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Helping Tiger Age in Place

Posted on July 8th, 2012 by Margit Novack
From www.movingsolutions.com | info@movingsolutions.com | 610-853-4300

My cat, Tiger, is 21 years old. That makes him 101 in cat years. As he has gotten older, many things Tiger used to do have become hard for him, so we’ve responded by helping him age in place.

Tiger walks slowly, very slowly. His legs are bowed, his back is crooked, and his once powerful hind legs are wasted.  Years ago, Tiger easily leapt into the air. Now, he needs help getting on and off my husband’s chair. Externally, Tiger is very changed from the strong young cat he was. Internally, though, Tiger seems much the same. His favorite pastime is still sitting quietly on Bill’s lap, giving and receiving love. As we noticed physical changes in Tiger, we began to think about what we could do to help him remain independent and injury-free. In addition, we felt badly each time Tiger failed at something he had once done so easily; we worried that he was embarrassed, and we wanted to preserve his dignity. Tiger has always had a lot of dignity. So we began to implement a series of aging in place modifications.

Since Tiger can no longer jump onto my husband’s chair, we installed a three-step pet ladder so Tiger could get on and off the chair on his own. At first, Tiger distained using the ladder, but when attempts to jump resulted in falls, he quietly adopted it as his normal method of access. We built similar steps to and from a sunroom window, and while Tiger seldom goes outside anymore, when he does, he uses these steps rather than jump the 18 inches.

Some months ago, we noticed that Tiger was urinating outside the litter box. At first, we wondered if he had become confused, which can happen to old cats. Then we guessed that perhaps Tiger could no longer step over the 5-inch high walls of the litter box. We cut out a special entrance to the litter box with a one inch high lip, and Tiger immediately began using it. He wanted to continue his former behavior; he just needed some modifications.

We’ve changed other things for Tiger as well. To keep his weight up, Tiger gets a can of wet food every night – a welcome change no doubt from the dry food he has eaten his whole life.  So far, it’s working. Tiger tips the scales at 7 pounds—good for a very old cat. Like many old cats, Tiger has kidney problems and drinks huge quantities of water to compensate for his failing kidneys. As a result, the litter needs to be changed daily, and we’ve surrounded the entire litter box with paper since Tiger sometimes misses the actual entrance.

Tiger loses great quantities of hair, and because of his arthritis, he can no longer groom himself properly, so we brush him each night. We know that Tiger has cataracts in his eyes,  his hearing is impaired and his meow is scratchy, but in our eyes, he remains a handsome elderly gentleman.

We sometimes think about how Tiger spends his days now, as compared to his youth. He still naps in the sunlight, enjoys watching birds on our front porch and sits on our lap every night. Although he cannot do many of the things he used to do, it seems to us that the essential Tiger – the sweet, loving cat we have always known –is still there, and that Tiger has a good quality of life.

As I think about Tiger, I can’t help but make comparisons to how I would treat an elderly family member, or how I would want to be treated myself. I would want to be as independent as possible, in a familiar environment that maximized my dignity and minimized the impact of my impairments. I would want to be surrounded by people who accept me for who I am, even though I may be different in many ways from who I once was. I would want a good quality of life, where I could continue to do the things that are important to me. And like Tiger, I would want to give love as well as receive it.

So in addition to being the best cat in the world, Tiger has even taught me lessons on how to age.

10 Responses to “Helping Tiger Age in Place”

Margit – this is a wonderful story and comparison of Tiger’s life path with that of a person who is aging. I was reminded as I read of a 92 year old woman I met last week who said, “It’s not good to be 90. My mind wants to do things my body just can’t.” When asked what those things are, she replied, “I want to jump up and down and run around!” I could see both the life force inside her and the physical body that carried it and understand what she meant.

Margit, thanks for sharing your wonderful perspective! I am a “cat person”, a Realtor specializing in accessible properties, and a full time caregiver to my husband who is wheelchair dependent. I loved this story for so many reasons! You are quite right – the essential being is still there, and if you apply the Golden Rule, the rest is easy.

What a lovely, moving story. Thank you!

Margit – Great reminder and perspective for those of us who are pet people!

Great story of love and compassion for both animal and man.

Betsy PuseyJuly 14th, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Hi all, I am a former cat person. Our beloved “last cat” Merlin passed away in July 2007 with pancreatic cancer. We were in the throes of downsizing to move from Texas to our current retirement community home. Walt and I had agreed that we would not have another because the daily care had become difficult for us. I have been blessed with more than a dozen cats over our married life together of 52 years. I really enjoyed your article and am sending it to my daughter, another multi-cat person. Thanks

Betsy PuseyJuly 14th, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Margit, Thanks for your wonderful insights.

Margit NovackAugust 13th, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Thanks for your comment. We know that Tiger’s days are numbered, and hope that he’ll let us know when it’s time. Until then, we plan to enjoy the time we have with him, and make him as comfortable as possible. He is a very special cat.

Margit, What a lovely story about getting old. Thank you for the help you gave us with the suggestions before our “great move”. We are now living in our “Wee Cottage” at Dock, enjoying the one level living, the numerous activities available and really did find out we didn’t need much of what we were “hanging on to”. Our daughters stepped in and did what your staff would have done and we are forever grateful for that. Thank you , again for all that you do to help those who find themselves in ” over their heads”.
Jean Keer

[…] few months ago, I wrote about how we had modified our home in order to help Tiger age in place. (Helping Tiger Age in Place). Since Saturday, I’ve been thinking about how Bill and I became Tiger’s caregivers as he […]

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