Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On Behalf of the Alpha Cat

Pretty Lady would like to solicit the advice of his fans.

The Alpha Cat, as many of you know, is well advanced into his nineteenth year with Pretty Lady. He is, as you may expect, undiminished in character, dignity and personal charisma. His kindness, intelligence and stoicism have not wavered, even during bouts with kidney stones, dredlock removal and visits from the formerly-feral young cat downstairs.

However, in recent months, the Alpha Cat has begun noticeably Drooping. He has become finicky to excess, with the result that his frame is unwontedly bony; one must stroke him on the top of the head, chin, sides and stomach exclusively, since his hips and spine have become distressingly protuberant. He manifests the occasional involuntary nervous tremor. The only nourishment he will deign to consume is the occasional bite of Pet Guard Chicken and Wheat Germ (no other flavor will do), spiked with some prescription vitamins and digestive enzymes, plus a chunk of Pretty Lady's cranberry nut bread. (This latter was effected, much to Pretty Lady's surprise, only a few minutes ago; she had no idea the Alpha Cat liked cranberries. Full of surprises, he is yet.)

Moreover, he appears to be drinking to excess, and then only fresh-flowing water, with the result that the toilet seat is usually damp, and stray water glasses have to be watched. His grooming habits have declined, ergo the dreds; and in recent days his signature contented rumble is signally absent. Last night and this morning, he regurgitated a bit of spit and phlegm, innocent of hairball or half-digested nourishment. Most distressing of all, the Gentleman Friend reports that the Alpha has ceased biting him on the nose.

Pretty Lady's quandary is thus: She knows the Alpha Cat's days are numbered. She wishes to insure that these remaining days pass in peace, dignity and relative comfort; she wishes to obtain expert opinion on these matters.

However, she has just hung up on two separate veterinarian's offices, because due to a long history with these alleged medicos, she is Deeply Distrustful of their practices. Vets, in Pretty Lady's experience, have developed a strong tendency to insist on a pricey office visit, grab one's beloved companion, stick him full of needles and probes, send off for expensive tests without asking permission, recommend surgeries, hospitalizations, radiation and treatment with expensive and bad-tasting drugs, run up Pretty Lady's credit card bill into the stratosphere, and totally fail to assist her cat in any way.

Pretty Lady is well aware that the Alpha Cat could very well be manifesting symptoms of renal failure, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, thyroid trouble, digestive problems, arthritis, sinus trouble, and cataracts. If diagnosis and treatment of these conditions involves 1) torturing the Alpha Cat and 2) spending large sums of money which she does not have, she would rather not.

She would, however, like to perform any simple commonsense activity which the Alpha Cat, if he could make his preference known, would approve, aside from singing his favorite song and scratching his chin.

Are there any cat psychics in the audience?


Desert Cat said...

Oh Lord, you're comin' to that Awful Bridge.

(Does his urine output seem normal? Excess or much diminished? Have you observed him attempting to go, but failing to produce any? If not, that excess thirst sounds like diabetes? If so, maybe a UTI and/or impending kidney failure?

Has he seemed uncharacteristically agitated, perhaps with excessively rapid respiration? If so, then I'd suspect his thyroid may be causing his weight loss.

If it is a simple infection causing his distress, it would be a terrible thing not to treat it, since it is relatively easy. If it is something more complicated like diabetes, or a thyroid gone wack, the costs can rocket.)

In retrospect, I am glad my cat Moonbeam died at home in my arms the weekend before her expensive radiation therapy was scheduled. Better that than to die alone in some sterile cage away from the familiarity of home.

If I could do it over again, I would *not* have tried to force-feed her a high-calorie dietary supplement. At that late hour it did no good and caused her unwarranted agitation. I *would* have continued to administer liquids as I did, as a comfort measure, put saline solution in her eyes as I did near the end when her corneas were drying out. And I do not at all regret being there at the moment she left me, despite the couple moments of distress it caused me while her body went through it's final wracking moments.

