Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bad Days


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.

49 comments:

jaclyn said...

I'm so sorry. You're right that you're the only one that can decide what is best for your cat friend. I've let one go who would never have tolerated that. One of mine now would let me do almost anything to him as long as I was there. Good luck to you both!

(If you do need to leave town, though, check to see if any of your vet's techs do pet sitting.)

Rat said...

I'm very sorry, GP. You're both in my thoughts.

Java said...

I'm sorry, GP. That's a hard place to be, both for you and the cat. I hope you come to a peaceful decision soon.

M-Dub said...

have 4 cats, the oldest is almost 14, the youngest is 10. I know I will be faced with this dilemma, and I do not know which way I will lean. I'm with you on your thinking, but it does become different when it's your cat.

My thoughts are with you.

Doug said...

My very best wishes for your poor little guy and for you. Your kitty is lucky to have you.

Sisyphus said...

:( I'm so sorry you have to deal with this difficult decision. Give the little guy some extra scritches round the ears for me!

Historiann said...

Poor kitty. You will do your best by him, I am sure.

Ambivalent Academic said...

I'm so sorry - These are the toughest decisions that pet owners have to make. Sounds like you're doing the right thing, whatever may come down the road. Good thoughts to you and your cat.

Dr. Crazy said...

Sending you a big hug and good wishes to your faithful feline. This stuff is never easy.

Roger Owen Green said...

GP- I have no idea wghat you should do. I had cats all my childhood and early adulthood, but found that it was too difficult. My daughter may be interested in having one, and we may capitulate, only to have to deal w what you're dealing w a decade or so later.

My best to you both.

Belle said...

Critter-mad as I am, I can certainly understand and share the turmoil here. As to sticking around for shots - if you're going to be gone for more than overnight, see if your vet boards. Mine does, and that is my first choice for kenneling. Some have separate areas for felines, and many kennels are used to giving shots etc.. Yeah, it's a bit more expensive to take to a kennel. After years of finding house-sitters that were less than adequate, my first choice for the dogs is the vet. The cats stay home, but were I in that situation, the vet would get the cat too. Maybe some mild sedative for shot times?

Vila H. said...

My sympathies. You've already received some very good advice, but I'll add just this: trust yourself. Whatever happens, you will do the right thing.

squadratomagico said...

Sorry to hear about your kitty. But, I did this very procedure (lactated ringers under the skin) with my older cat for a couple of years. It's difficult at first, but eventually you work out a procedure for it -- how to hold him, where to out the bag etc. -- that makes it fairly routine. And I did travel, too: as jaclyn suggests, there are mobile vet techs who will treat your pet while you are away. However, that of course is not like having a friend look in: the costs will add up, particularly for a prolonged trip.

In my cat's case, it really returned him to a level of alertness and activity he had not had for some time. It made me feel so much pleasure not only to see him gain more years of life, but a better, more fun and perky life during that time.

Mel said...

We kept David's Inga going for 2.5 years post-diagnosis, though I'd say that's probably more the exception than the rule. I always tell clients that they have to make the judgment call, since they know their pets the best. Let me know if you do have any questions. It's not always an easy road to navigate, so different perspectives can be helpful.

vuboq said...

*hugs* to you and Cat.

Emily said...

I'm so sorry! Take care. I wish you the best.

Sydney said...

Oh, GayProf--I feel for you and your feline! I had two who died of kidney failure (at 19 and 20). I chose not to do the subcutaneous fluids for either because they simply would not tolerate the needle, although I know many cats who got used to it fairly quickly. Here's another tip-give your friend canned cat food mixed with lots of water. Basically, you make a kitty soup. This can entice your cat to drink more fluids. Also, try offering the water from cans of tuna. My cats lived several years with kidney disease and almost no medical intervention, although they were both originally scrappy street cats.

Please forgive me for being morbid, but I want to tell you about death by kidney disease--it's a good way to go. Both of my girls just got really tired and the day I decided to take them to the vet to be put down was the day they died naturally. I had decided in the evening that they would go the next day and they died during the night. They died about six months apart.

I'm sorry to write so much! You have my deepest empathy and I hope that you and your feline friend have more time together and that his eventual passing is easy for him and a little less heartbreaking for you.

Tenured Radical said...

Gayprof:

I had a wonderful gray fluffy cat named Pearl who suddenly went into a terrible decline and hovered near death for a week or so; the problem with cat illnesses is that apparently they are very mysterious. At any rate, it turned out she was diabetic: then commenced about five years in which I would give her an insulin shot at 8 a.m. and hten rush home @ 4 (often returning to school afterwards for a meeting) to feed her. Several times I didn't make it in tim and she sensibly killed something in the back yard and was eviscerating it upon my arrival.

She still dies at a relatively young age, but she was a great cat. When she died it was absolutely clear to me that it was time. Use your head: you will know when this regimen is no loner worth it to either one of you. It might be a week; it might be several years.

vaginaphilosophy said...

oh gay prof, i'm so sorry. i've never had cats, always dogs, and when the divine miss t was close to kidney failure, she didn't have to have daily injections, but for almost two weeks she had to go to the vet to get "flushed out" every other day. i know this is different with the cats. because the divine miss t has issues, i've never had a pet sitter. she always get kenneled at the vet's office. it adds up for conferences, but it's worth it.

it's tough to have to face these decisions. i'll be thinking of both of you. and as the others have suggested, you'll know when it's time. and sydney's right--i was with a friend as her girl was slipping away due to kidney failure, and it was very peaceful. she was not in pain, and she just went to sleep. so there are worse things, though it's not easy.

hugs to you and the kitty.

Flavia said...

I'm so sorry, GayProf. I've only had my cat for two years but already have a hard time imagining life without him. Best wishes to you both.

squadratomagico said...

