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This Old Cat

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So we need to talk about Max.

He turned 17 in October, and while we've been saying things like "if he's still here in a year we'll be incredibly lucky" for...well, several years now, there's no denying his age-related decline has officially accelerated over the past couple months. He is moving slower, and less. His appetite is unpredictable and oh my lands, he's just so tiny and frail and...old. 

The weight loss is the worst. He once topped the scales at a whopping 15 pounds of mostly muscle. He now weighs barely 7. He is skin and fur and bones. Holding him feels like holding a fragile and weirdly elongated kitten. 

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The thing is, he's not sick. Or in any pain or discomfort (other than your typical age-related complaints, like stiff joints, fading eyesight/hearing, and a highly delicate digestive system). I mean, I'm sure if I took him to the vet and had them run a bunch of tests that they'd find SOMETHING, but...well, this probably sounds horrible but I don't want to put him through any of that. I don't even want to put him through the ride in the car. (He gets easily stressed and violently carsick.) And at 17 years old, what are we even going to do about the "something"? 

We've made an unspoken deal, he and I. I'll do everything possible to keep him comfortable and loved and happy. He'll let me know when that's no longer enough. 

Right now this is what everything possible looks like:

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Special treats for his joints, a high-calorie nutritional gel, two kinds of grain-free wet food (regular plus kitten), grain-free dry kitten kibble, a second joint supplement (sprinkled on the wet food), and Fancy Feast Broths, for some fun. Basically anything and everything we can do to tempt his appetite, maximize his calorie/nutrition intake, without upsetting his stomach. 

He still purrs when you pet him. He still sleeps curled up behind my knees every night. He still wants to be on our laps pretty much the rest of the time. (He's on my lap right now, nestled between me and the keyboard.) He is still unfailingly loving and patient with the boys, particularly "his" Baby Ike. He still walks around serenading the desiccated husk of his Puppy and just yesterday I caught him playing a little game of some kind behind the curtains in the master bedroom. 

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He enjoys sunny days out on the back deck. Sometimes he'll venture down to the yard and frolic a bit, slowly. He enjoys drinking from the sink, turkey cold cuts and stealing empty tuna fish cans from the recycling bin. He is happy and content and, in so many ways, just fine and just like his old self. 

He's just now, really, a very old self. 

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And I love each and every single moment we still get with him. You're still the best cat, Max. 

Comments

Annie

What a sweet old guy! And what excellent cat caretakers you guys are! Max is a lucky dude. I too have lived through the kitty buffet period of a cat's life and have one suggestion for you - human baby food, meat flavored (no garlic or onion). Put it on a plate and zap it in the microwave for a few seconds so it smells really good (to a cat), and even the most reluctant appetite will be stimulated. Good luck to you and family on this sweet and difficult journey.

Brandi

:'( Why can't they stay healthy and happy forever? Love to you and Max.

Susannah

We have one of those cats too and she and I have a very similar deal. Question... what is the nutritional gel? I'd like to look into that one.

Love to Max. He's a good one.

Judy

It sounds like his thyroid to me. My 19 year old Sophie did the same thing. She never stopped purring, never stopped eating. The only outward sign of her illness was that she drank a lot of water.

This can be controlled medically. However, in Sophie's case, she had lived a long time without ever taking a pill, and she wasn't about to start now. Every attempt to medicate her ended with the pill spat on the floor, her under the bed, and me bleeding. I finally decided not to medicate her, because I know for myself I'd rather have a few happy months than a miserable couple of years. She lived another year, and it was hell for me. I got up every morning expecting to find her dead. I came home from work every night and breathed a sigh of relief when she rushed to the kitchen for dinner. And then one night I came home from work and she was dead. She was never in pain, and apparently died quietly, 19 years old, the cat we brought home from the shelter because she was 3 months old, no longer a cute kitten, a plain gray tabby, and I knew no one else would adopt her - but who turned out to be the sweetest cat I ever owned.

Carrie

I'm just not ready for this. And if I'M not ready for this I can't imagine how you must feel. Thank you for taking such good care of the old man. Hugs for all of you from Toronto.

