A few weeks ago, Smudge hit a rough patch. At 16 years, 9 months, and a few days, he is my most long-lived pet. He’s also a mere shadow of his former dumpster cat self.
Despite his feral roots and particularly shy nature, he was always the more curious and adventurous one. He was more active, did more exploring, climbing, and learned more words and tricks than any cat I’ve ever met. When we lived in our third floor apartment, he caught not one, but two birds. His favorite past time was sunning himself on the small deck on the back of the building. He would perch himself precariously and perilously atop the porch railing (did I mention we were on the third floor?) and watch the cars and trains go by. The occasional crow would dive bomb him, but he never moved. Although summer was his favorite, he was out in all types of weather. When Smudge got too cold or wet, he would slide back in through the window and wait patiently while Tom dried him off with a towel.
When we moved to our house, he took it pretty hard. The new sights and smells bothered him for a long time. When he finally settled in, he was Top Cat again, chasing Fox up and down the stairs, exploring the basement, and sunning himself in the front window. Sadly, he didn’t get to experience the outdoors again for several years. But he seemed content and was a consistently happy, healthy boy for many years.
Cats sleep a lot. Geriatric cats sleep even more. So when Smudge didn’t get up for half a day, I didn’t get too worried…at first. But hours later I found him in the same exact spot, curled up in a frail little ball in the corner of the couch. He didn’t want canned food, didn’t want kibble or treats. I put water on his mouth and he jerked away. His eyelids were at half mast and when he finally opened them to fully look at me, his normally bright green eyes looked vacant. When I tried to pick him up to take him into the kitchen, he let out an awful cry. My poor little old man was in pain somewhere.
I sat beside him on the couch that evening, talking to him and petting him lightly. I had never seen him so out of it. I watched and waited for each breath and prepared myself for the worst.
The next morning I took Smudge in for an exam and blood work. He had lost a few ounces since his last visit in the Fall, but otherwise his physical exam – eyes, ears, mouth, abdomen, lymph nodes, heart, lungs, and bladder – all appeared normal. His blood tests were mostly unremarkable, except his SDMA level (an early indicator of kidney insufficiency) was high and he still had lingering anemia of unknown origin. “Nothing on his exam or blood work,” his veterinarian explained, “matches the symptoms he is having. Unless there is a slow growing cancer that we don’t know about.” The dreaded C word. My heart dropped a little but we had just done screening radiographs 6 months prior and everything was clear. One hundred fifty mL’s of subcutaneous fluids and an anti-emetic injection later, we were on our way home. The fluids perked him up a little, but nothing significant.
There are days when Smudge forgets he’s ancient and jumps a little higher than he should or runs up and down the steps a little faster than he should. We began to wonder if the poor guy just hurt himself? Considering he has arthritis in his neck and hips and the only exercise he gets is when Penelope chases him, it was a real possibility. So I went back to the vet the next day and got Smudge a few days worth of pain medication. He started showing improvement after the first dose. By the time he finished a few days later, he was back to his normal self — skinny and frail but his eyes were clear again and, more importantly, his appetite and energy were back. He was interested in life again.
So far he’s holding steady. He still sleeps the majority of the day, but at least he moves from the couch to the upstairs where he has a bed in front of the furnace vent. He talks, to his favorite toy, to me and Tom, to Fox, or to nothing at all. He’s getting new little quirks as he ages but it’s nothing we can’t handle. I think the hardest part about watching him get old is seeing him slow down. I know he won’t be around forever but I’ll hang onto him as long as I can. He’s a little skinnier and crankier than he used to be. But I think this old boy has a few miles left.