For those of you who are following my cat, Giles’, process into the end of his life, I am sharing here the email I sent Dr. Rebecca McComas of Minnesota Pets, Gentle Euthanasia at Home and her insightful response.—Sid

Hi Rebecca,

Giles is still hanging on, seemingly by some invisible thread. Friday, he ate one small potato chip; Saturday morning, he lapped up about a teaspoon’s worth of milk from my cereal bowl; and today, he actually begged for food and when I gave him some tuna with the water it was packed in, he readily lapped up the water, leaving all the meat, but he later ate a tiny piece of chicken from my meal. Naturally, we offer him more food each time, but that’s when he staggers off, almost toppling over. I’m doing my best to calmly accept as a gift any moments we can still spend together, devoid of desires to hasten things one way or the other. I just ask that he not be afraid or in pain so I can know I made the right choice for him by not intervening. Rough stuff when you know he’s so much more than just a pet to me, and I’d do anything to spare him suffering.

If you think I’m deluding myself somehow and that he needs to be assisted, please tell me. Every time he has another “Arby’s Effect” moment (from my story about my Westie, Tuppence, in my book, “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss“), I wonder if I should have been taking him to a vet awhile back and treating him for something so he’d just feel up to eating again. I’d just witnessed his slow decline and assumed it was what was destined for him, but these false-hope incidents mess with my head and heart. I think a part of him is enjoying milking us for all this attention. We’ve taken to eating meals with him and watching TV in the basement with him, leaving those bratty dogs upstairs all alone. Sweet revenge, I’m sure. 🙂

Argh. I’m rambling and sorry to take up your time. I just thought I should check in with you about all this.

Thanks for being there. It’s a comfort to know I have a backup plan.

Best,
Sid

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Good morning, Sid,

Tough stuff, all this, you are right.  It can be really hard to know what to do and I believe it isn’t until time has passed that we really know if we did the best thing.  I certainly don’t have any crystal ball for figuring it out sooner.  Giles is eating very little, and that makes it clear that the end is near enough for him, barring some major turnaround.  That is OK, everyone reaches the end at some time.  It is OK that he is showing some interests here and there… there are sparks of life and interest left in him.  It may not mean much in terms of his final outcome but it means a lot to both of you as you spend time with him.  Take it as it comes.  As you say, maybe he is really enjoying the time spent with both of you and hanging on for a while to enjoy more.  I don’t actually think pets are very intentional with things, most of the time, but they can be in moments.  So that, too, is hard to say.  As far as heroic medical care, I see a lot of pets where it buys a bit of time but not always sure of the value of that.  We probably don’t need to wring every last possible day and hour out of their lives…that might be more of a human value and not in the animal’s best interest.

Trust your heart to know if there is pain and suffering… and I also offer some advice from someone who has seen lots of pets near the end of their lives.  Nature doesn’t give them a choice about ending things… they aren’t programmed to give up, so they keep right on going as long as they can.  They do sometimes need our help as the people who have loved them over the years.  I really appreciate when they can die peacefully at home on their own. Many of my clients tell me that they have fervently wished and prayed for it.  They tell their pet it is OK to go, but it isn’t the pet who makes that decision.  Nature decides on her own time and sometimes it appears that they must wait through a lot of suffering to get there.  Suffering to me is vomiting a lot, a lot of diarrhea that won’t end, being hungry but not able to eat (ex. with a mouth tumor), being thirsty but not able to drink enough (certain endocrine diseases etc), painful cancer, etc.  Cats often don’t seem to experience any of these things and it doesn’t sound like Giles is right now, either.  I think you are OK to watch and wait with him and I know your internal bell will start ringing when he has taken a turn that leads toward suffering.

I wish I didn’t have to be so vague but I truly believe that we all forge a new path with our companions when the come to the end of their lives.  Please check in again as things take place this week.  I’ll be thinking of you!

Rebecca

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Rebecca,

You said exact right things. Thank you so much!!!

He ate a little bit of tuna this morning. He sasses some more and makes me smile, and I can hug and hold him a little longer, even though I’m not desperately clinging. He’s helping me be more “in the moment,” too. Big lessons taught by a skinny little kitty cat.

Again, thank you!
Sid

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