Judy

Seconding the human baby food suggestion. He sounds so similar to the last stages(which also lasted a few years) of our Tanya - playful and purring to the last. One thing his old bones and joints might like, is if he has a sleeping place he likes that is not on or near his hoomans, place a heating pad on low in a towel for him to sleep on.

Janet A.

You might just have the vet check his thyroid. My mom's cat loses weight something awful, is lethargic, and barfs everywhere when he's off that med. When on it, he's much better and gains some weight. It's as simple as hiding the med in a small treat.

CC

*sniffle*

Don't mind me. I've just got some dust in my eye.

Thanks for the diet breakdown. Our older cat has also had some issues with weight gain. He's only 11 but he started losing weight. After a $400 vet visit to rule out serious issues, we learned he was allergic to his kitty litter. Too much dust up his nostrils. He couldn't smell his food and lost his appetite.

He has put some of his weight back on but not enough, in my opinion. I've been doing the canned cat food but I'll have to try the gel.

Here's hoping for an extended quality of life for little Max! No matter what, it is obvious to us all that he has had the best home and family any kitty (or human even) could ever hope for. *sniff* Damn dust.

Jenna

In the same boat, with 18 year old Angel. We call her old lady. had her since she was an itty bitty flea ridden barn kitten. she's outlived two other cats, and two dogs. We love her to pieces. She tolerates the boy cats we added to the family last year, along with the dog the year before. sleeps on my pillow. drinks from the faucet. So not ready.

Sherri

I just lost my 22 year old cat. He was 20lbs at his "peak" and only 6.5 when he died. That's the worst part, the weight loss and knowing it's coming. You have done so much to make Max happy, throughout his life. Just remember that, that he is happy. If/when it's too hard for him to be happy anymore, you will know. Cats hide it until they can't anymore.

I'm so glad you aren't dealing with digestive issues. Let me tell you, that part is pure HELL.

Monica

We just went through this with our older cat - she's 14. After losing tons of weight, I finally took her to the vet, knowing it wasn't going tobe good news. Turns out the old lady is hypothyroid, quick blood test told us that right away. Now 2 weeks of giving her pills twice a day (lots of fun there) she's starting to look a bit better. I know we won't have her for a long time, but making her comfy is our goal too!

SarahB

Oh, what a sweet kitty.

We lost our cat too young to cancer this summer. Our vet recommended considering quality of life issues beyond pain--there are feline quality of life scales you can google. That helped me "see" some things I didn't really see towards the end, like how our cat was spending most of his time in our bedroom closet was a sign we were towards the end.

Ugh. I wish Max more good days with you.

E.

This is such a sweet post. My best kitty is about to turn 13, and I do worry about days ahead. One suggestion I'd make, see if there's a local vet who does house calls. It's becoming more common, and after all the thyroid stories in the comments, it might be worthwhile and an easier way to do the blood work.

Laura in Michigan

We JUST had this same issue with my 16 year old boy, Murphy. I was so afraid he was dying. He didn't seem to be in pain, but the weight loss...!!! Turns out he is hyperthyroid... simple to medicate him and he will feel better in a few weeks. If your kitty has this problem, it is simple and will help him feel better. Just a thought.

Lori

My Reno kitty looked just like Max, acted just like Max. My favorite guy ever, my best bud, my handsome fella. He would have turned 17 in September. But just before that, it was time. Every time you post a pic of Max, I see Reno. I miss him, but I know that it was time, and he was okay, and we are okay too. I'm so so sorry that you are approaching that time. But I'm so so happy to know you've had love ball like Max in your lives for 17 years.

Julie

We were in the same boat last spring... just going to add at his most frail we added some some turkey and lamb babyfood. I'm not sure the vet would have agreed, but he was always willing to eat it.
It's tough, but I took consolation that my cat was content and in the place he felt most safe. I hope you and Max get a lot more time together.

Audra

Sounds so much like our 17 yr old fur baby. He always thins down in the summer, but this year it was disturbing. We took him to the vet thinking his labs are going to be terrible and this is it. Nope, everything came back fine. He's always been just a dry cat food kind of guy, but like you I said hell with that, he's getting as much as food as it takes and he's quite happy with the his soft food now and much chubbier. :) Now we're dealing with the fact he's got cataracts and runs into things. Like you, I'm just trying to love him and keep him happy hoping we'll know when it's actually "time". Hugs to Max!

