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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Celebrating a Life: My cat Baby

Some people, who are not animal lovers, or do not have pets, cannot understand the attachment some of us have for our pets. I do not have children, but I do have pets who are just as precious to me and who I love just as dearly. In some of my earlier posts I have mentioned an ongoing illness with one of my cats, my 16 year old male cat, Baby.  He became ill in June and after many visits to the vet, many tests and trying many different treatment regiments, his vet came to the sad conclusion in August that my poor kitty was probably suffering from intestinal lymphoma, a common cancer in older cats. We were unable to get the definitive diagnosis we craved because the tests  would  cost about 3 months of my salary and unfortunately, this is not possible for us. We held out hope that he had a lesser (and non-fatal) disease, like IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). And for the last two months, the high fiber prescription diet food and a once-daily pill of Prednisone, had helped him tremendously and he was back to his normal self; alert, active, playful, eating like a horse and having no bowel distress.

We knew, however, that the possibility remained that he might indeed have cancer and even though they have pill forms of chemotherapy these days that can prolong life for a cat with lymphoma for 6 months or even a year, it was still devastating and I was unsure if it would be "right" to prolong the inevitable. Either way, he would die from his disease. We were assured that this type of cancer is usually painless and that during his chemo therapy ( he would take 1 chemo pill every two weeks) he would be pretty much as normal, but we still hadn't decided whether we would take such steps and weren't sure the pros outweighed the cons of going in that direction. I think we were mostly in denial that he had cancer and still held out hope it was something else . We decided to make his life as comfortable as possible for as long as possible and continue to hope that he did not have cancer and that his current treatment would enable him to spend a few more years with us. We had very high hopes with the success of the last two months and how well he was doing, but unfortunately, he took a very serious, and very sudden turn for the worse on Tuesday this week. He was perfectly normal on Sunday, his usual self. Monday morning we noticed some diarrhea in the litter box; the first diarrhea he's had in two months, but he seemed fine otherwise. We called the vet to discuss the dosage of his medicine, and decided to divide his pill in half and give him a half a pill twice a day to spread out the effectiveness of it over a 24 hr period. Monday evening, I was distressed to notice signs of his ataxia returning. He had had a flare up of ataxia before starting his new medicine, and he'd had it once before, right around the time his illness started in June, but at the time, we thought it was weakness due to dehydration from his diarrhea. For a general explanation of ataxia in cats, click here. During the second flare-up in August it was right around the time his vet was concluding that he had lymphoma and his weakness and wobbly gait was determined not to be dehydration, as we had thought before, but ataxia, and it was discussed that the ataxia might be a separate medical issue, or related to the cancer, which might have spread and could be affecting his brain and neurological functions, which would explain other neurological problems that were evident; his vision was impaired and he did not have normal responses to certain stimuli during the time the ataxia was present.  Again, a complete neurological work-up would be needed to determine the exact cause of his ataxia, but we lacked the $2,000 it would have cost us to have the tests done. The ataxia generally only lasted a day or two before vanishing. Since starting his Prednisone, he had no flare ups of ataxia.

By Tuesday morning, he was still weak and wobbly, but still able to get around. He was eating his food, and drinking like normal. I gave him his morning petting and tucked him into his kitty nest before leaving for work. Sometime during the day on Tuesday, something happened and he slipped into a coma and when I arrived home from work, he was laying on his kitty blanket, un-responsive and unable to move. It was a devastating sight to me. The vet suggested a blood clot in the large main artery that runs along a cat's back, a severe stroke, or the cancer itself as the cause, but he will not recover. I am heart-broken at this sudden turn of events and hoped and prayed that he would pass away quietly on his own, but it has been two days and there has been no change. He lays in his kitty nest with a warming pad to keep him warm and I keep him near me, watching over him all night, but he is immobile and un-responsive. It is like he is already passed away, except he is still breathing. No amount of talking to him or petting him has aroused any response. Cats, when unconscious or comatose, do not close their eyes like people do; their eyes remain open. It is sad and causes my heart to ache to see him lying there, with his eyes open, un-seeing and unblinking. I like to think that somehow he knows that I am there with him, even though I doubt he is aware of anything.

So, tomorrow, I will end his suffering. To keep him on like this is cruel; he will not recover and his systems are slowly shutting down. I dread being severed from him in this way, but to keep him like this is selfish. I have held out hope that he will pass on his own for the last two days, but I cannot let him linger this way, to die slowly. We have an appointment for tomorrow with the vet. I am grief-stricken, my heart aches. I will miss him terribly and feel sorrow that it had to end this way for him. I feel sorrow for myself as well, knowing that I will miss him always; my special guy.

My only comfort now is to know that he had a good life for 16 years, that he was well-cared for and very much loved by me, his "mommy". The last two months of his life were happy and the medicine he had made his life comfortable. His end will not be what I had hoped for, and is coming very much sooner than wanted, but at least he had no pain, and I will be with him to send him off, with love, kisses and hugs, and hope that somehow he will know I am there.

To celebrate the life of my beloved buddy, here are some pictures from happier days:

The picture above was from his "fat" days! He used to be a real tub of lard when he was younger!

R.I.P. my darling lap baby.
May 1993--Oct. 1, 2009

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