Note from me, Ginchan the Persistent: I have instructed my PAWT (Personal Assistant With Thumbs) to pen my life story so people can see that though cats get old and sometimes sick, they are still as worthy of love and care as the tiniest kitten. But where kittens are adopted from shelters within hours of their arrival, an old cat like me can languish for weeks, even months, waiting for someone courageous enough to take a chance. Thankfully, I live in a community that lets us stay and be cared for until that person comes along; in all too many places, shelters aren’t able (or willing) to afford us that dignity.
Why don’t we get adopted? It’s a combination of things, some real and some imagined. People are afraid that an older cat will be more work, more expense, and more sadness when the final days arrive. But I’m here to tell you it’s all relative. All good things take work, right? And partnering with a good vet to find an affordable and achievable regimen makes a big difference.
When my cohabitors found out I had diabetes, they were really scared. They knew diabetes was an illness which required, among other things, expensive meds and a rigid routine for administration. But after talking with our wonderful Dr. Berhends, we came up with a plan, and now it they can’t recall what all the fuss was about.
It’s true a senior cat will need more vet visits— twice a year wellness checkups are recommended. That’s in order to keep up with any changes, because many issues, when caught early, can be treated, just like with humans. But the point is, those things that seem so daunting when you sit and worry about them, are not that hard to deal with if you go day to day.
This is my message: Old cats just have more experience in being great!
Adopt a senior cat, because Love is Ageless!
Ginchan is a survivor. At nearly eighteen, the big Maine coon cat has beat the odds. His story describes why we should love and care for our precious senior cats.
Ginchan’s Story, written by Mollie, his loving cohabitor and PAWT
Ginchan has seen better days. If there was an Ugly Cat Contest, he might well be a contestant. His fur was shaved and is now growing out in random tufts and patches. His pupils are perpetually dilated, giving him a lost but demanding look. His skinny legs are wobbly with arthritis. His teeth are bad, and his breath stinks. We love him more than anything!
Ginchan is coming up on his eighteenth birthday, and we’ve known him since he was a kitten. He lived with our son, and the two were inseparably bonded. Then tragedy struck last March when our son died. There was no doubt we would take Ginchan, and from that day forward, he’s been a huge part of our lives.
Being of the Maine coon breed, Ginchan had an abundance of fur, and as he grew older, he didn’t take good care of it. He became terribly matted, and there was no choice but to shave him. That was a fiasco, beginning with the groomer who gave up after the first few swipes. (Ginchan was not a willing client, and his Maine coon yowl could be heard around the block.) From there, we took him to our vet, who suggested a pre-visit dose of Gabapentin. Unfortunately the calming drug made little difference, and the doctor saw right away that Ginchan would need more than a light anti-anxiety medication to keep him from going ballistic. Next step was a clinic that had the facilities for full sedation. Yup, they had to knock the old boy out completely to remove the horrendous matting that extended over 90% of his body. (We had no idea at the time, but Ginchan would suffer from post-clipping alopecia. Nine months later, the fur will have yet to grow back!)
Ginchan’s new haircut.
While he was sedated, they were also able to give him a thorough examination. They found a large lump on his throat, but whether a mass, tumor, or cyst, they couldn’t tell without a biopsy. Stretched financially, what with the death of our son and the bills Ginchan was quickly racking up, we opted to deal with the mass a little later, and to resolve more pressing problems first. Ginchan’s labs had revealed stage 3 kidney disease, for which he needed special (and expensive) food, as well as medication. He also had arthritis— more meds— and dental disease— even more meds.
Josh’s brother James stepped up to take Ginchan since we already had three cats in our home, one of whom had been recently diagnosed with lymphoma. We managed to find a less expensive food that was similar to the KD (kidney disease) prescription diet. We gave Ginchan a round of antibiotics and prednisolone to see if it would shrink the mass. All was going relatively smoothly, then Ginchan had a seizure, and it was back to the vet.
The doctor didn’t find anything obviously wrong, and barring a CAT scan for a brain anomaly, there wasn’t much we could do besides monitor for more aberrant behavior. James learned to administer subcutaneous fluids because, in spite of drinking incredible amounts of water, Ginchan was dehydrated. He kept a good watch on Ginchan, and the seizure seemed to be a one-off.
Ginchan had been an indoor and outdoor cat.
James had only a small apartment, and having previously been a cat with unlimited outdoor freedom, Ginchan wasn’t used to the confined space. He did well for a few months, then began eschewing the litter box. As all cat people know, that’s the worst. Between the inappropriate peeing and Ginchan’s raucous Maine coon yowls, it was decided the old cat would come to live at our house. Our sick little one had crossed the Bridge, and we now had space for him with a room of his own where we could try to work things out.
