Life with My 20-Year-Old Cat, Part II

Last year I helped my Miss Gabby Celebrate her 20th birthday, and this year she marched ever so slowly toward 21. How has her life changed over the last year? She is still a bit confused, sleeps for most of the day, and is slow moving around. She doesn’t venture downstairs anymore, but she does visit each bedroom a bit, and she prefers the dogs’ water bowl in the bathroom to the one she has in her bedroom. It’s funny to watch two dogs patiently wait for a seven-pound cat to finish drinking from their water bowl. 

We did struggle with her diagnosis of kidney disease, and we haven’t been able to follow every single recommendation we’ve been given to improve her health. We’re happy to say that she’s open to taking the Gabapentin for her arthritis, and she does get around better with the pain medication. The supplement for her renal disease did not go as well. She didn’t like the taste and stopped eating any food that had the renal support supplement in it. 

The recommended change in diet didn’t go smoothly, either. Of course, changing a cat’s food to anything other than what they are used to is always a struggle. We knew we had to switch her to a kidney-friendly prescription diet, and we wanted her to get more fluid as well, so I tried to switch her to a canned food only diet. She stopped eating. It took two different prescription foods and three types of canned food to realize that she favored pâté style to anything with gravy, and she still preferred dry food. 

Despite all that we have been able to do for her, at 21, Gabby’s medical care has become a question of comfort. I had to shift my own expectations and treatment goals from curing her to managing her quality of life.

Gabby is now getting palliative care. I know that there is no cure for kidney disease, so her comfort is my only focus. But what makes Gabby happy? What do I look for? How will I know when it is time, and how will I prepare for that inevitable moment?

I started by making a checklist of the things I believe she needs to be able to do for her own comfort and happiness.

1. She needs to eat and drink. This is a must. If I can get her to eat a kidney-friendly diet, great, but as long as she is eating, she can have whatever she wants.

2. She needs to use the litterbox. I’m not saying that at 21 accidents won’t happen, but if she can get to the litterbox and she urinates and defecates regularly I’ll be happy.

3. Can she get into her window? Gabby has always been a window kitty. She loves looking out at the world from her bedside window. 

4. Does she still ask to be petted? Gabby has always been a shy kitty, but she can get very demanding about being petted.

5. Is she still bossy? She can be very vocal about getting her spot in the bed, and when and where she wants attention.

So how is she doing? Today, Gabby is getting medication for her arthritis and she is eating a renal care prescription diet. She is still using the litterbox, she can get into her widow with a ramp, and she still runs the household. I don’t know how much longer I have with my Gabby girl, but I can make what time we have now as comfortable for her as possible.