Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wading in the Sea of Regrets

Would have, should have, could have. How often have we said those words in our lives? I myself have said them too many times. Tell me one person who hasn’t? Grief in and of itself is all consuming but compiled with regret it can make you physically ill. When letting go of a pet, it’s normal to have deep regrets. It’s an enormous decision to end a life, even when you know that life is suffering and coming to an end on its own. If only they could tell us with no uncertainty, “I’m ready!” Because they can’t, even though we know in our hearts they can’t possibly take any more…some will always question that decision.

I myself am of the belief that when a pet cannot walk any more, cannot go to the bathroom, breathe well, etc., it’s time. That’s actually how I knew it was my cat Patches’ time. She couldn’t hold her bowels, was stumbling and looked just plain awful. The needle was barely inside her and she was gone. So yes, she was ready. Do I have some regrets? Yes, I do. There were things we should have and could have done while she was alive to better care for her. I was young and didn’t know there were signs. We also didn't know what we know now about proper nutrition and the diseases that senior kitties are prone to. But regardless of that, at 20 years old it was her time. And we gave her a long and happy life.

With Alex it was different because she died on her own and it was a shock. Even though she had been sick, she was doing well. I didn’t even have a chance to get her to the ER, she died in the car on the way there. I have PLENTY of regrets where that is concerned and that will most likely haunt me the rest of my life. Even though I know in my heart I did the very best I could for her through her illness, I still have doubts and regrets. My vet even told me she thought I was the best kitty parent she’d ever met and that I went above and beyond for her. It’s still not enough for me to stop that feeling, it’ll always be there, buried inside.

Blaming ourselves is normal and part of the grieving process. Sometimes that part never goes away completely but we learn to live with it or let it go. We have to in order to move forward. This is how we learn of what to do and what not to do next time around. And most of us DO learn those hard lessons. Think of it this way; if we weren’t good pet parents would we even care how good a life they have or if they went peacefully when it’s their time? Not at all. But instead of giving ourselves that moment of solace, we torment ourselves with “what ifs”. In order to love that deeply and strongly, we need to suffer for it. Why that is, I don’t know. It’s just the laws of the universe. But we are blessed with giant hearts and wide open arms that will yet welcome more fur balls into our lives. We cannot live without them and from what I’ve seen of most of my friends, their fur children lead the best lives possible with the greatest care.

Grieve! Do not deny your broken heart the chance to scream out in agony. Because that’s what it is when we love and lose them; sheer agony. But do not wade too long in that sea of regret or it’ll swallow you up. And your heart needs to mend for the next furry one that enters your life. Love yourself and give yourself permission to feel awful! But know you are a terrific parent and making yourself sick over regrets and what ifs will not change that they are gone. A fragile and broken heart should not be beaten to its core but treated as if it were a beautiful vase that can and will be mended. Even with a few cracks here and there, eventually it’ll hold the life of blooming flowers again.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Caring for a Senior Kitty

Caring for a senior kitty is no easy task. Most kitties these days are able to live well into their teens, barring any unforeseen problems. Alex was only 11 when she died but she of course had numerous health issues that eventually took her life. My cat before her, Patches, lived to be 20. She had a few urinary tract infections in her older years but was otherwise very healthy; which is ironic considering the awful diet we fed her (I was oblivious to pet food issues then). She eventually succumbed to CRF. By the time we discovered her condition it was too late, treatment did not help. So we said our goodbyes to a long life, well lived.

It doesn’t matter how long you have them for, it’s always devastating to say goodbye. When I took Alex in, I wrongly assumed I’d have her as long as I had Patches. And of course, I did not. Now I care for my sister’s elderly cat, Midnight who most likely has IBD and CRF. She’s estimated to be around 17 or 18 years old and has been on a rollercoaster this year. Taking care of an elderly human is stressful but a senior kitty who needs daily sub-q fluids, pills, appetite stimulants to eat, etc.; some days I am beyond tired running up and down the stairs. I never know how her day will be when I get up. One day she’s fine, the next she is throwing up and won’t eat. At her age it’s imperative that she keep eating so on occasion I syringe feed her when she’s on a hunger strike.

