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What to do about 18-year-old San Jose cat that’s stopped eating

DEAR JOAN: Our 18-year old cat has been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and possible lymphoma (she had an ultrasound but no biopsy).

She is on a daily dose of Prednisolone along with a transdermal ointment to help with appetite. She seems eager to eat, but turns down most if not all food that is offered – human and cat foods. I could list out what we’ve tried, but that would take up your entire column.

She’s losing more weight, and I am at a loss as to what to do. Do I force feed her? That seems so cruel. Although I’m aware that 18 is very old for a cat, it causes me such anguish to see her just let herself starve.

I’ve discussed all this with her vet, but I’m not getting any more clarity on what to do.

— Cheryl, San Jose

DEAR CHERYL: I’m so sorry to learn of your cat’s illness. I always like to be optimistic, but prepared. You want to do all that you can for your cat, but you also need to accept that our pets live much shorter lives than we think is fair.

You need to have a frank conversation with your vet and ask the difficult questions. If your cat’s prognosis for a longer life is good, then you should consider what steps you can take to improve her eating. That could mean a prescribed diet or a change in the appetite stimulant she’s receiving. Forced feeding does sound pretty horrible, but you might start with a prescribed liquid diet that is fed by mouth through a syringe.

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While she is elderly and suffers from a disease that is not curable, she might still have a few years left if she can get through this rough spot.

If the news isn’t good, then you have to put aside what you want and do what is best for your cat. Despite how much you love her and want her to live forever, her time might be drawing to a close. There are signs she will give you if that’s the case. Besides refusing food, she might become more withdrawn, perhaps avoiding contact and losing interest in playing. She might stop grooming and become more reclusive. Cats can sense their approaching death, and scientists say they do not fear it.

Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can go from there, loving your cat and making sure she isn’t in pain. We owe our pets that much and more.

DEAR JOAN: We often walk the Dish Trail at Stanford and enjoy seeing the voles and squirrels that burrow underground.

During all the rain we had recently, the ground became so saturated that runoff streams appeared beside the path, and the rodents’ holes filled with water. Where did the critters go for safety? And how about their food storage below ground? We never saw the rodents during the rainy period, but now that the sun is back out, they are reappearing.

— Carolyn Davidson, Palo Alto

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