Old Cats

Ok, it’s a stereotype. Cats and old ladies. It’s a stereotype for a reason. Now, I’m not trying to say that cats are the purview of women entirely. I always suspected that men could love cats even though I was in my 50s before seeing evidence of it. Enter Cat-Daddies Jackson Galaxy on Animal Planet and Cat-man Chris Poole. They have supplied me with endless hours of entertainment, watching cat videos with glee and feeling great satisfaction that I was right all those years ago about cat behaviour. Take that! you naysayers!

If you are not a fan of cats, I submit for your edification a hypothesis, that you simply haven’t taken the time to get to know a cat properly. It takes time. Cats are not dogs, and dogs have spoiled us into believing that everyone should be in love with us from the first moment we meet them. Cats see us first as possible danger, and sadly many humans have reinforced that into their DNA.

If you want to do an experiment, or if there’s a particular cat you want to be on good terms with (your girlfriend’s pet for example, or the pet of a shut-in that you help care for), I offer the following suggestions. First, when you see a cat that you think you might like to get to know, PLEASE don’t run to it all wide eyed and smiling broadly. I’ll write more about how to get to know a cat later in this piece, so either be patient and read my story, or scroll down a few paragraphs to the “important” stuff. I think I’ll also expand on some of the points I make in a separate blog.

At the current time I’m the caretaker for 2 cats, Bubbles and Squeak. After a particularly loved pet died, I was afraid of the pain of losing another so I opted to adopt a senior cat from the local shelter that had a “seniors for seniors” program. Bubbles is now 15, and while she was full of neediness at the shelter, when I got her home she hid for 3 months, coming out only to do her business (eat, drink water, vomit and use the litterbox). I was working some long hours at the time so I thought she might do better with a companion. I went back and adopted Squeak, a year younger.

Introducing a new animal to the household had the desired effect but not for the reason I had hoped. Squeak was determined to get to know Bubbles and managed to overcome every obstacle I placed between them, which in turn frightened Bubbles and made her a little more aggressive out of necessity. I had to establish that Bubbles was the dominant cat, done by feeding her first and shooing Squeak away from the food until Bubbles had taken a few bites. Worked like a charm! Bubbles developed some courage and started batting at Squeak instead of just running away when Squeak was getting needy… the start of the truce was immanent, yay!

I had a very tiny studio apartment so it was impossible to completely separate them as the only door inside was to the bathroom, and it was too small to serve as a place to keep a cat even for a day, so I had to work with what I had available. I don’t think it would have worked with younger cats, but with seniors, all the really want to do is eat and sleep, so they eventually found their places, Bubbles sitting high and mighty on the back of my sofa and Squeak at my feet. Bubbles eventually learned that Squeak just wanted to be close to her and be groomed by her. Bubbles usually doesn’t want to be bothered, but she’ll give the occasional lick to Squeak’s forehead just to appease her.

Both my cats were surrendered because they have problems associated with aging. Bubbles has digestive issues and throws up on a regular basis. I get it. I have food allergies and sometimes I eat something that I can’t tolerate too. When she yakks, she looks guilty and runs away and hides, so I know this has been a problem in the past. I tell her it’s ok. I have hard floors (fake wood) and a few area rugs. Bubbles has chosen her yakking spots, so I know where to look. It’s a cheap rug, so I don’t care if it gets ruined. If I’m in the room when it happens, I put a few layers of cleaning towels over it and blot up the liquid, then let it set a few minutes so it’s easier to pick up. Blot again with new cleaning towels and then roll up the mess into a ball. I dispose of it in the toilet (just the vomit, not the towels, obviously). I use a product for cleaning urine to clean the spot. It has enzymes in it to remove the proteins and does a good job. Luckily neither cat urinates outside the litter box. In the 5 years I’ve had her, she finally accepts that she is not in trouble for making a mess, but I suspect she is still a bit ashamed of it.

When Bubbles uses the litter box to poo, she often yells, so I have to assume it hurts her. Sometimes she walks around the flat yowling and seems inconsolable. I grabbed her once and gave her a cuddle, and rubbed her belly a little. It felt hard and knotted, not at all like what I expected a cat’s belly should feel like. I started talking to her in a soothing voice and rubbing her belly in the direction of the intestines and it calmed her almost immediately. Who knew? Now, she comes to me when her tummy is tight and stands next to me, waiting for her abdominal massage to correct her cramps. She still had tummy issues, but I’ve been experimenting with various foods to see what causes her problems. I don’t give her kibble any more. That helps. She occasionally steals a few bites from her sister’s dish but that doesn’t happen often. I’ve started rubbing Squeak’s belly too, and have noticed hers is knotted too. She has severe food insecurity but doesn’t appear to have digestive issues, yet she enjoys (or submits willingly to) her occasional abdominal massages.

Now, to get to know a cat, there are a few things you need to do. Move slowly but steadily when you’re near them. Too slow and they’ll be concerned you’re stalking them, so quickly and they’ll run or attack (usually run). I’m going to make another post for fleshing out the way to make a cat your friend, but I’ll give you the nutshell version here.

First, be mindful of your demeanor. If you are loud and moving about a lot, your target will move to a quieter place in the interest of safety. I’m not saying you can’t make any noise, but opting for a quiet, gentle demeanor will get you far with a cat. Remember how you would feel if something 10X *your* size was thrashing about.

Now, find a spot in the room when you can observe said feline and they can observe you. Wherever you choose to perch, try to be away from their territory (food, litterbox, toy) if possible. Keep your eyes soft. Don’t make any attempt to coax the cat to come to you by using treats yet. Focusing your attention on them at this point no matter how kind your intentions will have the opposite effect and make them more wary of you.

Turn to look at them full-face and make eye contact for a second or two. Slowly close your eyes and turn you head away, opening your eyes to resume whatever you were doing. Repeat this every chance you get.

Always let the cat come to you. Always let the cat come to you. Always, always, always let the cat come to you. This initial greeting is vital.

Remaining seated, give the cat a nod and a blink and after a few seconds look back at the cat and slowly extend a finger in their direction. One finger.

Once the cat comes to you and touches their nose to your finger, let them rub on your hand a little, don’t immediately try to pet them. Be on the lookout for signs that the cat is not happy with what you’re doing. If the tail starts twitching, it’s a sign that they want something to change but haven’t yet committed to a course of action yet.

If you continue to move slowly and let them come to you on their own time, you will be rewarded with a friend.

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