I never had a break after Alex died. Shortly after she passed away my sister moved back home with her then two elderly kitties; Moufasa and Midnight. Mouffey was a flame point Siamese with a large personality and a big mouth to match, LOL. He could practically form works and knew how to say hello. Right away I could see I would have to take over their care as Moufasa had severe diarrhea. I put him on a raw diet and voila! Diarrhea gone, just like that! Things went well until almost two years later, Mouffey began losing weight. He had a mass in his stomach and he was growing weaker by the day. I came home one day to find it was time to let him go. I still miss him very much, he was so funny! But I have had no time to rest as Midnight became sick afterwards. His symptoms were much easier to handle as she is a tough case. She reminds me a lot of how Alex was except Midnight has diarrhea and Alex didn’t. Truth be told I have wondered why I am the designated kitty caretaker. But that’s exhaustion talking because I do know why. Because of my experience with Alex, Mouffey and Midnight would most likely not have lived as long or have had this quality of life.

It’s not easy; we all know it and its okay to admit it. We get frustrated, upset and emotional about it. But I also would not change one day of caring for them. I love and adore them and they know it. Even with all the things I do to her, pills, needles, etc., she still runs to me and wants kisses. A friend recently stated that she is lost without her routine of doing her kitty’s meds. She is heartbroken to have lost her senior kitty but part of her is relieved and that’s how I felt after Alex died. It’s so hard not to be able to go anywhere for long periods of time, having to spend all of your money on medications and fluids, etc. And it’s okay that you feel that way. It in no way makes you a bad parent! On the contrary, it makes you human. You are NOT a superhuman who can do everything for everyone all the time and never feel compelled to run away from your reality.

What makes you a great pet parent is doing all you do for them, feeling those feelings and knowing in your heart of hearts, you wouldn’t make a different choice. It’s not in you - your love for them comes first and why not? They deserve it. But know this; once in awhile…it’s okay to exhale. Just breathe!!! They’re okay with that…really! And when it’s time to say goodbye to your long time furry love, know that it’s okay to feel so many different things, including relieved, for you and for them. It’s normal and part of the grieving process. When it’s Midnight’s time to go, I will be crushed. She is as sweet and loving as they come. But I also know I will have done everything for her that I possibly could and then some. And then, maybe…I will be able to exhale.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Changing Seasons & Sick Kitties

The fall season is always a beautiful time of year. The Leaves are changing colors, brisk nights, warm days and the beginning of the holiday season. But for some reason, sick kitties have a different reaction. The days are getting shorter and the air can be damp and chilly on rainy days. Kitties with arthritis begin to ache and feel their age. A couple of years ago those of us with sick kitties noticed this phenomenon where our cats began physically reacting to the changing seasons, even before it started. Their reaction is extreme in comparison to a healthy kitty who usually loves the changing temps. My healthy ones have begun playing again and running around the house at night. The hot temps all summer made it difficult for them to find much energy.

Things may be going well and your sick kitty may be stabilized for quite awhile. Then suddenly for no reason you can find, here it comes; nausea, vomiting, inappetance, tummy troubles, diarrhea, etc. Right on cue! September is here and although we’re as happy as clams that it’s not smoldering hot anymore, our babies are having a serious setback; unprovoked and almost uncontrolled. Because cats are so much more sensitive to everything than we are, I suspect it’s not one thing in particular but many small things setting off their conditions.

Change in daylight means longer nights and more sleep time for them. There's less time for eating, which is what a sick kitty needs. Ragweed, grass, nettle and other fall pollens are worse than ever. Ragweed thrives in dry, hot weather and the extensive drought we’ve all experienced here in the U.S. is helping ragweed explode. I believe they do affect our pets as well. Even my two healthy ones have recently begun sneezing. For that I give L-lysine twice daily. I also recommend following my instructions for spring allergy care:

Nights are getting cooler and those temperature fluctuations can cause many aches and pains to flare up. If your kitty is older and/or has arthritis, this can be tough. They’re used to the summer warmth and even having the a/c on became a habit. Now it’s time for a warm fleece blanket and a thermal pad or bed for your little one. I don’t have any explanations for the nausea, vomiting, etc. except that one symptom can lead to another. As many of you have realized by now, it really doesn’t take much for the whole system to go awry. I think when they get older or have a chronic condition like IBD or CRF, it’s just very difficult for any change in their routine whatsoever. I’ve seen kitties with chronic pancreatitis have attacks in the fall even though they were completely stable all summer. You’d think the days getting cooler and less humid would only help their condition! But it seems to be the opposite. You may have to make temporary changes in their medication doses in order to compensate for whatever their body is experiencing so speak to your vet about that if it happens.

So if you think it’s your imagination that your pets tend to have a setback at this time of year; it’s definitely not. It happens more often than you think and unfortunately it’s happening with several of our babies right now. Cats remind us that our bodies are very much affected by the tides, the sun, the moon, the seasons and the years. Nothing can change the fact that nature is the boss. And cats seem to have a direct line with Mother Nature.