Sunday, June 14, 2009
Despite the gravitas (or maybe because of it), GayProf is surprisingly sentimental. I am already nostalgic for this morning’s coffee. Given that, you can just imagine that my relationship with my cat is emotionally charged. Sure, I have tended to play it a bit cool at times. In reality, though, I am more than devoted to him. He has, after all, been my most faithful companion for ten years. He accompanied me through the majority of graduate school, my first job, the end of a lousy long-term relationship, and too, too many moves across country. Through it all, he has been loyal and a source of friendship.
In those ten years that I have owned him, he has always greeted me at the moment that I have woken up and the instant I return home. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I always give him a treat first thing in the morning or upon walking in the door; but there also seemed to be genuine affection on his part that went beyond bribary. So when he failed to appear Wednesday morning, I knew something was seriously wrong.
Taking him to the vet revealed that he has kidney problems, probably a result of his aging process. Apparently there aren’t many signs that cats have degenerative kidney problems until they have already lost 70 percent of their kidneys. As the lab technician came back into the room with ever higher estimates of his care, I faced decisions that countless pet owners face every day. We all know when we adopt a dog or a cat that it is a forgone conclusion we will outlive it by many decades. How, then, do you balance the pet’s quality of life with prolonging its life? Should we think of pets as being more inclined to a “natural” life span than humans? Should we be more inclined to pull the plug on a dog than we would on Aunt Sally?
For me, I had always swore not to be the type of pet owner who artificially extends an animal’s life beyond reason. Sure, some cats can live up to twenty years nowadays. But have you ever seen a healthy looking twenty-year old cat? I pledged to never be one of those owners who gives their pets regular shots just to keep them alive.
But in that moment in the emergency vet’s office, I wasn’t debating philosophical questions about human-feline relations. Instead, it was my most beloved little guy who was at the precipice of life or death. I wasn’t willing to say that his time on the earth was up.
The vet assured me he wasn’t in any pain and could return to feeling normal after two days of in-hospital treatment (Will GayProf ever be out of debt? It seems unlikely). What the vet neglected to mention, though, was that he would probably need shots every-other-day for the rest of his life once he was released. Withholding that little tidbit struck me as kinda important in the decision-making process.
My cat did respond well to the treatment (even if being in the hospital with barking dogs (Why would a vet put cats and dogs in the same room?) left him a bit traumatized). He returned home Friday and, true to the vet’s promise, he is much as he was before he became ill – except the shots.
So my once ridged assumption about extending an animal’s life via home injections no longer appeared as clear cut. In this instance, my cat won’t be in any pain (except for the shot) and will likely feel entirely normal if he gets injections of subcutaneous fluids. Nonetheless, my cat is going to die from kidney failure. When that will occur is very uncertain. On this treatment, he could live for many more months, if not years. One doesn’t have to spend long on the internet to find an entire culture devoted to giving cats subcutaneous fluids. Most argue that it is no big deal and should, of course, be done.
But these aren’t a quick injection and they do seem like a big deal to me. Administering subcutaneous fluids requires the cat to be immobile for ten minutes or so with a needle in his back as he fills with fluid. I tried for the first time this morning and he only tolerated half the dose before ripping out the needle.
So, it has been an emotionally exhausting few days and I am left uncertain of the right thing to do. If the shots become normal for him, I am willing to do what it takes to keep him happy. It essentially means that I will be tethered to Midwestern Funky Town as he will die without the injections. Asking a friend to give your cat food and water while you are away is one thing, it is quite different to ask them to shove a needle in his back. Staying near home, though, is a small price to pay given his kindness to me through the years.
If, though, he is made miserable by the injections, I am not willing to inflict pain on him. Also, I will prolong his life, but I will not prolong his death.
None of this will be clear for some time. For the time being, I am really grateful that he is back home and feeling good.
Update: Even with treatment and the sub-q fluids, my cat’s kidneys simply could not keep his creatinine levels under control. While he had some great days when he first return from the hospital, his health and spirits declined over the past week. Because nothing would stimulate his appetite, the vet also became concerned that he would eventually starve himself to death. Much to my heartbreak, I had to let him go.
I appreciate, though, all the well wishes from the blogosphere. He was my best little companion.