a kitten, your household will still be blessed with a special connection.

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