Because the angels came and carried her up, almost before her body was still. And I believed that I got a glimpse of where she went.

In fields of tall grass full of mice surrounded by cool green woods, she hunts and waits for my return.

I don't know. I can't see all that well. Comfort, security, your presence, giving him whatever little things he can still enjoy. Cranberries if that's his new thing. I'd hate to leave an untreated infection if that is all it is.

On the flip-side of my Moonbeam story is that she had a thyroid operation about two years before she died. Those extra two years were precious to me, and I wouldn't have traded them for the sum it cost me to give her and me that time.

Anonymous said...

Hi PL, a difficult time indeed. But I think the way you and Alpha Cat have been together will continue in a disabled comfort sort of way.
A very soft bedding, preferably polarfleece on top, whether fabric or an old set of sweats.
good luck.
One of our cats , Rosie just passed away. Quietly, old, and at home. How sad, yet how nice.
with love

Pretty Lady said...

Thanks, guys, that's helpful. DC, his urine is normal--I know because he's developed a habit of missing the box. ;-) He's getting a whole lot of petting and lap-sitting, sleeps on my favorite sweater, and has not yet lost his interest in looking out the window, sticking his nose into everything and snuggling with the Brat.

So we are holding.

Anonymous said...

Hello Pretty Lady-

A reader here from California for a while, who found you through screenplay writer L and her belly-dancing husband P....

My Boots lived to be 21. We decided to put her down rather than just let her continue on when her quality of life, and ours, dropped tremendously. She was quite healthy, spry, glossy-of-coat until the last 9 months or so. Once our adaptations were about making her comfortable and none of us seemed happy about it, and the purring stopped, and we found we could no longer comfort each other, it was time to let go, so she could go with dignity, and we could remember her lovingly to the end. Our vets were very supportive of our decision.

My treasure is that we took her for professional photos a month before she left us. I have my favorite on my desk.

I wish you strength in this time, and I thank you for the moment to remember.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't do it to a loved human companion. I wouldn't want the last drops of the essence of my own life prematurely cut off. And I couldn't do it to a beloved cat.

Maybe it's just me. Life is about joy and pain and suffering and ecstasy. It is too precious to me, even down to the last ragged breath.

I've always thought euthanasia was not about ending the suffering of the one dying as much as for the ones who remain.

Death will come soon enough to each one of us. I see no reason to hasten it's arrival.

Pretty Lady said...

He's doing better today! He polished off a hefty amount of steak out of my burrito yesterday evening. I may have to start buying steak instead of cat food.

Desert Cat said...

Fantastic! Finicky or what, at least he's got an interest in food. And if diabetes is part of his problem, I can't argue with his choice of food. Most commercial cat food has too much carbohydrate filler anyway.

I've never looked into it, but there are people who mix their own pet food from scratch. There's probably some merit to it, especially with an older pet with particular requirements.

Carla said...

PL, I'm glad Alpha Cat is better.

All I can offer is that you accept the daily ups and downs, do what you can regarding food and comfort, and try not to worry beyond that. This can be a wonderful time of special care-giving interaction.

I've gone through the sub-cutaneous fluids treatments. I would not do this again for old-age kidney failure.

re euthanasia, After you've cared for him until there is no quality of life left, it can be a kindly act. It will depend on how and when things happen, and you'll know what's best.

He may go on like this for some time, with diminished capacities, yet still quite able to appreciate your pampering.

Carla said...

Oh I should introduce myself, but this issue is a recent one for me, so I jumped on in.

k said...

How similar Alpha Cat's conditions are to my Babycat's in his 19th year! And really quite unlike my April's conditions in her 22nd year.

I'm with your whole list of probably maladies, there. Especially general renal failure.

In fact, I'm going to republish an old post about his Outside Box habits of the time: http://ksquest.blogspot.com/2007/11/repost-for-pretty-lady-and-alpha-cat.html

Our blessedly superb cats-only vet told me that most cats' kidneys fail significantly at around age 15. How long they continue after that is a matter of chance, of other health issues, of the happiness of their home.

