Ask Ms. Kitty: Should I get my senior cat a kitten
By Melissa Shandley
Dear Ms. Kitty,
I have a 10 ½ year old cat who just sleeps most of the day. I think Lucy is bored and lonely. Should I get a kitten to keep her active?
Sleepy in Simla
This question demonstrates your desire to help Lucy to enjoy her senior years. However, adding a kitten may not be the best direction to go for her health and wellbeing. Many senior cats are challenged by the activities of daily living. If you add a single hyper kitten to your home, you could overwhelm Lucy.
Make sure she has been evaluated by her vet and that her health is not an issue. Lots of older cats suffer in silence with chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, or cancer.
I recommend reviewing your home to make sure Lucy has an enriched environment that is adapted to her physical needs and encourages activity.
Make sure that she can get around the house, especially to favorite vertical spots. This may require adding steps, shelves or ramps along with non-skid mats. Many older cats lose some of their ability to jump and may need to have shorter distances and surfaces that allow them to safely navigate without slipping.
Older cats can lose their ability to regulate their body temperature. Offer a heated bed that is designed for cats to enjoy safely.
Keep life interesting with interactive play and puzzle feeders. Older cats still have the desire to hunt. Lucy many need more time to get engaged and her play may not be as physical as it once was, but chasing a toy is still important for a healthy mind and body. Offer short play sessions that are appropriate for her physical limitations.
You want to watch Lucy to see if her weight is increasing or decreasing. Try to keep her meals nutritionally dense. Sometimes a nutritional supplement added to a food she already likes can enhance her nutrition.
You can also try adding some warm water or sprinkling some freeze-dried protein (like chicken or fish) on top to keep her interested. Make sure that she has a couple of sources of water and is staying hydrated.
Experiment with different dishes for food and water. She might find it easier to eat and drink from a raised dish and she might enjoy a water fountain if she doesn’t have one.
Help Lucy conserve her energy by keeping the litter boxes near her main living area. Make sure she can get in and out of the box easily. If she has arthritis, she may want a soft litter that is more comfortable on her paws. Try giving her an additional box with some new fine grained or soft textured litter and let her show you what she likes.
Cats can start to lose their eyesight with age so you may want to install nightlights in hallways, so she doesn’t get disoriented.
If you see that Lucy has areas of her fur that are not getting groomed, it may be that she is not as flexible and may need assistance with her grooming. This can help keep Lucy comfortable and avoid matted fur, but it is also a great way to spend quality time. Try some different grooming tools and see what Lucy enjoys.
At 10-1/2, Lucy would be about 60 in human years. If you feel that Lucy is still energetic and would benefit with the addition of another cat, I would recommend finding an older cat who will be a good match with Lucy’s age and personality. If you are set on bringing in a young cat, then I suggest getting a bonded pair so they can keep each other busy and not exhaust Lucy.
Tapping into Lucy’s health and emotional needs will let her show you what she might like in the way of companionship. Finding a reputable rescue that knows their cats well will help you make a good match for Lucy…and for you!
Melissa Shandley has a natural kinship with cats and is continually studying the latest research and training methods to set cats up for success. She approaches her interactions with respect and a sense of wonder for these creatures who are willing to share our lives. Melissa is one of the founders of Happy Cats Haven, a Cat Behavior Consultant and Cat Care Provider.