Friday, June 23, 2006

A 22 Year Old Cat is a Very Old Man

In *human* years, my cat is around 115 or so. Next month he turns 22 years old.

His mother lived to 19 1/2. So he's already outlived her by a good 10-15 human years.

I asked my vet, What's the oldest cat you've ever treated? --26 years old. But that was a truly exceptional animal. I've been in practice since 1979. All that time, I've treated maybe a handful of cats that were in the 21 - 22 year old range. That's it. He's a very unusually old cat.

I knew he's old. But until this week, I had no idea how rare that is.

My wonderful, sweet, smart, devoted old boy is nearing the end of his years.

Tuesday night he came down with a kidney infection and scared me half to death, peeing blood. I trust no vet but his own, so I asked Babycat to hold on until morning, until we could see the cat doc. Cats is all that doc does, and he is a wonder.

I knew Babycat had lost a lost of weight recently. An old cat will do that when they're getting near the end. But I didn't realize he'd gone from 12 pounds to around 6 1/2.

Yikes.

The vet shot him full of Baytril antibiotic, gave me Baytril pills, took blood, and trimmed his back toenails. (Old folks get grooming issues, okay?)

Doc says cats are pretty generally in kidney failure at around age 15. And Babycat's had those issues for quite a while. Now, however, it's much more serious. His kidney bloodwork is pretty bad.

Doc says, all hope is NOT lost. We'll try him on a renal diet, see if he buys it. That can keep him going much longer.

First of all we have to clear the kidney infection. Now, Friday morning, he's doing much better. The blood has almost disappeared. And wonderfully - he's eating like a horse. All of a sudden.

How long does he have? Don't know. Doc says, Maybe a week. Maybe a month. Maybe six months. Impossible to say.

I asked him for this favor: --If the time comes he's suffering too much, and I don't want to let him go, would you please tell me it's time? He said: --We're not there yet, not at all. --But when we are? My mistake won't be in giving up too soon. It'll be in holding on too long. So if you catch me doing that, will you let me know?

He said he would.

My job now is just to keep that cat as happy and as healthy as I can. To make whatever comes as easy as I can for him.

Do I love that animal beyond reason?

Perhaps.

It's also true that beyond any doubt, I owe my life to him. There was a time, years back, when I'd lost everything. Everything, including hope for the future. I was very sick, and I was so tired of fighting, fighting for my life to go on. All I had to do was give up fighting and it would be over, I could stop, I could rest, I could go.

We all need to be needed. No one still alive needed me.

Wrong.

My two little cats did.

Inconsequential? Laughable?

Maybe to some.

But me?

I'm still alive. I have a man I love who loves me back, a good man, and a house and a car and enough food to eat. A computer, a blog, a digital camera. A very full life, in its way. Limited, certainly. But even within the severe constraints of my disabilities, I have more of a life than many healthy and *prosperous* people do.

So when I tell this cat, --I am here for you. Tell me what you want and you'll have it.--

I have reason to say, He earned it. I have his great devotion. He has mine.

14 comments:

pepektheassassin said...

And friends. You have friends, too, who care, and appreciate you for who you are. Good post. I hope your old cat keeps improving. I've loved all of my animals "beyond reason," and wept boatloads of tears over them, so I really understand what you are going through.

Has Walter gone?

k said...

Yes. My whole life is different now. It's not that I didn't appreciate the friends I had at that moment, years back - it's just that I realized that there weren't any who couldn't do without me. And none were local.

It sounds self-pitying. I suppose it was. But there was also a large element of simple truth in it. Usually we have at least one person who does much better by having us in their life. Those times when we don't - like that time, for me - that's when we're most vulnerable.

Not just when we're without a support network - but when we aren't a part of someone else's.

I wasn't sure if you'd had animals before, yourself, although I would have put down big bucks on *yes*. So you know. I hope I can be here for him as good as he's been for me.

Walter's still here. And I'm so vey glad he is. I wanted them both to have a little time together, right now. Right now. You know? Even if Babycat improves a lot for a while, I wanted them together at this time.

The story of how those two finally bonded is a wonderful one, all by itself.

Oh! to watch that cat eating like he is! It's a pure joy.

Desert Cat said...

Do you love him beyond reason? No.

I was ready to do a $1000 radiation treatment for my Moonbeam's thyroid condition. Perhaps it was a blessing that she died the weekend before it was scheduled. At home. In my arms.

But I could not have lived with myself doing anything less than what was possible for her.

Except that on the day that I knew she was going to die, instead of rushing her to a weekend animal hospital for some last ditch futility, only to have her die at the hands of some technician in a cold strange room, I prepared for her burial. By mid afternoon she couldn't hold on any longer. I wept when she was gone, and still do now if I think about her.

No, if there's hope, hold on to it. Moonbeam's surgery two years prior to her death gave me and her two more years to walk this beautiful earth together. It was worth every penny and more.

k said...

I was thinking of your Moonbeam the other day. We had more time with April, Babycat's mother, because we gave her subcutaneous fluids every other day. That got us about two more years than we would have had otherwise. Two years she thoroughly enjoyed.