On July 24, 2019, Ginchan moved in with us. He is a self-assured cat and had no trouble asserting his place with our other kitties, Blaze and Tyler. We now had three senior males under one roof, but it’s a big house with lots of space and personal enrichment for all. Ginchan began his stay in his room, but it wasn’t long before he was cruising the house with the boys. Amazingly, the others accepted him, so long as he didn’t get in their face!
Three litter boxes, a case of pee pads, and a bottle of Anti-Icky-Poo later, we’ve pretty much dealt with Ginchan’s inappropriate litter box problem. Fortunately he only has slips at night in his room and never out in the rest of the house. For this and other reasons, we find it prudent to keep Ginchan in his room at night. He loves it there, with both a heated bed by a window and a plush cube beside the heater, which is his favorite hangout.
We learned his foibles, such as screeching at his reflection in the window and pushing his face into our plates as we tried to eat dinner. He was not an easy cat, but we enjoyed his sweet company. He liked to curl up in our laps as we watched TV (or any other time he thought he could get a lap, including when one was sitting on the toilet!) He would stare up at us with those big, round eyes, as if thanking us for taking him in. I know he must have missed Josh greatly, as we all did. Our bond was made closer by that terrible loss.
One of hundreds of selfies Josh took with Ginchan.
Though Ginchan was eating and drinking voraciously, he was getting skinnier. Then one day, we noticed he wasn’t doing so well. His legs were wobbly and he was overly lethargic. At seventeen-plus, with multiple complications, we knew the day would come when we would have to say goodbye, but no matter how much logic tells us, we are never, never ready.
First step was the vet. When we loaded him into the carrier, we feared it would be his final journey. After all our recent losses, another goodbye seemed like too much to bear. When we put Ginchan on the exam table and he didn’t make his usual raucous complaints, we all knew something was terribly wrong.
Ginchan came home, but we didn’t know for how long. Dr. Behrends had taken blood-work, which we feared would reveal a deadly cause.
The next day, the doctor called. The test had indeed revealed a cause, but one that could be treated! In the few months since his last labs, Ginchan had become diabetic. With proper medication, food, and schedule, Ginchan’s diabetes could be held in check and possibly even reversed into remission. There were issues with his kidney disease, the kidney diet being in direct conflict with the diabetic diet, but a compromise could be achieved.
Baby Ginchan. Photo credit: Yukiko Hunt, April 2002
Four months and two-hundred-plus insulin injections later, Ginchan is doing great! He bounced back from his decline almost immediately after getting the first dose. His follow-up appointments revealed him stable, and now his next visit with the doctor, baring an emergency, is three months away.
We are following his multiple health concerns, but at the moment, all is well. The kidney disease seems to be remaining stable, and though we can’t feed him the KD diet, we give him aluminum hydroxide with his food to lessen the bad effects. Aluminum salts are inexpensive and help reduce the amount of phosphorus absorbed from the intestine by flushing some of the buildup from his system.
The mass on his neck turned out to be a benign polyp which could be surgically excised, but at his age and with his other problems, we’ve opted not to risk putting him under anesthesia. Loss of hearing or mental acuity are only two possible side-effects of anesthesia in the elderly, to say nothing of death. For the same reason, we’re not giving him a dental. In a young, healthy cat, teeth can easily be cleaned and any bad ones removed, but for a senior, it’s a toll-taking process. Instead he gets a natural oral product that promotes gum health and joint health as well. He still has bad breath, but we can handle it.
Ginchan’s fur has begun to grow again. It’s coming in patches, but it’s a start. Apparently cats with chronic illnesses don’t always grow their fur back like healthy cats do. Since it’s winter, we got him a sweater. It worked for a while, then he began to bite at it and get his fangs stuck in the weave, so we’ve given up on that idea. The house is warm, and Ginchan has his heated bed and cube over the heater, to say nothing of willing laps, so he’s staying warm. For this moment in time, we can be thankful for the peace of health.
So there you have it, the story to date of an amazing, difficult, brave, persistent cat. Ginchan has not been an easy cat, nor has he been cheap, but taking what comes day by day, enlisting a caring doctor experienced with geriatric kitties, and not being afraid to try new things, we have worked it out. Too many senior cats are tossed away at the first sign of illness or behavior issues. People give reasons: they can’t afford the bills; they don’t have time for the extra care. But all obstacles can be overcome by taking them one at a time. Time and love… and love is ageless.