Suzy Q

Oh, I so know how this is, and how hard it is. Max is a wonderful cat, and I hope his life is joyful with his loving family until the end. Hugs.

C

Reiterating the thyroid. Its an easy diagnosis (blood draw) and not terrible treatment (pills or thyroid cream rubbed onto their ears which gets absorbed). Solving that eliminates the added strain on the heart and kidneys is usually the cause of death with hyperthyroidism. Our cat was 11 when he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism (went from 15 lbs to 8, and eating and drinking a lot). We elected for radiation treatment instead of pills/ointment because he was so young, and he's fine now (in fact, he needs to lose weight....habit of frequent eating when his metabolism was faster has caught up with him!). In any event, it might be an easy treatment to prolong Max's life without being in the zone of "heroic measures".

Emily

We're in the same boat - but he's 16 (or maybe 17 or 18, we never did get an exact age on him) and his name is Zedd. It's so hard to lose them, and I keep hoping that he'll hold on 'a little bit longer' especially since we lost our girl Willow just this past September.

He and Max are definitely in the running for 'most tolerant cats ever' :) Zedd has 2 female human children chasing him non stop.

Sue W.

Full on blubbering over here. We lost our 18 year old Maine Coon, Orleans this past January and his litter mate sister Savannah's at now 19 years old is showing early signs of the kidney issues that took her brother. She sleeps most of the day, yet still shows occasional signs of kittenhood. When it's time, we will let her go to the Rainbow Bridge to wait for us to come get her and we will go that day and get a new furniture baby. Not to replace them, but because I can't come home to an empty house. You are such a good momma, Amy. Both to your flesh and blood kids and fur ones too.

Sue W.

*Fur kids* not furniture. Stooped autocorrect!

Sally

Delurking, after following you for almost a decade (!!) because this one hit me right in the feels. I have live with an Old Lady Cat who just hit 17 1/2, and though she's overall quite healthy, she developed epilepsy about a year and 1/2 ago. She and I have a similar deal; I'll do the very best I can for her until it's time, and she will hopefully let me know when that is. On the other hand, she may not, and then I'm to use my best judgement.

She is my heartbeat, and it will be devastating when the day comes to say good-bye, so oh, do I understand about Max. I wish you much, much love-filled, happy time together before that day comes.

Erin

I've done the same journey, just with dogs. I highly suggest finding a good mobile vet. I love ours, less running for me and the girls are comfy at home. He's also helped us to say goodbye at home. I get it isn't for everyone, but not having to transport our Molly and letting her pass comfortably at home was such a blessing.

Max is one very lucky and obviously well loved cat.

Erin

I've done the same journey, just with dogs. I highly suggest finding a good mobile vet. I love ours, less running for me and the girls are comfy at home. He's also helped us to say goodbye at home. I get it isn't for everyone, but not having to transport our Molly and letting her pass comfortably at home was such a blessing.

Max is one very lucky and obviously well loved cat.

Kaela

*sniff*sniff*

I hate cats, but you make me love this cat.

Jen

I'd also like to know about that nutritional gel. I have a 20.5 (she's earned that .5) year old Anna cat who has allegedly been in renal failure for 7 years. In June 2014 the vet told me it would be weeks to maybe a few months. Instead I changed her diet and she gained 2 lbs (grain free, high protein). She's lost a little weight since my other senior cat devleoped severe pancreatitits and needs a low fat diet. But she'll still beat up her mouse toy and seems generally happy enough, if slgihtly incontinent sometimes. I treat intermittent nausea with a metocopmamide gel that goes in her ear. She never notices it; drama cat with the pancreatitis acts like I'm shoving the q-tip through one ear and out the other. I think that has bought us time as well. No mobile vets in teh middle of nowhere but my vet agreed to treat Anna as a hospice patient and so we go in for antibiotics shots if I think she has a UTI and otherwise it's about keeping her happy. Going to the vet is really hard now; she has very arthritic hips. She won't touch the grain free glucosamine but loves Cosequin sprinkles.

I've had her half my life. It is beyond my ability to think of life without her.