If I remember right, it went something like this: For cats, drinking lots of water is a strong symptom of renal issues; he seemed to think it even more indicative of kidney than of thyroid disease or diabetes. When he ran Babycat's bloodwork for the excessive drinking, kidney failure alone showed up.

Cranberries: We humans drink cranberry juice for bladder problems; perhaps Alpha Cat sensed some urinary tract benefit?

Toward the end, Babycat also drank mass quantities of water, and missed the box a lot. April was on subcutaneous fluids for 2 years. She didn't mind it at all, and it made her noticeably healthier and happier.

However, we tried that with Babycat a couple times at the very end, and he did not take to it. At all. Perhaps the overall benefit rests with the individual cat.

If it is a UTI, it's one of those times standard Western antibiotics can help a lot. I have some Baytril still, left over from Babycat's last days. He did develop an infection toward the end, with very bloody urine, and the antibiotics made him feel noticeably better.

Both April (who lived 22 years) and her son Babycat (lived 19 1/2) lost significant weight toward the end. Apparently that's typical in very old cats: they sort of fade away. To add to his bone and joint discomfort, poor Babycat had arthritis too.

At around 15 years he could no longer be my Doctor Cat. He'd performed that role since late babyhood. As I lay in bed, he'd stretch out on my belly - belly to belly, face to face - with one paw on each side of my head or face, and purr as loud and hard and long as he could. He had an incredibly astute sense for detecting when I was sick or depressed. He even doctored Walter one memorable day, when Walter was quite ill.

(The vet, BTW, was of the opinion that this was not a Doctor Cat, but a Nurse Cat. Vet said that if Baby were a Doctor Cat he wouldn't give a shit how anyone felt.)

Babycat took his doctoring duties very seriously. One day he just could not physically take this position any more; his bones and joints couldn't bear it. I took all the time he needed to make him understand it really was okay, I understood, I knew he loved me, and he'd done a great job. It was simply time for him to retire from Doctor Cat work.

Whereupon, since April was getting quite feeble at the time herself, I set up a heating pad on my bed for them. At the time, April needed it much more than Baby, so they almost always shared it nicely. After April passed away, Babycat availed himself of it almost full-time.

From the very beginning, I left it on 24/7. The vet scolded me horrendously for that: I was risking a fire that would burn down the house and kill the cats and me too. But it never happened that way, and they both got great comfort from that heating pad.

I'm all for danonymous's suggestion, as well. With no fat left to cushion them, and old bones and joints, the supersoft bedding seems to make their lives much less painful. Perhaps another layer of cushiony stuff under the Favorite Sweater?

You will know if, or when, there comes a time Alpha Cat is not really fully alive any more. Should that time come, you'll know then what to do.

What you're doing now - just living with him and loving him - is exactly what he loves the most. You, his Only Perfectly Beloved Human, are giving him all he wants and needs to be happy: yourself.

Chris Rywalt said...

I'm adding this note because Pretty Lady is all about balance and I feel this thread has become dangerously unbalanced.

Good Christ, we're talking about cats.

k said...

Ah, but are we, Chris?

Looks to me like we're talking about love.

And that's something that carries great weight in discussions of what matters in life.

Chris Rywalt said...

We're talking about loving cats. I cannot stress this enough.

k said...

What's wrong with loving cats?

Sometimes the love an animal gives us is deeper, stronger, and more disinterested than the love we get from our fellow human beings.

My cats loved me that way. At a crossroads point in my life, when I was both terribly ill, and had suddenly lost everything - when it would have been easy to die by simply giving up - it was the love of my cats that gave me what I needed to keep fighting for life.

My parents, siblings, friends all scattered far away did not give me that.

It wasn't that I didn't matter to those people. Of course I did. I just didn't matter to them the way I did to those cats.

So you see, my cats saved my life. Here's the story:


Chris Rywalt said...

I don't want to be mean or anything, k, so I'm not going to say I think you're insane. I will say I think you're delusional. But it's not just you. All cat people are delusional. Dog people, too.

