The Pleasures and Perils of Being Owned by an Elderly Felid

Misha’s cold again. She’s been an above-blanket cat all of her life until now. She would become upset with any attempt to lay cloth over her, which meant instant pain and regret for the cloth-layer. I did once wake to find her snoozing at the foot of my bed with the blanket pulled up to her shoulder, but only the one time.

It’s different, now.

She’s been cold before, of course, but she’d find a cozy place, and wrap herself in her own warmth. She always did love a good lap. At times, I could sneak a corner of a blanket over her, but she never allowed me to cover her completely.

And sometimes, if I made an enormous cave out of the comforter, and kept a high ceiling in it, she’d abide for a time. Never for long, though. She loved playing cave, but she’d get claustrophobic after a bit, and make a rapid exit.

As she got older, she seemed to lose interest in playing cave. She wanted her pillow with the warm fuzzy cover, or my lap, but nothing more.

Then, this week, her wants suddenly changed. She asked for a cave. I made her one, expecting the usual few minutes’ Indiana Jones act, and rapid exit. But she tucked in beside me and snuggled for a long time.

And again, a day or so later. She stayed under the covers so long my arm got tired holding up the blanket cave roof, so I lowered it. She didn’t mind.

She asks for a cave several times a day now, and doesn’t always care if I keep up a good ceiling. Sometimes she’ll leave nothing but her tail sticking out.

Image shows a bit of my shoulder and Misha's tail sticking from under a blanket.

Sometimes, there’s no visible kitty at all.

Misha’s cold again. She nuzzles the blankets, walks round looking for an opening, as I try to sleep. When I don’t make her one, she utters a disgusted, impatient little mrrf in my ear. It says, Why, I never.” It states, “Some humans. Humph!” I drag myself from sleep, rearrange self and blankets to her satisfaction, and am rewarded for my efforts by purrs as her wide, interested eyes take in the views from within her cozy new realm.

Image shows Misha in a blanket cave, with very wide happy eyes.

I know this means she’s gotten much older in a week. She’s having trouble staying warm. She’s also easily bored with food. Only strong tastes please her. I discover that chicken boullion crushed and sprinkled over her crunchies get her to eat some. She’ll do a bit of tuna. She loves treats. She’ll have bits of cheese with me, and lick my plates. But she still never eats much. She’s skinny, and arthritic, but still imperious and cranky and curious. She explores the house, and sometimes goes on little gallops, and she’ll play-fight with B. She’s not quite thriving, but she’s doing more than surviving. She could make to to 21. She’s only got a few weeks to go. If we’re lucky, we’ll see 21 and a half. Wildly fortunate, and she’ll celebrate her 22nd by making new demands.

Image shows Misha on her pillow, pausing during a wash. All four feet are tangled together.

I treasure these moments, because I know there won’t be countless more. I’ll miss her terribly, so completely, when she’s gone. But I’ll never, ever forget what times we had.

Is it time for another cave, my girl? Just say the mrrf, and I’ll make it for you. I’ll keep you warm.

The Pleasures and Perils of Being Owned by an Elderly Felid
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13 thoughts on “The Pleasures and Perils of Being Owned by an Elderly Felid

  1. rq

    Make me miss my old kitty that I had while growing up, she made it to 19 but she was a ferocious outdoor cat so even that was an accomplishment.
    Also, relatedly, two articles on cats in boxes. The first I post because it has cute pictures, and it is here, but the second is more for the information on what cats find to be a thermoneutral zone, which is here (scroll down to the section ‘If it fits, I sits’):

    According to a 2006 study by the National Research Council, the thermoneutral zone for a domestic cat is 86 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the range of temperatures in which cats are “comfortable” and don’t have to generate extra heat to keep warm or expend metabolic energy on cooling. That range also happens to be 20 degrees higher than ours, which explains why it’s not unusual to see your neighbor’s cat sprawled out on the hot asphalt in the middle of a summer day, soaking in the sunlight.

    It also explains why many cats may enjoy curling up in tiny cardboard boxes and other strange places. Corrugated cardboard is a great insulator and confined spaces force the cat to ball up or form some other impossible object, which in turn helps it to preserve body heat.

