Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Thoughts on having a beloved pet euthanized

I woke up this morning with four cats, and by noon I was in a three-cat household.

youngshadowThere’s a harsh reality that we outlive these animals that we love and care for so much, and that means having to face that they will die before us. With cats, there’s a duality because if you have an “outside” cat, there’s the prospect that one day you may let it out of the house and it doesn’t come back, or it comes back badly injured.

With “inside” cats, there’s the knowledge that the cats will live a long time and probably won’t disappear unless they get outside through an open door or window. I know from experience that their departure from my life is from illness and the decision, made in a veterinary examination room, to have the cat’s life ended.

Today, Aug. 9, 2013, I made that decision for the third time. It isn’t easy, and I sometimes wonder, but I trust the judgment of the veterinarian who told me this morning that there was no hope, and that my beloved Shadow was pretty much gone already. I told myself that it’s OK. I have three very healthy cats of about the same age as her, and I have dealt with this loss before, but there are still the habits, like looking underfoot before getting up and calling her name, that will take time to overcome.

Last night, I first began to suspect that there was something terminally wrong with Shadow. She was lethargic, was hot to the touch, and seemed uninterested in her food. She’d lap up water when it was placed in front of her, but then go back and curl up under a table with her head cocked at an odd angle.

When a hitherto active cat suddenly becomes inactive, it’s a cause for concern. Her fur had been thinning, and when I picked her up I could feel the heat as well as her bones. She was getting skinny, especially around her backbone.

This morning, I got up and had a feeling that today was a crisis day. Shadow was not behaving right. I took her to the vet and in the exam room, got the first bad news. She was burning up with fever. Then the vet opened Shadow’s mouth and got a whiff of her breath.

“It’s over,” he said. “Total renal failure.”

“How can you tell from her breath?” I asked.

“I got a blast of ammonia,” he said. “That means her kidney has stopped working.”

The vet explained in detail how a cat’s kidney works, why it works that way and what happens when it begins to stop working. At a certain point, he said, “They know something is wrong and they don’t feel well. That’s when the symptoms you saw begin.”

Had I waited a day or two more, I would have probably found Shadow dead on the floor one morning.

This way was better.

The vet left me alone for a moment with my cat, then had a tech come in so I could sign some papers. Shadow was cremated, and I didn’t want her ashes back.

Then the tech brought in a fluffy towel, and I laid Shadow on the towel. All the while I was stroking her, talking to her and even positioned myself so she could see me. She looked at me but didn’t make any sounds. I did the petting she liked, around the ears, and that got some response, but I could see that she was going.

Moments later, the vet returned with a needle, and told me he was giving her an anesthetic so she’d go to sleep. It took a few minutes to become effective because she was so dehydrated, and we chatted about Shadow as sleep slowly overcame her. I continued to pet her.

He left the room again, and returned a couple of minutes later with the last shot, which would stop her heart. He gave her that shot, and soon her chest stopped inflating. A half-minute later, the vet listened for a heartbeat and there was none.

Shadow had gone across. I stroked her one last time, told her she was the most wonderful cat ever, and my eyes filled with tears. It had to be done, and I am glad she’s not suffering anymore, but still …

You always want a few minutes more of life when it’s your cat.

I thanked the vet for his compassion and for fitting me in on a busy day, paid the bill and took the cat carrier back to the car.

On the way home, I stopped for gas. Life goes on. I need to work today.

At home, I stroked my three cats, and told them that Shadow was gone.

She’s not there, next to me as I watch TV, on my lap or on the table as I try to read or eat. She’s not missing the litter box (she always had bad aim) or lapping up water from the bowl.

She’s not on the bed, or next to me when it’s raining.

But in a way, despite her mortality, she’ll live forever in my thoughts.

Some folks say that cats aren’t worth it. After about 15 years, you’re having to go through the mourning again. But when you lie in bed and the cats snuggle next to you, or you get your nose licked, or you hear that meow of recognition, then it’s all worth it.

So long, Shadow, and thanks for all your love. I will miss you, and so will Tommy, Mikasa and Midnight.

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August 9, 2013 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | ,

3 Comments »

  1. You’re right, it isn’t easy to make that choice, and it doesn’t get easier no matter how many times you have to go through it. I recently had to put down one of my cats and a month later I still find myself expecting to see her next to me when I wake up and miss having her curl up by my head when I fall asleep. Death makes us cherish the time we do have with them, for with an enternity of time together would the little rituals mean as much?

    Comment by dobetteralways | August 9, 2013 | Reply

  2. I am so sorry for your loss. It is so hard to see one of our furry loved ones pass on. Last year at this time I had 6 pawed friends. We have lost 3 in the past year (due to old age…each over 15). I had one person tell me….but you have others. They are like people…each is an individual and not replaceable. (((((big hugs)))) as you grieve. I like to think they are all together playing in fields of grass without any pain.

    Comment by nmbrsrgr8 | August 10, 2013 | Reply

  3. Wow, that’s really hard. Losing so many beloved pets. My three remaining cats are close in age, so I am worried about that. But they’re just 10.5 to 11 years old, so I will be more attentive and use the better cat food for kidney health. Shadow was the littermate of one of my cats, and it seems like he’s a little down. One of my fondest memories of Shadow was that when she was a little kitten, it was my big black cat, Tommy, who was most attentive to her. While Mikasa just hissed at her, Tommy would groom her and play with her. Even until the end, he would snuggle with her and groom her.

    Even if you have others, it’s hard. I think that I will wait until the last cat goes (hopefully not until 2022) to get new ones.

    Comment by Vincent Safuto | August 12, 2013 | Reply


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