Mewsings   3 comments

My elderly cat, Bubba, was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in February 2010.  His high thyroxine level came down into a normal range right away on the hormone-blocking drug, methimazole.  He immediately regained a pound of the three he had lost in six months time.  However, towards the end of 2010, I noticed that he was continuing to lose weight, and some days he just didn’t seem to feel well.  His T4 (thyroxine) level remained in the normal range, so it didn’t seem to be a worsening of  his hyperthyroidism.   We just continued to monitor him.  I watched him with an eagle-eye and got him into the vet again in May when he really didn’t seem to feel well.  A work-up at the University of Minnesota Small Animal Hospital led to a diagnosis of chronic pancreatitis.

When he appeared to be stable from that episode, I decided to proceed with the radioactive iodine treatment (I-131) which is offered at a nearby animal clinic.  I have read on many websites that it is the treatment of choice for hyperthyroid cats, offering not a management but a CURE in 95% of the cats receiving the injection.  I’ve heard that the remaining 5% can be cured by receiving a second injection which most clinics offer free of charge.  My rationale for proceeding with this treatment 17 months after Bubba’s diagnosis of hyperthyroidism was that methimazole has side-effects, some potentially very serious ones like suppression of blood cell production.  The more minor ones include loss of appetite, vomiting and lethargy.  Methimazole suppresses the thyroid hormone production but apparently it doesn’t completely control the heart damage caused by hyperthyroidism.  Cats treated with I-131 reportedly do so much better and have a longer life compared to cats treated with methimazole.

I want my boy to feel well.  I don’t want his tummy upset.  I don’t want him feeling draggy and out-of-it.  I don’t want his heart to continue to suffer stress and strain with his endocrine condition.  If I can cure this condition with a simple injection at a cost we can afford, why wouldn’t I do this?

Well, the “devil’s advocate” side of this argument poses: he’s 17 years and four months old.  How much longer to do you think he’s going to live?  $100-$200 worth of methimazole might see him through the rest of his life compared to the $1250 I gave the clinic for the pre-admission evaluation, the administration of the injection, and the four days of hospitalization until his radioactive level returned to a safe level for him to be discharged.  To further advance that argument against the procedure, the fact is that I’ve put that cat through a lot over the past couple of months.  He spent two days over at the University on an out-patient basis in early June, undergoing exams, x-rays, and ultrasounds.  He was poked and prodded by a number of people. He was very stressed and bit his dad on the way home in the truck that second day.  He had been pushed to the limit that week.

When it came time to load him in the carrier for his trip to the animal clinic for his I-131 treatment, we had to chase him all over the house, something we’ve never had to do with him.  And then he panted and wailed the whole way over to the clinic, which fortunately, was only a few miles. Then he had to stay there, confined in a kennel (spacious but a kennel nonetheless) for several days, away from home, stressed by strange people and surroundings.  He panted and cried all the way home when he was discharged, and he had lost even more weight due to stress.

At those times, I have had to ask myself: why am I doing this?

I want Bubba to feel well.  I want Bubba to live a pleasant life for as long as he can.  Selfishly, I’m not ready to lose him.  I’m not ready to say goodbye and watch him fail.  If I can do something to make him better, to improve the quality of his life even if he is 17 years old, then I will.

Would I have done this, though, if Katie were still alive?  I wonder.  I wonder if a large part of what I’m doing for him now is compensating for what I didn’t do for Katie.  Katie hadn’t even been to the vet for 21 months before she died.

This is the story: Katie, who was Bubba’s only known littermate, was diagnosed with chronic renal disease when she was 13 years old.  This was found as part of a routine chemistry profile prior to having anesthesia for a dental cleaning.  She was displaying no outward symptoms at that time, and we treated her by switching her to a diet for cats with kidney disease.  A year later, during her routine checkup, her BUN and creatinine (markers of kidney function) were a little more elevated, but the vet said she obviously wasn’t in kidney failure.  She looked well, her weight was stable, she wasn’t dehydrated and her electrolyte values were good.  I was to continue with what I was doing.  Six months later, I noticed that she had lost some weight and wasn’t eating well.  I took her to the vet and she was diagnosed with a bladder infection.   She was successfully treated.  Her kidney values were even more elevated and she was anemic, a condition that goes along with kidney failure.  However, her vet looked at all her other blood values and her overall condition and said that we still really didn’t need to be doing anymore than what we were doing for her.

If the time came to do more for her — and that “more” would have been subcutaneous fluid infusions at least several times a week and perhaps other medications — I didn’t know what we were going to do.  She was a skittish cat.  I couldn’t hold her.  I could barely get her to the vet.  That in itself was always a stressful ordeal, and more than once, I called up the vet on the day of an appointment and said, “We’re not going to make it.  I can’t catch the cat!”  How was I going to give her sub-Q fluids when I couldn’t hold her still?  How was I going to get her to the vet to let the vet do it when I couldn’t?  She would have caught on to that number after about one time, and the jig was up!  It worried me, and I didn’t know what I was going to do when the time came.

I figured I’d cross that bridge when we came to it.  In the meantime, she looked well and seemed to feel well.  I didn’t take her in to the vet for lab work every three months as recommended, deciding to go on how she appeared and felt rather than  lab numbers.  I didn’t want to face the numbers.  It would just upset me to see them climb and feel powerless to do much about it.

When the end came in February, it came suddenly.  By the time I realized something was definitely wrong and got her into

August 2010

the vet, she was in full-blown kidney failure.  Then we did everything we could to try to save her.  She rallied for the first day, and I thought she’d be with us a little longer, but during the second day, she lost ground.  I really believe that the various drugs she had been given stressed her kidneys to the point of complete failure.  She was getting worse instead of better.  We euthanized her as I held her in my arms on the morning of February 19.  I couldn’t stand to see her suffer a moment longer.

A million times since then I’ve wanted a “do-over.”  I weep inside for another chance to save her, another chance to gaze into her intense eyes yet another few months, another chance to tell her yet one more time, “I’ve loved you since the first day I saw you.  I’ve loved you every day since.  I will always love you…”

But, of course, there are no do-overs.  And now Bubba reaps the intensity of my desire to keep him as happy and healthy as I can for as long as I can. He’s getting Katie’s measure of care, too.   That’s good, as far as that goes, but I must take care not to push that beyond what is reasonable, to allow him the dignity to pass on in comfort when his time is here.  But I pray it’s not today.  Or tomorrow.  Or any time very soon.


3 responses to “Mewsings

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  1. I know this is very difficult and painful for you, Bonnie. I wish there were some magic words that I could offer to help comfort you. Please know that I am always here for you in whatever way you may need me. ((hugs))

  2. My eyes are filled with tears, reading this. Bonnie I am so moved by how much you love your cats. If I died and had to come back as something… anything… I’d want to be one of your cats. XOXO!! Your cats are so lucky to have you for a mom.

  3. I just strive to be the kind of person my cats think I am. Thank you, Lottie and Molly, for your kind words and support.

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