by Barbara George,Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Although these are very different conditions, much of the support options are the same; diet, environment, stimulation, and companionship.
Diet plays a very important part in all aspects of life. For cats that are in pain or have compromised systems, a high-quality diet that includes the necessary supplements needed to promote a healthy system and reduce free radicals. Consult with your vet for the best diet for your cat.
Routines around feeding should be established and adhered to in order to make easier for her. Multiple feeding and water stations mean less distance to walk in order to eat or drink.
Arthritic cats find it easier to eat if food and water containers are raised slightly off the ground; this means they don’t have to stretch a sore neck or back in order to eat comfortably.
Just as important as food is a complementary environment.
Multiple litter trays will act as reminders and help to minimise accidents. For arthritic cats use low-sided trays, or ones with a front opening (look at shops specialising in plastic products – filing trays or display bins can be used). Soft litter, such as that for kittens, may be kinder to old paws.
As far as possible, keep the environment unchanged, especially for those cats with reduced sight or hearing. Dealing with changes in her food, water, beds, or litter trays could cause confusion and stress. Make necessary changes slowly and allow her to become used to the new environment before making any further changes. A Feliway pheromone diffuser can help an anxious cat deal with changes.
Provide many comfortable beds, sleeping spots and hiding places around, with easy access via ramps or steps as needed.
In some cases restricting the physical environment instead of allowing her to roam free may be a good option. A smaller space is easier to learn and understand, and therefore would feel safer. This may be useful if she is aggressive to other members of the family, with contact under supervision, or if she is confused or wanders at night.
Look at the environment from her perspective. Is it comfortable, accessible, and friendly? Is it light enough at night? Does it smell nice? Is there sufficient suitable stimulation?
While having a good environment is wonderful, if it is not stimulating then it is boring!
A stimulating environment has been shown to slow the progress of dementia, and it can encourage an arthritic cat to exercise.
It is important to take her condition and ability into consideration; don’t ask for more than she can do at the moment. With encouragement and regular stimulation, her abilities, both physical and mental, can be extended or reduced as she grows older. Keep monitoring and change the games and exercises to suit her capabilities.
Setting a short activity routine at specific times of the day is a good way to start. A short game, or exercise, can be used before meals; vary the routine to include both physical and mental stimulation so it does not become stale or too repetitive.
Keep to a schedule to minimise the stress of change and disruption. This creates a sense of excitement and anticipation for her, keeps her focused, and stimulates the brain.
Interactive toys are good for times when she is alone, or feels like an impromptu game. Puzzle feeders are a good form of mental stimulation, and provide a reward – set up ones that she is capable of using.
None of the above replaces the companionship of special family members, human and otherwise. An important aspect of support and stimulation is communication, interacting with people or animals in a safe and friendly way.
Where possible, schedule time each day to spend with her alone and with other family members. Private time is good for grooming, relaxing therapies, talking, listening, and checking that she is comfortable and happy; it’s also a good time to assess any change in her condition. Time with family is important for social interaction, maintaining a presence and place in the family, and doing something interesting.
Introducing a new kitten or puppy as a ‘companion’ is likely to cause more trouble than intended. Having to deal with a new, young, boisterous, adventurous, and undisciplined companion is more likely to cause distress than the anticipated companionship. New pets should be kept away from these cats until they have established a routine, found a place in the family, and learnt some manners!
All cats need some time on their own each day; senior, arthritic and dementia cats may need more quiet time than other cats.
With all of this in place, or as much as is needed to support your cat, she should enjoy a happy and comfortable life, and hopefully improve her condition.