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Hospice Care for Cats
As cat ownership continues on the rise, cat-lovers are become increasingly aware of the trinity of cat care; regular vet visits, proper diet and keeping kitty indoors. As a result; indoor-only cats are living longer than ever before. How long you might ask? For example; in the 1930’s an indoor cat had a life expectancy of only eight years. Today, that number has doubled. The 2009 Guinness book of World Records reports; the oldest cat who ever lived was 34 years old. Her name was Crème Puff. She lived in Texas with her owner Jake Perry.
Cats are considered seniors after the age of 8. As cats grow older, health problems begin to surface; kidney disease, dental disease, arthritis, cancer, skin disorders, memory dysfunction and obesity are the most common issues senior cats’ face.
If your cat is suffering from a terminal or chronic illness, dealing with disease/trauma that even though conventional medicines are available, they just aren’t working. You have two options, euthanize or become your cat’s hospice caregiver enabling your cat to die at home. Not a decision to be taken lightly, you and your family will have to commit completely to the care but recently more veterinarians are stepping up becoming advocates for this type of treatment.
Your first step is to make an appointment with your vet and discuss your options. You should have a list of questions ready for your veterinarian beforehand. This type of conversation can be difficult to deal with for anyone. Here is a list of starter questions thoughtfully provided for you by Dr. Vicki Thayer DVM, DAVBP (feline)
As stated these are starter questions. Each cat’s illness is different and additional questions will come to you once you start your list. Whether you arrive at this decision based on; personal belief, the current condition of your cat, your finances, or religious practices, your veterinarian will help guide you. She may show you how to determine if your cat needs fluids and how to give fluids when needed. How to insert a feeding tube (often they become dislodged) how to medicate your cat and give you ideas about bringing comfort to your cat in the last days. Talk with your veterinarian too about the possibility of a “final” house call should it reach that point.
Here are some additional tips on how to provide comfort for hospice kitty:
Warming beds- heated pet beds, heating pads for pets (don’t use human heating pads they are unpredictable at best) Dry, clean blankets tossed into dryers and cycled for about 20 minutes, small towels nuked in your microwave for under 30 seconds will all provide warming heat for your cat. Make sure your cat is lying on piles of blankets, not just one or two- provide extra padding to help make her comfortable. Extra lighting (heat lamps) over her bedding will also help.
Nutritional needs- Talk to your veterinarian about the proper diet for your cat. If she stops eating, you can try to tempt her by offering her bits of safe human food, or sprinkling catnip (organic) on her food. Microwave her meals to wake up flavors and if she doesn’t eat for over three days talk to your vet about the medicine Cyproheptadine to help your cat eat. This pill generally works within 2 hours and will also increase kitty’s thirst.
To combat inappetence in cats:
If kitty needs to be confined but becomes stressed at being caged or put into a carrier for days on end- install a screen door on your bedroom. Here kitty can stay in one room and still have the house open enough she doesn’t feel isolated. Have a cage in the room where she can go and seek comfort when she needs it. Most times, if they have a soft bed to lie on, food and water and a litter pan nearby in a large cage, they will stay there for most of the day. You should never put your terminal cat into a hard or soft carrier. There is no room to breathe in there once the air becomes foul with poop and pee.
Lower the litter box sides- purchase an under the bed container that holds sweaters and blanket and use this for your litter pan. The sides are lower and there is more area for the cat to move around in. If kitty is missing the litter pan- take a large slide-out bottom of a dog cage and put the pan on this. The kitty will end up pooping on the tray and not on the floor. If kitty is unable to stand on her rear legs, the vet can show you how to make a sling to support her while she poops and pees. Rubber sheets also work well to catch the overflow when kitty misses the pan.
Raise the food and water bowl. Terminal cats also fight nausea and high stomach acids. Raising the food and water bowls helps counteract this internal battle.
Spend time with your cat. Talk to her softly, lie down next to her, and thank her for her friendship in your life. Brush her gently with the Zoom Groom. This cat brush will remove excess hair while delivering a gentle massage. Check out Linda Tellington-Jones T-Touch and start touching kitty daily using this method. These gentle circles that you make on your cat’s body will prove to her that you loved her till the end of her days.
Hospice care for cats is a specialized way of caring for your cat in her end days. It is defined on the AAFP website as:
“Hospice care is about providing a loving alternative to the premature euthanasia of a terminally ill cat- and not about heroic medical interventions.”
As cats continue to live longer, health issues can become increasingly challenging. Sometimes, it seems as if the diseases are becoming smarter. But when the bad days outweigh the good; your duty is to protect your kitty from pain. Remember, cats hide pain effectively. Some cat owners believe that if their cat is purring then kitty is “comfortable.” It needs to be said here that some cats will purr when they are dying. Purring is their comfort button. You have provided your kitty with quality of life- keep that consistency up right to the end.
For more information: http://www.catvets.com
*Special thanks to Dr. Vicki Thayer in her assistance with this article*