Jen

I'd also like to know about that nutritional gel. I have a 20.5 (she's earned that .5) year old Anna cat who has allegedly been in renal failure for 7 years. In June 2014 the vet told me it would be weeks to maybe a few months. Instead I changed her diet and she gained 2 lbs (grain free, high protein). She's lost a little weight since my other senior cat devleoped severe pancreatitits and needs a low fat diet. But she'll still beat up her mouse toy and seems generally happy enough, if slgihtly incontinent sometimes. I treat intermittent nausea with a metocopmamide gel that goes in her ear. She never notices it; drama cat with the pancreatitis acts like I'm shoving the q-tip through one ear and out the other. I think that has bought us time as well. No mobile vets in teh middle of nowhere but my vet agreed to treat Anna as a hospice patient and so we go in for antibiotics shots if I think she has a UTI and otherwise it's about keeping her happy. Going to the vet is really hard now; she has very arthritic hips. She won't touch the grain free glucosamine but loves Cosequin sprinkles.

I've had her half my life. It is beyond my ability to think of life without her.

ASR

This screams thyroid to me. My 14 year old siamese cat (who looks just like Max) was diagnosed last year after a similar, scary weight loss. Very common in elderly cats. You can have pills compounded into treats and mail ordered to you at BCP Pharmacy. Whoever thought of that is a friggin genius. Totally worth it.

Caitlin

Our 10 year old Dax was diagnosed with liver disease this week, so this hits right in the feels. My fiance already had him when we met but I love that boy like he's my own.

I think showing them all the love makes them and us the happiest!

MariaV

It doesn't sound horrible. It sounds like Max is as fortunate that you are his human as you are fortunate to be that human.

Tara

You guys are the best. You're doing what's right by him. I have a 14 year old dog and have seen her decline but she's still kicking, and I just do what's right for her.
First time I've commented, but I've been following you for years. You're awesome! Hope you guys have a wonderful New Year.

CoraD

Thank you. Our love, Paul, gone six years now, used to serenade his husk of a favorite toy too. And he'd lose it and we'd have to search high and low for it.

We are much like you - if we can help our pets at home, we will do all we can. But no surgeries, no prolonged treatments, say the C word and we are done. They will not suffer on our watch.

It is a mixed blessing - your loved ones being around long enough to grow old, which brings with it discomfort, slowing down, disease. But time too - time to still spend together.

Best wishes, brave ones.

Leslie in MA

Max is so very lucky to have you but I'm sure he's earned your love and care over years of letting you be his people. Having had several older cats myself, it sounds like you're doing the very best for him.

Blessings to you all for loving him.

karly

It's most likely thyroid or kidneys and diagnosis is as simple as a small blood test (dropping a urine sample into the vet clinic could even give you some guideline on his kidney function). Treatment options are food/or meds that can be compounded. 15 minutes of stress for him could end up increasing his quality of life greatly. Just something to consider.. there are so many options now.

irenr

I've seen lots of people suggest hyperthyroidism, which is so common in older kitties- if you do decide to get him checked and he does turn out to have hyperthyroidism, there's actually a prescription cat food that can take the place of medication- it's called Hill's y/d. The idea of medicating a kitty daily is daunting so I wanted to throw that out there!

anon

I've read your blog for years without commenting, but had to chime in on this one. Thyroid problems are really common in older cats and, if that's the case with yours, treating it could really improve his quality of life. Like others have mentioned, routine treatments include pills or ointment. In my case, I was pregnant when my cat was diagnosed and the vet felt strongly that it was a bad idea for me to handle either the pills or ointment. My cat had a simple surgery instead. I was nervous about putting an older cat through surgery and skeptical when the vet said he would recover almost immediately, but he came home acting like nothing had ever happened and his overall health improved visibly within a couple of weeks. Just something to think about.

Christine

Thyroid, kidneys, diabetes, small cell lymphoma. All common, all controllable to various degrees, and all have a prognosis measured in at least a year plus with the animals feeling well. I cannot understand not at least finding out what the problem is and making an educated decision from there. By all means, use a mobile vet if necessary. FYI, if it is his kidneys, that food is dead wrong.