Sydney's suggestion about the canned-food soup and tuna water is a really good one. My boy loved that. You also can try offering him some chicken or seafood bouillon broth.

GayProf said...

All: Thanks for the good wishes and support. It really is one of the best elements of blogging.

The cat seems remarkably happy at the moment. Thanks to xanax, his master is feeling much better too

The shots went okayish -- It's yet to be seen how well he tolerate them.

Laverne said...

Humans and pets. I so get you wanting to do the right thing... and I believe you will. I know it must be hard, and I know how much you love your kitty; I'm glad to hear he's feeling better.

I hope he tolerates the shots, and he continues to do well.

And you too.

Chad said...

Since my dog is starting to pass his species' average lifespan and had his first major health crisis late last year, I can very much sympathize and I think I can say with the slight authority of experience that you made the right call. Best of luck to you both.

Inge said...

GP: I have been reading your blog for a few months now and just have to post a comment after reading about your little kitty! I had a cat who passed away about 2 years ago from kidney failure. She was only 10 but had a nice, long happy life. She wouldn't really tolerate the sub-q fluids (and I was squeemish about the needle)...but we tried our best. Cats are amazing because they really try to hold on as best they can for their owners. They just give so much love, even when they're in pain.

Anyway, keep thinking positively and I'll be sending you and your kitty lots of good wishes!

Susan said...

Gayprof, I can't add much to what everyone has said. This is a terrible dilemma -- and I'm so sorry you and your kitty have to face it. My cat had the kidney problems, and eventually had to be on the subcutaneous fluids. I eventually figured out a way to hold her so that I could pet her while the fluids were going in, although I always felt I needed another arm. Even if she didn't take as much as she should have, it helped. And when she was ready to die, well, she crawled under the dresser and hid.

Good luck!

Ink said...

So sorry -- hugs to you and to your sweet cat!

Clio Bluestocking said...

This is so heartbreaking. Nobody loves you like your pet does, and they are always your little familiar. I'm so sorry that you and your kitty are facing this.

Steven said...

So sorry to hear of the news with your cat. But I understand your dilemma about needing to stay closer to home during this time as I had a cat that I adopted that had FIV. I hope these "bad days" turn into better ones for both of you. (((((CoG)))))

David said...

When I lived with my boyfriend, his cat went through the same thing. I don't know if you can work this with a close friend, but it was much easier to have two pairs of hands to do this. One pair soothed and held the cat, the other pair inserted the needle and ran the IV. You might also want to incorporate a treat into the procedure to help create positive reinforcement. My thoughts are with you and your little guy.

susurro said...

I'm sorry to hear about your cat. I think we have a similar philo at my house but it never stops us from trying all we can to keep our pets alive and healthy AND happy. As long as you let hir quality of life be your guide, you'll be doing right by hir.

My thoughts are with you and your kitty.

Academic, Hopeful said...

I still feel bad that I mishandled my cat's old age....All the best.

On a frivolous note (please excuse if bad taste to include), I spotted that you have a casual eye on Captain Pike from the original series. How about Chris Hemsworth who plays George Kirk in the 09 film? He's an Aussie actor so I may be biased, but I think he pipped Chis Pine in the handsome stakes.

MB said...

Try warming the bag of fluid (in a pot of hot water) so it's warm but not hot, this makes it easier for the kitty to tolerate. My cat Grrrlfriend lived for 11/2 yrs longer with the fluids. I even trained a friend or 2 to do it when I went on trips.

FrauTech said...

This is so tough. I had to put my own kitty down just a few months ago, she was about 16 or 17 and the vet said it was some kind of cancer. She had been having problems up to that point (not using the litter box) and I kept wondering what was going to be the tipping point for me as well. In the end, she made the decision for me by not getting up anymore. You'll just have to go by what's comfortable for your cat and what's comfortable for you. I'm so sympathetic, there are no easy decisions.

Ms. Ramona Narrow said...

Like another commenter, I have been reading your blog for a few months and felt compelled to finally comment. First off, I'm so sorry for you and your cat. Second, I do think that you are doing the right thing - whatever happens, you will probably feel better in the long run for having done all that you could. One of my dogs is having some problems that the vets suspect might be cancer and I am prepared to go into debt for treatment, despite most people around me thinking it ridiculous. Good luck!

News Blog said...

Nice Post
Gay

Earl Cootie said...

I lost two cats to kidney disease in the past seven years (and one to stroke). I feel for you and I hope it works out well for you both.

tornwordo said...

Aw hon, I'm so sorry. You lost your bestest friend. Grieve properly now.

Sydney said...

I am so, so sorry for your loss. There are no words....

Hapi said...

hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

Old Lurker said...

Oh GayProf. I'm sorry.

Ink said...

Oh no! I just read your update.

So very sorry for your loss. And I hope that many warm memories of your dear feline friend will offer comfort you over the years to come.

Ink again said...

offer comfort TO you, that is.

Inge said...

Oh no! I just read your update and wanted to say I'm so sorry to hear about your kitty's passing...

susurro said...

I am sooo sorry to hear he didn't make it. No hay palabras. we will be donating to our local animal shelter in your name (the real one) unless you would prefer we give to the one in midwestern funky town.

Baron Scarpia said...

Oh no!

I've just read this blog entry, and I know how heart-breaking it can be to lose a pet cat. I'm so sorry to hear about this.

JaneB said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Cat. He will leave a huge hole in your routine, I'm sure - I lost my cat Hairball last year and I still miss her painfully at times, even though I now have another furry flatmate (the house was too quiet...)

squadratomagico said...

Oh no! So sorry! Poor baby!

Anonymous said...

It is so sad to read about your cat. There is nothing anyone can say to make it better.