November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, brought to you by PetFinder.com. Emeraude is here to tell you that senior pets deserve homes just as much as younger pets, and I am here to tell you that adopting a senior pet is one of the best things you’ll ever do. In fact, even if you aren’t looking for another pet adopting a senior or geriatric pet is something you should still consider because they remember a lifetime of having a home or homes, and know best what they are missing in those final years, and if any pet needs the loving support of a human, it’s a senior pet.
I think of all the cats who spent their lives with me into their late teens and early twenties—Stanley, Moses, Sophie, Peaches, Cookie, Kelly, and even Lakota and now Emeraude—and I think of them at that age and being homeless and I know those older pets looking for homes right now are no different from the cats I loved. For all the kittens and playful juveniles and lovely adult cats whose photos I see every day looking for homes, it’s those seniors I’m the most moved to rescue and I wish I could do more. Aside from taking them all in, the best thing I can do is take what I can and encourage others—with the expert help of Emeraude, my current ambassador for rescued senior cats.
It’s not unusual that a senior pet is relinquished by a senior human either from the person’s illness or infirmity or even death, and losing their longtime person and home, often the only one they’ve ever known, is a trauma in itself, but senior pets can weather this with surprising patience and grace. Still, senior pets often languish in shelters, even longer than other adults, and in some shelters are not given a chance at adoption at all.
When we consider adopting a pet we usually think about what we expect from that pet, and that’s a good thing, to go into this important relationship with a clear idea of what we expect. Often our ideal pet is one who is full of unconditional love and loyal to us, likes to cuddle and spend time with us, a pet we can spoil a little and they’ll really appreciate it. Often younger pets have another agenda and take years to settle down to where we feel they are truly a companion, so no pet fits this description better than a senior who is ready to just have a nice life for whatever time is left.
Our pets’ lives are shorter than ours, and once their age is in the double digits the fear of their seemingly imminent loss can often outweigh the joy of their potential unconditional love. But while we never have a guarantee at how long a pet will live even if we adopt it at just a few months old, our pets deserve to live as long as their natural lifespan allows. With our assistance and support, our sweet seniors can surprise us with their intelligence, sensitivity and longevity and live happily and in good health far more years than we expected.
Peaches and her sister Cream came to me at 15. We enjoyed life with Creamy for ten months and I’m glad she had the time to adjust to having lost her human before passing. Peaches lived five years that were as complete and fulfilling as if she’d lived with me all of her 20 years—my portfolio of art and photos would be incomplete without her petite dilute calico sweetness, and I simply couldn’t imagine my household of felines without her. Emeraude and Lakota came to me at age 19 and 20, and while Lakota’s time was only measured in weeks, they were six great weeks and he had the chance to live out his life to its natural end, while Emeraude is still enjoying each day, as long as I feed her on time so she doesn’t have to complain about the accommodations.
The age considered “senior” for an animal was, and still is in some cases, only seven years old. More recently, though, other authorities and perhaps even your own veterinarian, differ in opinion, especially for cats, varying from eight to twelve years of age, and for both dogs and cats we have many more categories than kitten/puppy, adult and senior. Read about the age of your cat and its human equivalent.
Loving Care for Your Senior Cat
I have a two-part article on the topic of caring for your senior cat, including symptoms to look for and precautions to take with their health to help ensure the longest and healthiest life possible, and how to make their environment comfortable as their physical needs change. This was inspired by a long line of felines in my household who lived to be 15, 18, 20 and older and supported by my veterinarian and a number of books and reference sites.
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Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, Part 1
How old would you guess Stanley is in the photo above? If you know senior cats you may guess, but cats have a unique way of hiding aging from even the most attentive owners. Once cats reach three to four years of age they can go well into their teens before they show signs of physical weakness, arthritis, failing eyesight and hearing and other common ailments of an aging body of any species.
And even then they can often get along just fine with a good diet, lots of love, and a little something extra from their people. Just like senior humans have special needs befitting the physical age of their bodies, our cats will benefit from an appropriate diet and exercise, regular health checks and even some palliative care you may not give to a younger cat.
We used to assume that dogs and cats both age, over the course of a lifetime, an average of seven “human” years for every year the animal is alive. Cats, however, tend to live a little longer than dogs, and different breeds of dogs, large to small, are averaged at different “human years” for each “dog year”. Over the course of a lifetime cats may average five “human years” for every “cat year”, but they vary quite a bit at the beginning and end of their lives.
Cats are living longer and longer, and while reaching the double digits in age used to be quite a milestone, reaching the second decade isn’t unusual.
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Loving Care for Your Senior Cat, Part 2, Beyond Food and Water
Many cats will go on like this well into their teens, still spry and playful with a good appetite and a good attitude, perhaps just sleeping a little more and losing a little muscle mass even with regular exercise. But just like humans, other cats will begin to deteriorate at a younger age, or will develop chronic or terminal illnesses. And because many of us have rescued our companions from a life on the streets, many will bear the marks of that early deprivation, well enough when young, but with increasing difficulty as they age.
I’m proud to say that part two of this series won a Muse Medallion in the Cat Writers’ Association’s 2007 Communications Contest and the Hartz Mountain Everyday Chewable Vitamin Award for the best article on senior cat care in the same contest. That’s when I joined the Cat Writers’ Association and it’s been one of the best associations I’ve made in my career for both writing and learning.
Browse some rescued cats and kittens!
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