DEAR DR. FOX: I enjoy your column and have learned a lot. This letter is to share my cats' vocalizations and to ask advice about my old cat.
My two cats are 17-year-old Simon and 10-year-old Schatze. They are both orange tabbies.
Schatze followed me home one day when I was out walking. Of the many cats we've had over the years, Schatze is the most delightful, interactive companion. He loves people and greets everyone at the front door. He has an extensive vocabulary. He talks to us in staccato sounds of chirps, grunts, squeaks, squawks and even little meows. He responds in conversation with us. Schatze is happy as long as he is being petted or hugged.
Simon, on the other hand, rarely made a sound for about 16 years. Since he has developed a tumor behind one eye, which caused blindness, he has stopped eating dry food. He is extremely thin. I feed him canned food now, and he will eat only the pate, from which he licks all the moisture. We sometimes add beef or chicken broth, and he licks it right up. He sits in the kitchen and yowls loudly. I have to sit with him while he eats, which he does for only a couple of minutes at a time. He has always drunk a lot of water, but he has never been a good eater. I know he doesn't have much time left, but he doesn't seem to have pain, and he still cuddles and purrs. I don't understand why he can't eat enough at a time to be done for a while.
Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you for all your pet stories and advice. -- L.H., Saylorsburg, Pa.
DEAR L.H.: Thanks for the account of Schatze's vocal repertoire. It can be difficult finding the right descriptive names for their various sounds, but behavioral scientists have identified many, including complex mixed sounds.
One of our cats always gives an accordionlike purr-squeak whenever he jumps down off one of his many perches, as though to announce he's coming. Our other cat gives contentment grunts, and sometimes when he's sleeping, he emits the most pathetic little cries, no doubt reliving his terrible Minnesota winter survival challenges as a feral cat.
Cats with a chronic degenerative disease like poor Simon must be kept hydrated, and it is excellent that he drinks plenty of water. Lack of appetite may be due to nausea rather than pain, and it could be part of the somatic shutdown process -- when the metabolism is disrupted and energy and nutrients get taken from the muscles, hence the wasting away. This could be compounded by thyroid disease.
Try feeding him small amounts of Gerber baby foods many times a day. Stick to the meat, poultry and fish varieties that are highly nutritious and palatable for cats. If hospice care is available in your area, that might be a good service to help him through his final days. Check my website, DrFoxVet.com, for a review of this relatively new, compassionate service for people and their animal companions.
CHILDREN NEED CLOSURE
A survey of 1,000 previous pet owners found that the memories of pets people had as children and the loss of those pets influenced their decision to own animals as adults. Twenty percent of previous dog owners and 17 percent of people who had owned cats reported that losing their pet was so traumatic that they were not inclined to get another animal companion. Forty percent of respondents say they are still affected by the loss of a childhood animal. The importance of open communication with children surrounding the death or rehoming of a pet -- and knowing the truth -- allows children to grieve and heal. For details, see americanhumane.org/people-pets-and-the-world-we.pdf.
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