I didn't post anything about my cat's birthday last April, mostly because I'm out of the habit of posting - something that I am trying to work on. A twenty year old cat is a blessing. I feel incredibly lucky to have her with me still. Ursula was born on my bed when I was a kid - I was coming to bed and saw that her mother was in labor
on the bed, so I decided to sleep on the couch that night. My parents learned a hard lesson about getting cats fixed promptly, since they didn't really want more cats. Ursula's sister went to another family, and her brother stayed with us, but died relatively young at five years old. As an adult, I adopted her away from my parents once I was able to. She was sixteen then.
As wonderful as it is to have her with me, a cat of this age is bound to provide medical challenges regardless of how well she's doing for her age. This photo captures her cataracts, which so far don't seem to be damaging her vision too badly. She has a heart murmur too, though the cause isn't known and it may not be anything serious. Her vet told me that he'd feel uncomfortable putting her under anesthesia for any reason without first diagnosing the murmur, so should anesthesia prove necessary they would need to perform an echocardiogram or heart ultrasound. At least one (maybe both) of these choices would involve shaving her chest while she's awake, which would piss her off royally. Her most frightening medical condition is the state of her kidneys which are not quite failing yet, but are now functioning very poorly. It may be her kidneys that do her in in the end. For the time being, her main symptom lies in drinking a whole lot of water, which results in extra kitty-litter duty for me.
The one thing that has been seriously impacting her quality of life has been her weak digestion. She was puking with increasing frequency - usually just her stomach bile, and I went looking for solutions. That led me to Naturvet's "Digestive Enzymes with Prebiotics & Probiotics", which has been a miracle product. (I don't actually know what prebiotics are, but I'm familiar with the other two.) I started mixing a small amount of this powder into her food whenever I feed her, and it instantly improved her digestion 95%. The puking has become quite rare, and she has also seems more energetic and outgoing than before, which makes me feel that she had been in some discomfort which is now improved. It's quite cost effective. I think it would take about four months of continuous use to finish the container that I spent $11 on. (Dosing is relative to food volume, so a larger animal who ate more would require more enzymes.) I mentioned it to an aunt who told me that she already knew of the product and was really impressed with how she was able to use it to deal with her dogs' occasional diarrhea. So... yay Naturvet! I didn't consult with Ursula's vet before buying this product because I was relatively confident there wouldn't be contra-indications for it - that it would either work or not work for her, but not run the risk of hurting her. After all, there can be no possibility of good health if food is not being digested properly. Ursula hasn't had a check-up since I bought this, but I plan to bring it along to her next appointment to show and tell.
That leaves the scary specter of kidney failure. Ursula has lost the better part of a pound, which is a lot for her considering that she has never been overweight, and started out at a scant 7 pounds 4 ounces. This is probably due to the weakening of her kidneys, and needs monitoring. Kidney failure is unlikely to be avoidable in the long term. If nothing else kills her first (and I have no reason to think anything will), it seems inevitable that her kidneys will give out. All I can do is make sure that I do what I can to make sure they have to deal with as little damaging abuse as possible. So what kind of diet is easy on kitty kidneys? Apparently it's low-protein, low-phosphorous, and low-sodium. Fewer toxins and chemicals are healthy too, since the kidneys are filtering organs and are responsible for dealing with those toxins. My vet has given me a couple of "prescription" cat foods that fit this bill to a greater extreme that is probably healthy for cats without kidney trouble. The only problem with these prescription foods is that Ursula refused to eat them. I would come home from work to be greeted by an angry, ravenous cat and a dish of untouched prescription food. They say you shouldn't try to starve a cat into eating what they don't want to - even when not already concerned about their weight loss. In the end, I fed the prescription food to the sink disposal and gave Ursula more of the food that she would eat - the very food I was trying to remove from her diet.
So what kind of food does this picky eater consent to eat? She likes very wet food - ideally covered with watery gravy or sauce. This preference is likely related to her kidney difficulties, since the main way she is able to compensate for their reduced function is by taking in extra liquid. She doesn't eat dry food at all anymore, and will turn her nose up at canned food unless it's a pretty wet variety. Canned food that she doesn't eat gets dried out and yucky on the dish until I have to toss it. So, if she's not happy with the prescription foods, the question became what else I could give her that would be better for her kidney health.
I did a whole bunch of Googling, and found a fair bit of advice and a nice guide
to the levels in commercial cat foods of elements both good and bad for kidney failure. I bought several of the likely brands from a nice local pet store (same place I got the enzyme powder), one and two cans a time, to try them out on Ursula. One advantage of buying in person instead of mail order was that I was able to eliminate a couple of brands by shaking the cans and determining that they were very low-liquid. In the end, we settled (for the time being) on two particular flavors of Merrick cat food which seem to fit in the happy medium between being good for Ursula and her being willing to eat them: Thanksgiving Day Dinner and Cowboy Cookout. Both are high moisture, low-phosphorus, and not too high in protein or sodium. The Thanksgiving Day Dinner is significantly lower in protein than the other, so I may settle on it more that the other, if Ursula is willing.