    Indeed the same NRC study found that most cats’ housing areas are around 72 degrees Fahrenheit, a good 14 degrees colder than a domestic cat’s minimum thermoneutral temperature.

    I would apply the same logic to cats deriving comfort from any small spaces, so basically pretty much all cats are cold all the time. Heh.
    And it sounds like Misha needs a retirement trip to the Bahamas!

  2. 2

    My childhood cat Beta Geminaurum used to take multi-day camping trips in the woods around Lowell Observatory (and really, who wouldn’t?) He even stayed up there with another human when I moved down into town. He lived to a crotchety and frail 19, at which point he went on his final camping trip and didn’t return.

    By the way, you people who write really well should only have immortal cats. Between this and the loss of John Scalzi’s cat Ghlaghghee, my monitor keeps getting fuzzy and hard to read.

  3. 4

    My old cat, 19 year old Genghis Khat, spends much of his time crouched by the heating duct or lying in a lap under a blanket or comforter. He’ll lurch his arthritic body to the food bowl or the litter box when he feels the need to ingest or eliminate food but the rest of time he’s sleeping in the warmest place he can find. I’m not sure he’ll last the winter. He’s a Bombay (Burmese with a sleek black coat) who’s definitely feeling his age. I’ll miss him tremendously when he dies.

    Dana and other pet owners, remember that the last duty you have to your pets is to keep them from suffering. Putting a pet down is hard but necessary at times. Don’t let your pet suffer because you don’t want to lose them. It’s not kind to the pet.

  4. 5

    You can buy “cave” style pet beds pretty cheaply on Amazon. In fact, I ordered one just yesterday for my 19 year old cat. Haven’t got it yet, so I can’t say how it’s gone down – but it has good reviews.

  5. rq

    I agree with you re: not letting the pets suffer, but so far we’ve had two pets defy our wishes in that respect. One is the afore-mentioned cat, who went off and died on her own somewhere in the woods, and the other is our dog, who was scheduled to go to the Big Bone in the Sky the following day, when she just lay down at my sister’s feet and died.
    But it’s definitely a thought I always keep in mind, that one day I’ll have to make a very sad appointment for our current pets, and to make sure that it happens neither too early, nor too late.

  6. 8

    The oldest of my current pack just had her 15th anniversary with me on Friday. I don’t know how old she really is, the people at the shelter claimed she was three back then, but I don’t think they really knew.

    She definitely dislikes lying under the covers, but has not left the house in winter for years. If it’s below 10°C or raining she takes a look out of the door, gets a disgusted expression and finds a place by the radiator, or on it.

  7. 9

    Misha reminds me so much of Odetta-cat, who I took along with my husband to be my lawful wedded family. She was imperious, demanding, and affectionate, and I came to love her dearly. We went through many of the same changes: a heating pad set on the sofa, turned to low and covered with her favorite red cloth, became a necessity; she refused to eat more than just enough to stay alive; her thyroid gave out, and we ended up giving her thyroid medicine twice a day. In the end she died quietly, in charge to the last. She made it to 19 1/2, not bad for a half-feral street kitten. She still owns our hearts, some 26 years after her death.

  8. 10

    Oh, kitty snuggles. I hope you get as many as possible in the coming months.

    When our cat lost her appetite, another thing that helped some was warming the food. Made it smell more and feel a little better in the mouth. There are special high-calorie high-taste foods you can get from the vet, but ours never wanted any part of that.

  9. 12

    You have likely already done this, but I haven’t seen it mentioned – have you had blood work done recently to check kidney and thyroid function? Chronic kidney failure is extremely common in older cats and while it can’t be cured there are several things that can help give you more time and give the affected cat more comfort.

  10. 13

    Lost my Mikey last summer. He was only 13, but male cats rarely live much longer than that. He started insisting on being on my lap or sitting on my keyboard, when he had never been much of a lap sitter and used to supervise my computer work from the back of my chair. Towards the end, getting him to eat enough was a struggle. There is a highly nutritious gel that you can buy in pet stores that you can add to the diet. The amount roughly equal to what toothpaste commercials put on a toothbrush is enough to add significant calories and vitamins and such to a daily diet.

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