It may be the most stressful stage for any pet parent: watching for signs that it’s time to say goodbye.
A week ago Friday, Lizzy, my cat, had her worst flare-up ever of inflammatory bowel disease. After scrubbing about a dozen places on the hardwood floors, ceramic tile, and rug, I emailed the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago’s help service asking for a pep talk.
The response said, “If you’re asking for permission to let her go and have her euthanized, you have it.”
I burst into tears. Until that point, putting Lizzy down hadn’t occurred to me.
The note was compassionate and sensible, so I wasn’t offended or annoyed. Training specialist Melissa Klett wisely pointed out that almost a decade of living with Lizzy’s symptoms was longer than most people would have, that Lizzy might be uncomfortable, and that frequent cleanups of diarrhea could hurt our relationship. Melissa’s opinion started preparing me mentally for the end, whether it comes soon or in months or years.
Lizzy will be 13 in August (roughly 68 in human years). She’s been with me for nine years and has had pooping lapses the whole time. In fact, that’s why her previous owners gave her up. Their veterinarian said that in a quiet home, Lizzy would return to using the litter box consistently. I didn’t regret adopting her even when it became apparent that her problem was something other than needing a quiet home. She’s cute and sassy and cuddly. Her pooping incidents were infrequent.
The bigger problem was finding food that her digestive system could tolerate and she would eat. Chicken was definitely out, and she didn’t do well with fish either. She rejected duck, venison, and lamb. She’d take a few bites of the rare wet foods that she would or could eat and walk away. She lost almost half her body weight.
The diagnosis of suspected IBD came when I switched veterinarians. A series of expensive tests would be needed to confirm it. But the two new veterinarians Lizzy has seen believe that diarrhea, weight loss, and poor appetite point to IBD.
Lizzy and I saw Dr. Jacobs after that ominous Friday. How uncomfortable is she? I asked. Dr. Jacobs said that if she’s maintaining her weight and is still sociable, probably not very uncomfortable. Even though it feels like a struggle to coax her to eat, Lizzy’s weight has been stable for about a year and a half. She must be eating as much as she needs — which, for a four-pound cat, is very little.
Make it easier on yourself, Dr. Jacobs advised: put kibble out for Lizzy to nibble at when she wants. Give her whatever brand she’ll eat; don’t worry about how healthy it is. The most important thing is that she eats.
Although it wasn’t said, the implicit message I took then was that we’re not worrying about long-term health because there won’t be a long-term.
Yet Dr. Jacobs wouldn’t predict how long Lizzy may live. It could be years, she said, if her weight continues to be stable.
Lizzy has improved in the past week. I put out two kinds of kibble for her to take her choice, and she’s eating better. Her litter box habits have returned to acceptable. She is crabby, however, making me fear that she could be uncomfortable.
Dr. Jacobs put Lizzy back on Prozac to reduce her anxiety and advised giving her prednisolone, which soothes the lining of her stomach, more frequently. It will be a couple of weeks before we know how well the meds are working.
So, I’m in watching mode. If people ask how Lizzy is, my answer includes a cliché like “touch and go” or “day by day.” I’ve realized that I may have to make the ultimate decision soon. But then again, maybe I won’t. Perhaps that’s the best mindset for the parent of an older pet, especially one with a medical condition. Ten days ago, I was shocked by a sudden downturn. I expect I won’t be if there’s another one.
ANTI-TRUMP QUOTATIONS: 15TH IN AN ONGOING SERIES
“He [Trump] could never do what we ask our US Naval Academy graduates to do. He is a physical coward, a liar, and no leader at all.” — Naval Academy graduates Daniel Barkhuff, president of Veterans for Responsible Leadership, and William Burke, VFRL counsel, in an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune