On the joys of living with older cats
By Lois Williams
Fifteen years ago a tiny, tuxedo kitten crossed my path. She was squeaking at the side of the highway—her mama-cat was dead in the road. I didn’t know much about cats then and didn’t think to look for a litter of other kittens. I took the mama to a kind vet who arranged for burial, and I took the lonesome kitten home. A cat’s life is chancy. Argo, who was probably the runt of the litter, survived simply because she was noticed at the right time.
She still looks sprightly and still loves to play. At fifteen she’s still a big purr machine, sweet and affectionate with sparkly eyes. If you saw her, you might not guess her age.
If you saw her in a shelter and read the age on her chart, you might pass her by. Being noticed is a problem for many shelter cats, especially those who are older.
These feline retirees suffer much longer waits for forever homes, and some never find them. Not only do they face the challenge of adapting to shelter life, they must also overcome myths and misunderstandings about age. But the truth is: older cats make excellent companions. As a bonus, these golden-years kitties often come with a golden personality and stellar habits. And they know a good thing when they see it. There is nothing quite like the gratitude older cats express for their newfound families.
Take Lulu for example: after eight years in a loving home, she was surrendered because her humans developed life-threatening allergies. You can imagine their heartbreak and hers at being separated from each other. She spent 10 months in a shelter, passed over each day while her younger friends found homes. The day I visited the shelter, she was the only cat who paid me any attention. I fell in love with her beautiful tabby face and antics. Because I’d already lived with an older cat, I knew to take a chance on Lulu. Odds were that she’d be wonderful, and she was. She had great manners, a fine sense of humor, a healthy respect for personal space, and abundant love to share. Her favorite thing was to sit on the back of the sofa and purr while the rest of us sat on the sofa cushions, Lulu above us like a guardian angel. When anyone was feeling a bit sad or tired, Lulu would come over and sit alongside. Once, when I had flu and was a mess of fever and Kleenex, Lulu hopped on the bed and stayed with me all night. I called her my night nurse! She was kindness on four paws.
Older cats end up in shelters for three main reasons: their humans move and can’t take the cats with them; their humans develop allergies or health problems; their humans die and there’s no one else for the cats to live with. It’s usually not because of behavioral issues that our senior cats go from a life in the home to a life of waiting in the cage.
In living with Argo and Lulu I’ve learned that older cats offer many practical positives in addition to all the love they bring. They’re typically calm and well-adjusted. They’re litter box trained, spayed or neutered, up-to-date on their shots, and have had several years’ experience at being companions. They don’t need constant supervision, as kittens do, and are less likely to get into mischief.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for potential adopters is the concern that an older cat means more vet bills and fewer years together. But while this concern is a reasonable one, it’s also very likely—more so, even—that the older cat you adopt will enjoy many healthy years with you. Cats and kittens can be struck with illness at any age, and it’s not true that an older cat will necessarily be weaker or will need higher-maintenance. The thing that sealed the deal for me in adopting Lulu—beyond her darlingness—was her story: she so much needed a new home and her age kept stacking against her. That I was able to be her second chance made me feel really good, and every day she’s reminded me of just how happy a match we made.
A post-script: Lulu died this year, suddenly. It was heartbreak to lose her. I can’t hold her up in this article as an example of the longest-lived older kitty, although we shared several wonderful years. But I can say that each day together was a blessing to me, and I like to believe that our life together restored some shine to her golden years. Argo continues to purr on and is still going strong at fifteen. Both cats make seniority look easy, and I can only hope that I’m as graceful and playful as these two when I’m old.
If you’re looking to adopt this year, please consider putting Spring back in the step of an older cat!
The scoop on seniority from Argo and Lulu:
Remember, Older = Calmer. We’re calmer, and we also need a calm environment at home. We do best with respectful, patient adults and older children who can give us space.
- Leave the driving to us. Because we’re not kittens anymore we don’t respond too well to being picked up and carted around.
- We have lots of plusses: loyalty and affection, good manners, good litter box habits, sensible and stable personalities, years of adapting to human foibles.
- We enjoy the quieter things in life: bird watching, couch warming, daydreaming, finding the warm spots in the house, purring just because you’re around and we love you.
- Like any older adult, we like our downtime and zzzzzzz’s.
- We make great companions for seniors—many of us are around the same age in cat years.
- We make great companions for singles and couples, and for older families and empty-nesters.
- We might already have a name we respond to. Try calling us by that name first so we’ll know you understand us. We’ll gladly work on renaming once we’ve relaxed into our forever home.
- We might seem less playful than the kittens at first, but we still like to play. Just not with everything–climbing the curtains or shredding the toilet paper might have lost its fascination by the time we’re 10.
- We might stay at the back of the cage in the shelter. Can you give us an extra bit of time to warm up?
- Did we mention we have lots of plusses, including adoring our adopters?
- Older doesn’t mean difficult. Look, we’ve been living life to the full for a while now and we know how to keep our paws clean, our coats licked, and our whiskers tuned. We just want to loll around your house and love you.
- It means a lot to the families we had to leave behind that you’ll take us in.
- It means the world to us that you’ll give us a second chance.