Kristen

This is killing me tonight. I've spent the day with my 16 year old lying on my belly. It'll be the last day that I am able to do so. I have an appointment to put him down at 8a tomorrow morning. Basically, he's stopped caring; no grooming, now no eating. And I don't want him to suffer, so I'm doing what I think is best for him. But it doesn't make the idea that he'll be gone in 13+ hours any easier to bear.

Leigh Ann

My 16yo cat is curled up on my lap right now. As annoying as he is with his random yowling and bathtub pooping and inability to eat dry food much, he's still our old cat.

Dianne

I also recommend checking his thyroid. We are fostering a 12 year old sweet boy, whose owner could no longer care for him. He came to us 3 weeks ago, so skinny all we felt were fur and bones, but had been eating a lot and still putting away. The rescue people had taken him to the vet before we got him, and he's been on thyroid meds for just 3 weeks and is gaining weight like crazy - we can hardly feel his ribs now.

Beth Rich

We said goodbye to our cat Sorta last year. She was 19 and we too kept her healthy and happy until she told us it was time. I hope you get as long as you need.

Rebecca

Maaaaaaaax! Love me the Max and Ceiba posts, even when they're somber like this. Sounds like you are taking good care of him. So glad Erin above mentioned a mobile vet - we found one a couple of years ago for our three late-teen kitties. He has been great, saving us from having to pack them in the car for annual shots and checkups. And he helped us last year say goodbye to our sweet Peaches kitty in our home when it was her time. Our other two feline girls are now 18 and 20, and we know our days with them are limited, so we have pet heating pads for them on the couch and the younger one eats turkey baby food almost exclusively, with us giving her occasional subcutaneous fluids to care for her kidneys. Amazingly, though they are both skinny, the 20 year old seems to be in ridiculously good health. Wishing your Max the best!

lara

Respectfully, he IS sick....any animal that loses >50% of their body weight has something going on that can be explained medically. Honestly, its seems irresponsible to me to not have a bare-bones check up and blood draw, especially since it could be something very treatable that will improve his quality of life.

Kyra

I have a 13 year old kitty who was on the Blue Wilderness kitten food too! The vet was worried because she had dropped a pound and a half within a year (Jade also happens to be very petite- so 1.5 lbs is about a qaurter of her body weight). They did a battery of tests - so sure it was her thyroid. When her blood and utine tests came back clean - they told me they wanted to do x-rays and ultrasounds. I was very much in the same boat as you - "Leave my kitty alone-she's just old". I switched her to Blue Wilderness, ignored the vets for a year, and she's gained back that pound. We have a new vet - who recommended a "super senior" food. It's made by Science Diet, for 11+ cats. Supposed to made for calorie absorption specifically designed for older cats. I dunno if its any better than the kitty kibble yet - but she seems to like it!

Lisa

Oh man, I know this stage. I remember it even if my cat passed away many christmases ago. Just one thing; We thought the same, that she became skinny because of age. When it was finally the moment to put her to sleep (and through the stress of a car ride to the vet), we discovered that she had a badly infected tooth. So in the end, she must have suffered a lot of pain without us knowing. This still breaks my heart. So, maybe just check your buddy's mouth if you haven't yet (but you sound like a very very good cat mother, so this comment is probably senseless as you take good care already of her teeth, too) (You also sound like a very good mother in general, btw, and your blog ist my most favorite ever).

Angela

Hi Amy, I'm so happy that you are blessed with a kitty this long. My cat, Weezer, passed two years ago at age 19 and he was a mean and evil thing but he was mine. I was able to have a vet come to the house several times to check on him. He was having epileptic seizures and needed all kinds of attention. But...this was in a different country. Maybe something like that exists in the States or you could call a vet to see if they provide this service. Good luck and happy new year! --Angela

Angela

Hi Amy, I'm so happy that you are blessed with a kitty this long. My cat, Weezer, passed two years ago at age 19 and he was a mean and evil thing but he was mine. I was able to have a vet come to the house several times to check on him. He was having epileptic seizures and needed all kinds of attention. But...this was in a different country. Maybe something like that exists in the States or you could call a vet to see if they provide this service. Good luck and happy new year! --Angela

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