Monday, February 11, 2013

(re)Learning Hard Lessons

The last two weeks have been a little rough at our house. Around Christmas, we learned that one of our cats, Twink, was in the beginning stages of kidney failure. He'd been losing weight for over a year, but this was the first time anything showed up during his annual exam to indicate a problem. Our vet had him start taking a probiotic, which seemed to be helping, so I decided to pretend that he would be fine and thought very little about it. About two weeks ago, I noticed that his lips and nose were white instead of pink, which is never a good sign. I took him back to the doctor, and he said that his numbers (which indicate the level of bad stuff in his blood) had gone up quite a bit, and had me leave him there for IV fluids for 3 days. He felt better after that, but within two days, his symptoms had returned - he was pale again, and his breath smelled like urine (that had been going on for a long time, I just didn't know what it meant - that his kidneys were not filtering waste out of his blood, so I could smell it on his breath).

I decided to ask our vet from Raleigh for a second opinion, and she encouraged me to ask for an ultrasound of his kidneys. We had that done Friday, and the results were not good. Without going into gory detail, he's reached the end stages of his illness. After discussing it briefly with our old veterinarian, she agreed that he would likely not survive the surgery and we should make quality of life decisions for him now. We know his remaining time with us will be short.

It's hard to have the kids at home with me right now. In many ways, I would prefer to shield them from seeing me cry and having to talk to different people about what we're going to do about this cat we all love so much. However, I think they've learned some good things from all of this.

They have learned that having a pet is a huge responsibility, and at some point, it is a painful one. We've all had a hard time watching this loving, active cat decline until he's hiding away in a corner, just trying to get through each day.

They've seen me be an advocate for my pet's health, asking for more information than my current vet was offering, challenging some of his assumptions when they didn't sit well with me. I'm glad I did; he's much worse off than we'd thought, and without the ultrasound, we'd still be trying to figure out what was going on, probably trying to treat him with things that wouldn't help and would only cause him more distress.

They know that it is okay to grieve, and in fact, that it is important to do so. My girls are being very sweet to me, because they know this is my special pet who's dying. I cry a lot; I can't help it. Sometimes they hug me, and sometimes they cry with me. We're not pretending everything is fine. I'm finding it difficult to get on with our regular things, like school, so we're taking it easy today.

They are learning to be grateful for the gift of this little animal, this tiny piece of God's creation, one of His many gifts to us, even though our time with him has been cut short. I want them to remember to be grateful in all things. It's hard, today, to feel grateful, but we remind ourselves that we do give thanks for the love and laughter we've shared thanks to this sweet boy.

My public service information for pet owners:

1. If you pet starts losing weight, and there have been no changes in diet or activity level, something is wrong. Don't listen to your vet if they want to appreciate the weight loss in a formerly plump pet. Ask them to figure it out.

2. Once any animal (or person's) kidneys are bad enough that numbers show up in blood work, their kidneys are already functioning at less than 25%. I did not know that. I thought it was an important piece of information. The time left was so much shorter than I thought.

3. If your pet's head smells like urine, it means their kidneys are not filtering the toxins from their blood properly. Time to go to the vet. Twink's head smelled like urine for a long time and I didn't know why. It didn't occur to me until far too late that I should ask the vet.

That's all I can think of for now. As my friend Dy says, kiss those babies, and I will add, hug those pets.

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