Elderly cats need TLC more than most
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By Mickey Zeldes  January 31, 2014 12:00 am

If you’ve been following us on Facebook, you know that we’ve had quite a collection of stray, senior, frail-looking cats come in recently.

We post them on our Facebook page hoping that someone recognizes them and will notify their families that they are at the shelter. Many people assume that when an older cat doesn’t come home it just went off to die. That’s an old wives tale and needs to be corrected.

Older cats often are thin and have sparse or unkempt coats. When a good Samaritan sees an obviously older animal in poor condition wandering around on his own, their instinct is to bring him to the shelter where he would at least be warm, dry and well-fed while waiting for his family to notice his absence. The problem is two-fold, because of the reason stated above, too few of these animals are reclaimed. And because of their condition and obvious medical needs, these cats are not adoption candidates.

Senior cats often have hearing and eyesight deficits, may be arthritic and slow moving even if they are free of common age-related illnesses such as diabetes and kidney failure. This makes them a prime target for other cats, predators and cars. Seeking warm surfaces, they often lay out in the open on roads and can’t get out of the way of oncoming vehicles (if they even hear them) as quickly as they once could. To let an older cat outside to freely roam is an invitation for disaster. Granted, cats that have had the freedom to come and go their whole lives may still crave a nap in the garden. But it should be under supervision and with some safeguards in place (cat fence-in systems or cat enclosures are a fantastic solution – check out the enclosures available at cdpets.com).

You really can’t get angry at caring people who think these animals need to be rescued and brought to a shelter (although sometimes, when we are fortunate enough to find the parents of these elderly cats, they are upset that someone “took” their cat). As a pet-lover, I bet you wouldn’t walk away from a thin friendly cat that looked like she needed some care. I’m talking about cats that are 18 years old and weigh only 4.5 pounds soaking wet. Sure, not everyone can afford to have a full veterinary work-up for their older pets – although that would be ideal – and old age is not a curable condition, but keeping the cat inside would be a great way to minimize risks and keep the kitty safe. Sometimes just adjusting the food – more canned, easy to digest foods – and more frequent feedings can go a long way to keeping weight on an elderly pet.

Some people think that once a cat is older it’s not “worth” stressing him by taking him to the vet. Nothing could be further from the truth. Older cats actually need more vet care – sometimes something as fixable as a dental issue is the cause of a lot of pain or even death to a pet. There are lots of conditions that can be helped with medications and alternative treatments like acupuncture. It is not OK to let a pet suffer just because it is old.

If finances don’t allow for vet care to help our pets extend their lifespan and become as comfortable as possible, then the most humane thing to do is to make that difficult decision to have them euthanized. Wouldn’t you want to be there holding and comforting your pet as he or she peacefully slips over the rainbow bridge? So much better than just not having your pet come home one day and imagining all the possible bad endings that could have happened. Please remember to look for your lost pet, even if he’s a senior – and check the shelter. He may be sitting here waiting for you to come.


Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at mzeldes@rpcity.org.=

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