We have two cats, Alex and Rupunzel (yes, that’s how we spell her name). Alex is 17 years old, Rue is 16. They both have kidney disease. Alex needs to get more liquid into himself, Rue needs to get more food into herself.
These two cats have been parts of our lives for THEIR whole lives. Both came from my parent’s farm. Alex was given to my mom’s coworker, and through an unfortunate series of events, he ended up back with us within a few months. Rue lived in the barn for the first 18 months of her life, having us scoop her up to have her live with us after the passing of another cat Mr. Muse had.
This last month, after the diagnoses came that kidney disease was in our present, we had to start giving fluids to Alex. Every other day, I put him in my lap and stick him with a needle. A bag of “lactated ringers” slung from a hanger that I’ve hooked onto a floor lamp is at the ready, and I open up the line, scratching his chin as 100 ml of saline builds up under the scruff of his neck.
Every night, I take out two small dishes from the cabinet and split a can of wet, kidney support, wet food into them and put one in front of each mewling cat waiting impatiently behind me.
Now, during a conversation about pets and animals in general at lunch earlier this week, I mentioned the every-other-night ritual for fluids and my boss looked at me, his eyes large, and he asked, “Really?” I nodded, responded, “yes really,” and took another bite of my salad. He gave that nod of approval, you know the one where someone is scrunching their brow in thought, the corners of their mouth drawn down in consideration? That nod. Then he said, “that’s devotion.”
I paused, thought about a lengthy response, but fell back to, “Thank you”, and conversation moved on to other things. But this had me thinking, wouldn’t anyone do that for a beloved family member even if it was a pet? Both cats are happy and otherwise healthy, they are just elderly: 85 (Alex) and 84 (Rue) years equivalent to humans. They still play with their toys, use the litter box without accidents, eat their food, drink their water and look for attention. Their kidneys shutting down are a typical elderly cat situation and if my otherwise healthy cats need a little boost via fluids to give their kidneys a little relief – so be it.
I grew up with animals. I worked at a veterinary clinic. I saw pets and livestock that were in so much pain for maladies which were not treatable with owners who insisted on keeping these poor animals going despite every bit of evidence screaming that putting the animal out of its misery would be the kinder move. I saw a dog literally rotting away from cancer, its owner insisting the dog was happy even though it couldn’t eat (had to be fed with slurry via a syringe), could only walk half a dozen steps and needed twenty different medications to function at a low level. These experiences all helped me decide what I would and wouldn’t do for a pet.
For Alex, who is not on any medications other than his “prescription diet”, sticking him with a needle and giving fluids every other day doesn’t strike me as anything devotional. To me it’s just what needs to be done. Yes, I might be interfering with nature’s course a smidge, but he’s a happy 17/85 year old who doesn’t have any problems other than old age. When, not if, that changes – the true show of devotion will be making the hard decision that is in HIS best interest – not mine.
Do you have an elderly pet?
Do you find yourself making decisions for them based on their needs or your needs?
In the past 18 months, I’ve had to put two elderly pets down — one, because cancer was keeping him from eating and doing all of the things he loved (e.g. head for a daily walk). The other . . . I’m not sure if it was a seizure or something else, but he went from being “an old dog” one day to a dog who would have regular fits where he’d cry while lying down, arching his back as if in pain.
I didn’t even have the heart to go through whatever tests would have been necessary to determine what was actually at the root — I knew he was miserable. Difficult decisions, both – but the only humane decisions.
Agreed, those would be difficult. We lost both of our dogs a few years apart to a fast-moving cancer. One day they were fine and then they weren’t (hemangiosarcoma “speaks softly but carries a big stick”). I still miss them but I know that there was nothing that could have been done medically for them.
We have joked about all of our “kids” getting old at the same time, but I’m glad we have been spared losing them all within a short span of time.
Hell, we have a going-on-20-year-old Rapheal Catfish in our freshwater tank that is blind with cataracts and miss most of his tail fin (the stump is there), but he (or she?) still is enthusiastic about feeding time and catfish don’t really need to see anyway. We’re amazed, if not daily at least weekly, that it’s been around for as long as it has.