Avoiding chaos when 17 year old alpha crosses

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momofmany

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Hi Pam, and thank you for assisting us!

I have a household of 7 senior cats. My dear old boy Stumpy (age 17) has been the clear alpha cat in the house since he was about 18 months old. In spite of the health issues most of his life (he has had an auto-immune disease most of it), he has always been such a larger-than-life presence with the other cats. Although toothless, half blind, half deaf, severe arthritis, probably cognitive disorder due to his age, and a possible stroke a few weeks ago, everyone continues to defer to him. All of the other cats (age 9 to 12) have never experienced life without Stumpy and I'm trying to avoid both behavior and health chaos when he crosses.

Pinky (age 12) idolizes him. Not only has he tried to nurse from him his entire life (I know, a little odd), but he still approaches him with bowed head with the hope that Stumpy will groom him. Pinky's entire body relaxes when Stumpy gives him this favor. I suspect that Pinky will have health issues without Stumpy around.

Scarlett (age 11) is the queen and while things like this usually blip past her, she doesn't realize that when Stumpy goes, there will be another taking his place. Scarlett doesn't handle change very well, and since she is a drama queen on top of being house queen, it is very difficult to recognize when things aren't right with her. I'll admit that we rushed her to the ER one night when she had a tummy ache. She was so dramatic that we thought she was poisoned.

Spanky (age 9) seems to be the heir apparent and while strongly bonded to Stumpy, he's friends with everyone. He is the least of my worries except for the fact that he is very overweight and I worry about the strain on his heart when he steps into that role. Multi-cat alphas have stress that others do not have. I actively play with him to give him exercise, and have changed his diet to reduce carb input, but its not really helping.

Muddy (age 9) is the only cat that Stumpy has antagonized. He also has an auto-immune disease and I think that Stumpy's reaction to him has been because of the need to cull sick cats from the colony. While Muddy's health might improve (lower stress) without an antagonist around, he is an extremely sensitive cat who also reacts adversely to change. Muddy was hand reared from 10 days old when he was orphaned. He is currently stressing because his littermate sister (Koko) is dieing from leukemia. His disease was under control for the last 4 years until recently, now that his sister is clearly in the final stage of her illness.

Lucky Pierre (age 9) lived as a feral cat until he was about 2 and I've worked long and hard with him to socialize him into the household. While mostly bonded to Pinky and Spanky, in the last year he has developed a bond with Stumpy similar to Pinky. Tries to snuggle him with head bowed in submission and relaxes when Stumpy responds in turn. Lucky Pierre is the only cat that is allowed outside (he goes there to pee) and is alpha cat while outside. He's actually a wild card for the alpha spot.

I'm being completely pragmatic here. I have no idea how long Stumpy has to live and suspect when he goes, it's going to be sudden. What can I start to do now with the other cats to ease them into this transition?

Thanks for any insight that you can provide.
 
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johnson-bennett

TCS Member
Young Cat
Wow, what an amazing cat angel you are! You have done so much to make life comfortable for these precious cats.

It's hard to help your cats "prepare" for the day when Stumpy passes and, in fact, it could end up being another cat who passes before him. There will be a major change in the household dynamics and your surviving cats will grieve, of course. Even cats who aren't friendly will have a reaction when a companion cat passes because it causes all territorial divisions to change. It's also very confusing because the cats don't understand where the other cat went.

The best thing you can do is to provide environmental enrichment for the cats in the form of activities, puzzles, age-appropriate playtime, affection, etc.

Pinky is probably your biggest concern because he is so clearly bonded with Stumpy. When he approaches to get groomed or interact, I would suggest you be a big part of that as well so that Pinky sees and feels your presence just as much as he does Stumpy's.

My heart goes out to you because you are certainly going to have a hard road ahead of you. It's so obvious that you are extremely sensitive and tuned into your cats though so I know your instinct will take over and know just the right things to do to ease their pain.

Take care.

Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC

www.catbehaviorassociates.com
 
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momofmany

momofmany

TCS Member
Veteran
Wow, what an amazing cat angel you are! You have done so much to make life comfortable for these precious cats.

It's hard to help your cats "prepare" for the day when Stumpy passes and, in fact, it could end up being another cat who passes before him. There will be a major change in the household dynamics and your surviving cats will grieve, of course. Even cats who aren't friendly will have a reaction when a companion cat passes because it causes all territorial divisions to change. It's also very confusing because the cats don't understand where the other cat went.

The best thing you can do is to provide environmental enrichment for the cats in the form of activities, puzzles, age-appropriate playtime, affection, etc.

Pinky is probably your biggest concern because he is so clearly bonded with Stumpy. When he approaches to get groomed or interact, I would suggest you be a big part of that as well so that Pinky sees and feels your presence just as much as he does Stumpy's.

My heart goes out to you because you are certainly going to have a hard road ahead of you. It's so obvious that you are extremely sensitive and tuned into your cats though so I know your instinct will take over and know just the right things to do to ease their pain.

Take care.

Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC
www.catbehaviorassociates.com
Thank you Pam.

Yeah, I do try to stay closely in tune with them. My household had 17 cats at its peak and if I didn't stay on top of their behavior, things went downhill fast. All of my cats came from a feral colony which made it a bit more challenging.

I told my husband the other night that we will most likely lose Pinky within 6 months after Stumpy crosses. Pinky's littermate died at 3 years old and he grieved severely for over a year. I've actually been giving Pinky a LOT more attention lately - not just when he is schmoozing with Stumpy, but whenever we cross paths in the house. Pinky's overstimulation aggression has thankfully wained over the years and I can finally handle him without coming away bloody. He still bites but not very hard.

We are going to lose Koko very soon, so yes, we will lose someone before Stumpy. Koko and her brother Muddy are generally loners to the rest of the house but have a strong but subtle bond with each other. They were born into a feral colony where I found FeLV and while they both tested negative to the disease all their lives, they apparently harbored it in their bodies. It took a bone marrow biopsy to find it in Koko. She still tests negative in her blood as does Muddy. Muddy is also a walking time bomb with the disease and stress with him has terrified me since we found this disease in Koko earlier this year. And if you are curious, cat experts do not think they are shedding the virus, and even if they were, my cats have lived together for 9 years and its already too late to stop the contagion.

I'm bracing myself.

One thing I didn't mention is that I make cat products for a living. My inventions started with toys when they were younger to keep them playing. I invented the Da Bomb toy for Koko (she was always very playful). I invented the Cat Hammock to help with the discomfort of old age in cats, then invented the Cat Condo last fall when it was obvious that Stumpy could no longer climb up the wood cat trees. My house is loaded with cat products. www.auntieemcreations.com
 
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