Ask Ms. Kitty: Helping elder parents keep their cats
By Melissa Shandley
Dear Ms. Kitty,
My mom is 80 and she lives alone with her two cats. I live out of state and worry that she can’t care for them adequately, but I can only visit a few times a year. She doesn’t want to give them up as they give her lots of company. Do you have any suggestions?
Concerned in Castle Rock
I’m glad you understand that your mom gets valuable companionship from her cats. With age, illness or injury, the responsibilities of cat guardianship can become difficult. Cats are different from dogs, but they still need to be cared for physically and emotionally.
It is important to assess the situation and look for solutions if there are problems. A home visit from a professional cat behaviorist or pet sitter, especially one who specializes in cats, could be very helpful. This advisor could help assess the condition of her cats and their environment.
This visit could include recommendations for changes to the environment including products suggestions to make things easier for your mom. A follow up visit from your adviser can help install products and advise your mom.
Multiple visits a week can be arranged to help older clients with various tasks so they can focus on enjoying their cats and avoid tasks that are challenging. These visits also provide valuable social contact, especially for people living alone.
Supplies like food and litter can be ordered and shipped to her door. Smaller packaging can make it easier to handle these items. If your mom isn’t comfortable with online ordering, this is one area that you could help her arrange. It would also give you a good reason to check in routinely on her and the cats.
Cleaning up after the cats might require changes in the litterbox set up or assistance. There are automatic litter boxes, litter scoops with extension handles, disposable litter box systems and other options that might allow your mom to manage this daily task herself. If this isn’t an option, then she needs someone to come in several times a week for assistance.
Enrichment for cats is important for their health. Your mom can enjoy play sessions with the cats but may need help selecting the right type of toys. The cats may need other support and your advisor can help identify these needs and discuss solutions.
Health care for the cats should not be overlooked. You might find a mobile vet that can come to her home to give the cats checkups or in case of an emergency. If the cats need medications or other special care that is difficult for your mom, your advisor or pet sitter can visit as needed to help with cat care and monitor the situation. Most pet sitters will also transport animals for vet visits.
Establishing this arrangement with a professional advisor will help you anticipate your mom’s needs and give you peace of mind.
Ideally, elder care and pet care can be combined to help keep people independent, safe and happy in their homes. Some pet sitters have healthcare backgrounds or have a skill set that is appropriate for monitoring the needs of senior clients and pets. It may take a bit of research, personal interviews and some background checks to find the right fit.
Word of mouth, local shelters or local veterinary practices can provide firsthand reviews or resource lists for in-home pet care providers. If your mom lives in a community, there may be HOA contacts or similar places to ask for recommendations.
Your mom’s cats are important to her quality of life, but as you are aware, it is also important to make sure they are safe and happy.
It may take some creative problem-solving and teamwork to allow your mom and her cats to continue to enjoy their life together, but I think the many benefits are worth the effort.
Melissa Shandley is one of the founders of Happy Cats Haven, a Cat Behavior Consultant and Cat Care Provider.