And when it was her time - when it really was - she'd had even more fun the last two weeks of her life than she did in the last two years. We were able to take her on a *vacation* - a work trip for us, but a wonderful time for her.

She died in my arms, too. Better that way, better than in some strange place without me. She let me know.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you check this or not. I happen a crossed it tonight while sitting here with my sweet Kitty.... her name is Jennie, she is also 22 now.

I have been trying to prepare myself for a while now... I guess we have been saying goodbye or see you later... for a while now. I can tell my time with my baby is running out and it is a matter of hours or days...

I wanted to say Thank you for your post here. I am glad to see there is someone else out tehre who feels the same as I do.

Thank you....

Debbie & Jennie

k said...

I do check, or rather, I get a somewhat delayed copy in my email.

Thank you for coming by. I miss my cats so much, and I'm so glad we had such a long time together.

April was Babycat's mother, and *we* got pregnant on purpose, just one time. I was midwife when she delivered. The kittens were wonderful, a great experience for us both. I kept one, because he was an extraordinary boy.

That was Babycat.

He passed away not long after this post, on July 5, 2006. Here are some more posts about him: http://ksquest.blogspot.com/2007/11/repost-for-pretty-lady-and-alpha-cat.html
http://ksquest.blogspot.com/2006/07/another-loss.html
http://ksquest.blogspot.com/2006/07/that-other-decision.html

and this one, a beautiful post from my friend Joyce Davis, a poet, a brilliant artistic woman:
http://followingthelittlegod.blogspot.com/2006/07/new-song-for-babycat.html

I was so touched by your comment. It's hard to lose anyone we've been with for a long time. Our animals can be just as important in our lives as our humans, our family and friends. They keep us healthier and help us live longer. The love they give us is unconditional and undivided, which is more than most humans can manage.

That matters.

So I'm glad your own Jennie has humans who love her so much. I never cared if people thought I was being silly for saying things like this: I know - I know - you have given her a very long and happy life, and that she knows how much you love her. She knows that not many cats are so blessed, and she appreciates it completely.

My heart goes out to you in these last days of her life.

Anonymous said...

Hi
I just came back to let you know, my Jennie left for a better place early Monday,Jan. 19, 2009.

I miss her so much already.... but it's a good thing for her, and a relief to m e that she is ... I know she is healthy again where she is now.


I want to say I know it will get easier with time.... but for now, it is hard to cope without her. I am sure you understand what I mean.... the old habits of caring for her and sleepy time..... getting her settled for the night was like taking care of a infant...lol and I loved every second of it.


Thank you,

Debbie

k said...

Your comments have had a way of resonating with me, Debbie.

I'm sorry to hear about your loss. When they're that old I do think it helps in some ways - you remember when they were younger and you know they don't feel so vigorous any more. You can't make their pain go away if they get arthritis and so forth, and it hurts you because you don't want them to suffer.

In other ways it makes it harder though. You've been together so very long. Doing that tucking-in-to-bed ritual, all that. It's very lonesome when suddenly that life, that love you shared, is simply...gone.

It does take a while.

Babycat's mother, my little April - April-girl we called her sometimes - she passed away at age 19 1/2. She died in my arms while I was driving a truck over the George Washington Bridge in NYC. I'd decided to take her and head for home, Florida, because we knew she was almost gone and we thought it would be better for her at home.

So I ended up driving her body back to Florida for burial.

Walter, my ex-husband who's back together with me now, wasn't raised having pets. April and Walter had some trouble adjusting, some bad friction. But after a while, both cats and Walter all fell in love with each other. He couldn't understand how such intensely loyal and sweet cats could love him too; but it was obvious they did, and they all delighted in each other. Oddly enough it was April who ended up being especially close to Walter.

When April died, neither one of us could stop crying for days and days and days. We just could not stop grieving. Nothing we told ourselves helped: how very much fun she'd had the last few weeks of her life, when we decided to take the cats with us on a long cross-country road trip, delivering furniture for our small business. Oh, April had a wonderful time on the road!

And at the end she knew it was coming, when her time was here to leave us. She very clearly knew and very clearly accepted it - and very clearly told us good-bye, each of us one by one, with great sweetness.

She'd been ill for a couple of years with this awful permanent sinus infection cats sometimes get. And dehydrated too; we'd been giving her subcutaneous fluids every other day for 2 years. But she was so cheerful through it all. It's part of what made her so endearing. That cat really understood some amazing things.

Nothing helped us get over losing her. We were simply, purely, devastated.

Finally, 18 days after she died, I was back in the truck with Walter on our long furniture delivery run. We were staying together in one truck, a big rig with two bunks.

And we woke that morning at the same time, having each experienced the most amazing dream about April. Walter *never* remembers his dreams. But this time, to his shock, he did. In great detail.

We eagerly told each other our dreams. And the thing was - the dreams were identical.

They were from April.

She was telling us she was healthy and whole again, and happy, playing in a sunny meadow full of flowers and butterflies. She showed each of us one of her offspring in the dream. She showed Walter another cat who looked just like her and told him it was her daughter. She showed me a cat who looked like Babycat: her son.

