I am not vain, so I can hold my grizzled head high when I tell you that I am 20-years-old. My tail is a little harder to send aloft these days and usually flies at about half-mast.
Mind you, being a senior pet is really nothing to brag about. More than 17 million dogs and 19 million cats can be considered “geriatric”… an unflattering description, I must say. According to the literature, a cat can be considered “senior” at around age ten. I believe that a 20-year-old cat is best described as “venerable”.
My personal assistant tried out a few of those online cat-human age calculators. Most of them put me somewhere in my early to middle 90s, but one put me at age 82. I approve of that one. You can try it for yourself at this link. If my personal assistant were a cat, she’d be slightly more than 9 years old… a mere child by my standards.
You might be wondering how I managed to remain healthy and active all these years. If I were a different sort of cat, I might spout some palaver about purity of body, mind and spirit. The reality is that I can’t honestly claim clean living as a contributor to my longevity. I’ve dodged the odd bullet in my time, both figuratively and literally. I have an adventurous palate and consumed things that I probably shouldn’t have, including an intriguingly tasty carpet remnant that landed me in emergency surgery. I have an inordinate fondness for chourico (a Portuguese sausage), corn chips, spaghetti sauce and - incredible as this might seem to those who believe that cats can’t taste sweets - jelly doughnuts. Leave any of these delectable foods unattended for more than a nanosecond, and I will devour them with no regard for my own safety and without a trace of guilt. So there.
Quite frankly, I think I owe my longevity to a robust gene pool more than any lifestyle choice. I’m a domestic shorthaired tabby and proud of it. I am a remarkably large cat: 33 inches long from nose to tail, and 14 inches high from the floor to the base of my tail. My weight fluctuates, but that’s a subject for a different article.
Cat or human, the golden years aren’t exactly as advertised on TV and in magazines. The biggest health problem I have is arthritis. Although testing has been inconclusive, my doctor thinks that I might have Lyme arthritis, because of my habitat and the fact that I seem to do much better after I’ve been on a long course of antibiotics. I probably contracted it in my youth, when cats were thought to be resistant to the disease. The thing about living to a ripe old age is that the list of things you were told that simply aren’t true becomes unmanageably long.
Living with arthritis has no silver lining that I can discern. This is especially true for cats like myself who love high places. The days when I could leap from the floor to the top of the washing machine and from there to the tops of the cabinets are over. The staff has been quite considerate about constructing stair-like levels so that I can reach my favorite furniture. They’re always willing to lift me up or lower me down from the higher elevations, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss doing it by myself.
Another problem that arthritis has spawned is a loss of flexibility, which means I can’t groom myself as well as I’d like. I rather enjoy being brushed, as long as it’s done gently, but I can’t usually stand up for an extended period of time. I tend to lie down while the staff attends to me. This means that a large area of my physique might not get its daily brushing, and the result can be matted fur, especially around the hindquarters. My personal assistant very carefully cuts the lumpy fur for me. I don’t wish to criticize her, but as a stylist she falls considerably short of the mark. Still, I’d rather look like a punk rocker than submit to a trip to the groomer.
The worst thing about my arthritis is that I can’t really squat anymore. I used to be able to balance myself on the rim of the litter box like an Olympic gymnast on the beam, but no more. I actually have to climb into the box now, and even that can be problematic. I mentioned that I am a very tall cat. A very tall cat that can’t squat has difficulty aiming the business end of his anatomy inside the litter box. It was pretty humiliating, and slightly odoriferous around here until my staff constructed a litter box to my specifications. They found a large, deep storage container, cut down one side so that I could step in and out easily, and finished the sharp edges with soft moulding so that I can stand on the low rim if the spirit moves me. Now I don’t need to squat if I’m not feeling up to it, but everything malodorous stays in the litter box where it belongs.
My doctor and I agree that the most important thing for a cat of advancing years is to lead a reasonably stress-free life. I want my days to be uniformly peaceful. I want to rise at the appointed hour, eat regularly scheduled meals, take some light exercise a few times a day, have a gentle grooming once a day, take lots of refreshing naps, and receive lavish affection and attention from the staff.
The occasional adult human visitor makes a pleasant interlude, but rambunctious human children should be entertained elsewhere. Canines of any size are simply not welcome, even if they have a reputation as congenial guests. Extra cats might be tolerated in an emergency, if they keep their distance. I allowed The Stupid Baby to move in because he was a pathetic ragamuffin when he arrived, and it would have taken a harder heart than mine to turn him away. I could say quite a lot about The Stupid Baby, but for the purposes of this article the relevant thing about him is that he knows his place.
In the course of my life, I’ve seen all the “sights” I wished to see, and a few that I did not wish to see. At my age, new equals bad. New places, new people, new animals, new food… all bad. New toys are acceptable; new bedding is subject to approval.
I do not like it when any of my staff takes a vacation. Fortunately, there is usually at least one staff member in attendance at all times, so I almost never need to take on temporary help. If an emergency forces the entire staff to be away, I have a very good human friend that knows my routine and is willing to stay with me until they return. Should one of my staff leave for more than twelve hours, I require a well-worn, unwashed article of clothing - sweatshirts are preferred - that I can sleep with while that person is away.
There’s no denying that my constitution is more delicate these days, and the staff has trained itself to be aware of that. My personal assistant takes a rather perverse interest in what goes on in the litter box, and any variation from the norm results in a trip to the doctor. Behavioral changes are also looked on with suspicion. For example, if I’d rather sleep in than eat breakfast, that’s a major anomaly and off to the doctor’s we go. The staff is vigilant in noticing things like difficulty chewing, sneezing or noisy breathing, bumps on my skin… just about anything that seems out of place. They don’t take me to the doctor for every little thing… I wouldn’t like that… but they don’t hesitate if I seem wonky in any way.
When I visit my doctor, I receive more tests than I did when I was young. We senior cats often develop diabetes, hypertension and kidney trouble and even a committed staff might not recognize the symptoms. Many older cats develop thyroid problems too, but the symptoms are much more noticeable than the other conditions I mentioned. I’m fortunate not to have any of these maladies, but they could crop up at any time, so the staff stays alert.
Even though being a senior cat is not the feline equivalent of Mardi Gras, it’s not all pills and blood tests either. I still enjoy my meals, and my morning walk around the grounds. I enjoy the devoted companionship of my staff and I even enjoy an occasional play date with The Stupid Baby. I enjoy lying in the sun and rolling in the grass. And I still enjoy a good dose of catnip… yes, catnip… hmmm, catnip. If you’ll excuse me, I need to find a staffer now.