Q: Are my two 15-year-old cats harmed if they don’t play? When they were younger they would play until midnight. Now they sleep most of the day. Their only exercise is sitting in my yard and munching on grass. I’ve given them toys like catnip rolls and “mouse-chasers” but they soon tire of them. Both are normal weight, have good appetites, and healthy on recent physical exams.
Dr. Nichol: This sounds like a sedentary feline version of retirement; just sit around and chew the grass with a friend. I agree that your two seniors need more zip, maybe even revive their natural stalking and pouncing. While never acceptable between humans, this primal behavior is actually OK for kitties.
Numerous studies have shown that many aging cats, stoically rugged individuals, suffer silently with joint pain. They would never complain. Besides being natural-born predators our snuggly kitties are also a prey species. Show weakness and you could be lunch for a bigger beast. Loathe to whine on the exam table, their discomfort can be hard to recognize. Your powers of observation will be essential. You’ll need to abandon your integrity; we’re asking for voyeurism here.
Compare your cats’ current athleticism to the height and speed of their more youthful jumping and running. Show them a tasty snack just before placing it on a high surface. Does anybody make the leap? If they wear that, “I could do that but I choose not to” expression they need to return to the veterinary clinic, this time for X-rays. Armed with a real diagnosis their doctor can prescribe safe anti-inflammatory and pain treatment. Meloxicam oral liquid can be given long term – if your cats show healthy kidney and liver values on periodic blood profiles.
Grass eating, a common feline pastime for all ages, may be no more harmful than channel surfing but, with no history of puking, your cats may just have a texture preference. Rawhides soaked in water can be rotated with wheat grass of other types of cat grass. Go to drjeffnichol.com for a great list of feline environmental enrichments. Chewing can be stress-reliever for many species.
Dr. Jeff Nichol, a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist, provides consultations in-person and by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.