I've never posted about this, or even told more than a handful of people. I was raised to be very objective and fact-oriented, looking for proof of unusual occurrences, not assuming I knew the cause of an event without doing some serious analysis first.

Of course, when something truly extraordinary like this occurs, all my vaunted logic gets tossed out the window.

Perhaps one day I'll post about our dreams, with all the details. They were amazing.

And they were very clearly sending a message: a postcard, if you will, to let us know April was fine where she was, Strong again, and playing in a sort of cat heaven. That she'd left a legacy behind, her DNA in her four kittens, and that meant life from her continued after her. She was telling us she understood it and that it mattered to her, being able to pass her life force on.

The dreams were full of her personality and quirks and humor and grace. They were just perfectly, exactly April.

She didn't want us to suffer any more, so she let us know she was happy again where she was. It took a very powerful love for her to do that.

And it worked. Suddenly, after both of us crying pretty much non-stop for 18 days, we were able to begin continuing our lives again.

Now I'll leave you with a link to something called the Rainbow Bridge. Maybe you've heard of it already, maybe not. Anyway, it's a good time to read it again for me at least, so I'll post a link here for you.

http://ksquest.blogspot.com/search?q=rainbow+bridge

It's abundantly clear from your comments that your little Jennie knew how much you love her, and loved you right back, with everything her heart could give. I believe it's one reason certain cats live so very long: simply from the strength of love. Cats, of course, most certainly do love us.

There is no better life for a cat than that. You gave that to your Jennie. And she understood.

Anonymous said...

Our male cat domino turned 21 about three months ago- he has been such an amazing little guy all his life and really a part of our family. He's dropped weight and has a lot of trouble walking for the past week, but he keeps going and going... I told him he could leave if he felt it was time and at that he got up and dragged himself to his litter and to his water dish and food- now he's back sleeping again. He almost died five years ago, the night we moved, but he regained his appetite and pulled through with Pedialyte mixed with wet cat food juice, administered by us with a syringe. We'll all miss him a lot when he finally decides to go--

Tom said...

My little princess is 23 1/2 now, and I know the day will come. She's still healthy, and although she lost 3 pounds during my travels but gained it right back when we got home. So far, perfect health, but when the time comes, I'm going to be devastated.

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Anonymous said...

K, Thank you for sharing your story with your 'old cat'. I brought my 21 year old cat to the vet this evening because I saw him have a seizure like event that confirmed my Sidney is closing in on his journey. Aside from early stage kidney disease and weight loss, he's actually been doing well. I'm very blessed to have Sid in my life for so long. I rescued him 2 months after I got married, for company. He's been with me through my marriage, the birth of my two children, miscarriages, work and family stresses, divorce, rebuilding and restarting. Sidney has always greeted me at the door meowing me about my day, and continuing to tattle about the daily indiscretions by his cat cousins. He's slept with my 17 year old daughter every day of her life, so far and hopefully for many more years. What a blessing is he and you for sharing your experience. Thank you. I needed that tonight.
-amglad03

Insuranceneedstostepitup said...

Two of us owe our mental health to a little guy named Bo. Bo is a beautiful orange tabby cat with white feet. I found Bo when he was a kitten. He was taken by some children from his mother and brought to their apartment. The mother, unstable herself, tossed him outside. I would come home from school, and see a tiny little kitten curled up on their door step. I picked up the kitty and took him in. He had a loud purr which immediately sounded when I picked him up. A few minutes later, he sneezed. Blood sprayed out of his tiny nose. I drove him to the vet, who cured his sneeze and stopped the bleeding.
This small window of our life together, and apart. For most of his life, he moved in with my mother. They became inseparable. She needed Bo. Bo needed my mom. Years passed. I loved them both and watched their relationship grow. I could not take Bo from my mother. But one day, it was time to take Bowie home. He moved in with me, and my four kitties. He and the mother cat took a look at each other and let out a loud meow. Bo, a senior and Bella, a young mom. I was worried about both of them. I kept Bowie in my bedroom and Bella and her children in the living room until Bowie decided to come out. So, as long as I am home, all the Cats are together, not without incidences, but it is getting better. When Bo arrived, he peed a lot. He drank and drank and peed more than my four other cats put together. My friend had some cat food meant for her elderly cat who had a kidney problem. I fed it to Bo and he never had problems again. A few months passed and I was at the vets. I decided to buy more. I feed Bo a whole can. A few hours later, he was so sick he couldn't stand. I brought him water and hard food to absorb the dry food. A day later, he became better. I brought him treats for arthritis. Again, it made him sick. Now, he may have fleas. He is allergic to flea bites. I am scared to put on the spot on Advantage 2. I don't want to chance making him sick. He is old but has spunk. He LOVES food. I am afraid to take him to the vet due to the stress of the drive to their office. I wish there were in home, mobile vets for cats. If anyone knows any, please let me know. Also, if you know of the best foods and the best flea meds let me know. We live in San Luis Obispo, CA. Bowie is my best friend!!! Both Bowie and I need each other, but I feel I am lacking in my knowledge to give him the care he deserves.