Friday, 29 May 2015

HOW TO: Look after an old cat

This year my cat turns ten. We don't know when exactly because we found her, abandoned at the end of our farm road and took her in. The vet at the time said she was a few months old so we're not sure. All I know is that we found her in the summer of 2005.

After we got her neutered, we only took her back to the vets once - she kept licking us and we thought she might have a salt deficiency or something. Turns out she didn't, she was just a licky cat. And a healthy licky cat at that. So, we never took her to the vets again. We never needed to.

Except this year, we've noticed, and the neighbours have noticed, that her back end has started swaying and her hind legs splay outwards on slippy surfaces or when she tries to stoop down to eat.

Initially, I put it down to old age and a possible strain - we've done a lot of fence work this year (as have our neighbours) so maybe she jumped funny or fell a bit farther than she thought she was going to. But over about six weeks, although sometimes she looked like she was getting better, sometimes she was getting a lot worse too. To the point of her not really being able to balance herself on her back legs and gave up just sitting there.

So I rang the vets.

The first thing the vet said once we'd got the cat out of the box was that she had no muscle on her hind legs. None to a minuscule amount. I mean, I know she was skinny, but malnutritioned? What the hell? Our other cat, George, is fine, so why shouldn't she be fine? The lady looked very worried, which made me very worried.

She said, lets do a blood test. So we agreed to a blood test. I almost cried. Almost.

We took her home, washed her (because the woman was concerned about the state of her coat - I do wash her every month anyway and was due her monthly wash), brushed her, trimmed some knots off her, fed her new wet, high protein food and worried some more.

The next day the vets rang back with the results. She was okay! Her bloods were normal. Hooray!

But there were conditions to keep her healthy.

1. Be Diet Wise
So, we normally feed our two cats Prurina Go Cat. It's good value for the amount you get and our cats love it. After a glance at the ingredient list, it has no actual protein in it whatsoever - only derivatives of. Old cats with muscle wastage need high protein to bulk up. Instantly, you'd think that the more expensive cat foods out there would be better for your cat. Not necessarily. 

Here's a breakdown of protein content versus price:

Purina One (doesn't specify whether outright protein or derivatives) 36% 800g £5
Royal Canin (Crude Protein) 27% 6kg £29
IAMS 38% (actual meat, but states in the analytical part it holds only 33%) 700g £4.49
Whiskas a minimum of 31% (Crude Protein in an Indoor Cat food) 850g £2.29
The best content I found was IAMS, however the best value I found was Whiskas. These prices were all found in Tesco (as of 7/5/15) excepting Royal Canin which was an independent online offer. 

I chose to get a small bag of IAMS Senior (to see how our cat would take to it) and use it alongside Whiskas Oh So Meaty wet pouches. I read that using only dry or wet food can be bad, so I got them both on a deal.

I also bought a load of tuna in sunflower oil. I give this to her in small amounts on days when I don't feed her the wet cat food. So, she's getting proper all-round healthy cat food, wet protein rich cat food and then a solid lump of fish which should help her coat look shiney if nothing else.

2. Exercise
We've put her a shoebox with a cushion and a blanket under the kitchen table next to the radiator. We have our heating on all year round due to my weird early morning shifts so she has a great position next to a radiator to keep chills off. I initially kept her inside to monitor her, but the vet said to chuck her outside to make sure she has some exercise to work alongside her protein intake. Much like a bodybuilder, old cats need to work hard to build up their muscle mass.

3. Medicine
In the extreme case of our cat where she has very, very little muscle to begin with, it's going to be painful. Our vets have put her on a cat-paracetamol for extreme cases of muscle wastage to help her move about and not be in pain. It cost the best part of £20 for 15ml, but it's easy to administer and it seems to make her able to move about more freely whilst exercising, so hopefully by the time we finish this bottle, she'll have more muscle to support her legs and walk about with.

My mums cat is about seventeen years old and has only recently begun losing weight. She has had her on a high protein wet and dry (with additional fish) diet for a while so even though her cat is pretty healthy on that front, it just goes to show that weight on old cats is still prone to dropping.

I hope this helps someone with an old cat. There are plenty online resources about how to look after an older cat, and many of them are on forums where there's a lot of conflicting ideas of super extreme cases. Although my cat has become a lot weaker than most, it's still a common thing amongst older cats and hopefully a reversible or at least maintainable condition.

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