I don’t often blog about strictly personal things here. Even when it may seem that I’m blogging about myself, my goal is normally to use my life as a lens to examine issues larger than any of my merely personal concerns. But occasionally, this has led me to blog about my cat Sugar, as when I wrote about the ethology of the purr, the Nose of Peace, the mirror test and coping with anticipated grief.
But this blog has developed a community of regulars, too, some of whom have met and been charmed by Sugar while being houseguests at my place. It is therefore my sad duty to report that she has entered the rapid end-stage of senescent decline often seen in cats. After days of not eating and signs of chronic pain, she has been diagnosed with hepatic cysts, acute nephritis and renal failure. She’s now on a catheter at the vet’s; they’re hoping to restart her kidneys and treat the nephritis with antibiotics. But in the best case, our vet doesn’t think she has more than six months left, and that much may require heroic measures including daily subcutaneous fluid injections. He has not recommended euthanasia, but if her kidneys don’t reboot within a day or three that will be coming. He hasn’t said, but I don’t think he likes her odds of surviving this crisis.
None of this is surprising Cathy or myself very much. Signs of senile decay – hyperesthesia, night yowling – have been accumulating over the last six months. We’re both realists who have responded by learning as much about cat geriatrics as web searches will turn up, which is quite a lot. I already had renal failure pegged as the most likely thing to take Sugar out; usually it’s either that or heart failure in very old cats. And Sugar is very old, 18 or 19 depending on her exact age when we inherited her. We’d been hoping for another year, but it is now very unlikely we will get that.
It will probably not surprise those of you who have met Sugar to hear that she didn’t at any time take out her pain on her humans. While she showed some tendency to half-conceal herself in places she didn’t normally lurk after becoming overtly ill, she still purred at being touched. If she were a human, I’d have said she was being brave and stoical.
The house feels empty without Sugar in it. Knowing she’s hooked up to a catheter, in pain, and fighting for her life is difficult for us. We may very soon have to make a hard decision about whether prolonging her life is the kindest thing we can do, and that weighs on us. Cathy looks a bit shell-shocked, and I don’t blame her. We both love Sugar, but caring for her has an extra layer of meaning for Cathy because it fulfilled her mother’s deathbed request. Emotionally, for her, I think this is like a replay of watching the end stage of her mother’s terminal cancer.
I’m not superstitious enough to believe supportive thoughts from others can help our cat survive, but I invite all our friends to think of Sugar kindly and hope for her survival because it is a tribute her life has deserved. She’s been a wonderful cat, unfailingly well-mannered and affectionate to us and friendly to our guests – the visible soul of our home for seventeen years. She’s brightened the lives of at least a couple of dozen other humans as well; at least twice I’ve seen cat-deprived friends on the verge of happy tears because Sugar was so unaffectedly nice to them.
We’re trying to keep ourselves reminded that seventeen years is a very long run for a cat, she’s had an extremely happy life, and that we have no grounds for complaint or bitterness because it’s nearing a natural and inevitable end. We know we’ve done right by her and have no regrets. Still, this isn’t easy, and not likely to get any easier before it ends.
UPDATE: Friday afternoon: the vet reports that Sugar is eating again and tolerating the IV drip pretty well. The risk of prompt death seems to be receding. We’ll know more by Monday.
UPDATE2: Saturday afternoon. Vet says Sugar is eating canned food and behaving normally. This probably means the nephritis is knocked out and her kidneys are functioning again. He sounds a little amazed.
UPDATE3: Sunday afternoon. Sugar is now moving around enough that the vet’s people have to work a bit to keep the fluid-drip line from kinking. They do not regard this as a bad thing.
UPDATE4: Monday afternoon. Sugar is coming home. Alive, with her kidneys restarted, and as well as can be expected given the long-term tend of kidney-function decline (she’s a tough little creature!). We’re not going to do sub-cu fluids, as the vet says they might be helpful but are not yet necessary; we’ll re-evaluate in two weeks when she gets her antibiotic booster shot. Thanks everyone for the supportive comments.