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A primer on proper care for aging cats

I run a geriatric cat house.

Now, before all you sexy senior citizens call or write to me, understand that I share my home with three previously stray cats ages 24, 14 and 4. Chase and Scruffy are my senior citizens. Tigger is the baby of the bunch.

Perhaps my home is more of an assisted living facility. Between operations, medications and special dietary menus, I'm certainly assisting how they live!

The past few years have proved educational to me in terms of pet diseases, many of which mimic human illnesses.

The years have also provided an interesting insight into how far you can push a human relationship in the interest of your pets.

Anyone who shares a home with a cat knows, when the cat comes in, sanity leaves by the quickest exit. The brocaded upholstery gives way to heavy duty denim or duck. The large enameled vase that stood in the corner is replaced with a scratching post and when you talk of buying new furniture, it usually consists of sisal wrapped posts and padded shelves, color coordinated to your living room.

A few years ago I decided it was time to have geriatric work-ups done on my two boys. Given their advancing ages, it would provide a foundation from which to gauge future problems. A geriatric work-up consists of extensive blood work, x-rays, EKGs and all the other minutiae involved in a comprehensive physical. I haven't had one like it in more than 20 years. Given advances in technology, I have probably NEVER had one like they had.

I learned a lot about my cats, their health and how quickly such a work-up can deplete a person's wallet. If they had had to pay for those tests, I'm sure they would have just taken two aspirins and called it a day.

The test results indicated a need for two different diets. Tigger was already on a special diet for her bladder, which had been operated on because of recurring infections. Scruffy was diagnosed with a hyperthyroid problem and could eat just about anything, and he does. Chase was beginning to show signs of kidney malfunction, requiring special food.

Three diets, none of which suited the individual cat for whom it was prescribed. Scruffy liked Tigger's food. Tigger ate Chase's, and Chase ate everything in sight, except his. Try working and leaving dietary rules in the hands of a normally loving retiree who gets frustrated when the battery in his remote control dies.

Fast-forward about three years. Scruffy's hyperthyroid problem is being solved with Tapazole . . . expensive, but effective. Good cat that he is, he even reminds me if I forget. And Chase, now nearly totally blind, is moving on . . . into senile dementia.

While I realize that Alzheimer's disease is nothing to joke about, dealing with Chase these past few months has given me an insight into what it takes to be a caregiver, and it can be tiring.

He scratches the door to go out. Open it for him and he either: a) stares for several minutes at the opening and walks away, or b) goes to the hinged side, tries to go through and is surprised when he can't. Pick him up to put him out and he cries, and then he looks at you as if asking, "Did I want to go out?"

He can sit in front of a blank wall and stare at it for what seems like hours. Move him away, and he goes back. Call him, and he looks in the opposite direction. This from a cat who used to hurry to your side.

Cataracts have taken most of his vision. He walks with solid determination . . . and runs into your leg and then does a double-take. Furniture can't be moved because it may upset his equilibrium. Unlike Scruffy, who just resents changes in his life, Chase literally becomes weak in the knees if he needs to change a standard path.

Now the incontinence has begun. I recently spent a sleepless weekend racing to catch him before he urinated on my bedroom carpet or used my bedcover as a litter box. When he backed his butt up against a set of legs in the bed, he was exiled to the tiled bathroom, complete with litterbox.

Once again we trekked to the veterinarian. Urinary panels, testing for diabetes and kidney function proved negative for causes of our new problem, but increased my balance due.

I am doubly fortunate in that I have an excellent veterinarian who realizes that I will pay him, even if I have to mortgage my husband. More important, I am able to offer my cats the loving care that so many of the animals at our Citrus County Animal Control Shelter will never have.

By the thousands, cats and dogs are euthanized every year. My three were probably very lucky they found me. I realize that not everyone who loves their pets can, or wants, to do what I have done. And I certainly have my limits. Cataract surgery is out for Chase, not only because of age, but price. But it is a choice only I can make. The sad part is that most of the animals at the shelter will never have the opportunity to have an owner to make that choice . . . and it breaks my heart.

If I could, they would ALL go home with me. Where's that winning set of lottery numbers when you need them?

Back to Chase and his problems. He seems to be doing better with the litter box in the bathroom. I have covered the step stool and table at the foot of my bed in white sheets so he can find his way to the floor in the middle of the night. But we had another close call Tuesday night, and I have been "Sleepless in Inverness" long enough.

So now I need to know . . . does anybody know where I can get kitty-size Depends?