Me, I'm a toad person. The nice thing about toads? You'll never mistake their Darwinian adaptations or the results of husbandry for genuine human emotion.

Desert Cat said...

By that same standard, what makes you think human love is anything more than a Darwinian adaptation?

Do you (you of all people) think the human mammal is so radically different from the rest of the mammals? You really think "love" (whatever it is) is wholly exclusive to Homo sapiens? Behaviorally we share far more with the rest of the mammals than we do with any other species.

Desert Cat said...

Sounds like speciesist bigotry to me.

Chris Rywalt said...

Human love is an adaptation. I'll accept that. But at least when one human communicates with another, they both have a pretty good (albeit certainly not exact) idea of what's going on with the other. But who knows what a member of another species is thinking or feeling? They're aliens. Imputing human emotions or motives to them is simply wrong, and is evidence of far more speciesist bigotry than realizing that they are forever beyond your understanding.

Those cats you believe love you wouldn't hesitate to attack and kill you if only they were big enough. And, actually, my mother was bitten by one of her cats a few weeks ago (she recently adopted a Maine coon cat) and ended up with an infection in her hand the doctors still can't seem to get rid of. She's going for an MRI soon.

Desert Cat said...

They are indeed aliens in that sense. However experts far more studied than you or I conclude that the relationship that develops between a cat an a human is one that, from the cat's perspective, is akin to that of kitten and mother cat. In their cognitive processes we fit in as a surrogate mother and they enjoy a perpetual kittenhood under our care. It is therefore possible to study the behavior of cats and kittens and come to reasonable conclusions about their motives and actions toward their humans.

And I maintain that they are not as different from humans as you would like to make them be. Mammals share a lot of common behaviors. In fact even physiologically cats are so similar to humans that they are often the lab animal of choice for many purposes, much as that distresses me.

Cats could (and should) be equally wary of us. On the one hand we seem so much like mama when we feed and groom and play with them. But we could turn on them at any time and do cruel things that they do not understand. A recently adopted cat is likely to have "issues" related to just such occurences. It is not unlike an orphan child with trust issues.

I'm quite aware of the tendency of humans to anthropomorphise and to treat pets of various species as surrogate children. This is in fact the role they play for many of us (which makes cats such an ideal fit, given their own expectations of us). But it is also possible to fall overboard at the other extreme as you seem to have done, believing they are nothing but a bundle of preprogrammed stimulus-response mechanisms with no similarity whatsoever to corresponding human mechanisms.

I interact with my cats with open eyes, neither blinded by overly zealous anthropomorphic desires nor blindered by an excessively zealous materialistic and mechanistic view of life. And I am always fascinated by what I see in their interactions with each other and with my wife and I. "Every cat is a unique character, with a personality that is all their own", is a comment I have made countless times. I don't come to my conclusions out of vain wishes. Accepting their alienness and growing to understand it more fully over time is one of the joys of being a cat person. And despite our alien natures, my conclusion is that a deep bond between cat and human is certainly within the realm of realistic possibility.

Not all cats and not all humans, because trust is a huge issue with cats. (It has to do with their natural state of being a tiny predator in a world of much bigger creatures.) Trust is gained slowly and lost quickly, and all too many humans are far from trustworthy to a cat. Unlike dogs, cats are not naturally pack animals, not naturally gregarious. After kittenhood they tend to be solitary. So the trust relationship based upon the kitten/surrogate mother pattern takes time and care.

This is where I shake my head in disgust at dog people who hate cats. They totally misunderstand the nature of the relationship and therefore conclude that cats are inferior. A cat treated like an inferior dog is simply going to conclude that this human is not trustworthy, and will keep his distance. Aloof, uninterested, stupid, are the pejoratives hurled.

And entirely unmerited in the correct context.

Pretty Lady said...

Thanks, Desert Cat. I can always trust you for some surpassingly eloquent words at times like this.

A housemate of mine in Mexico once remarked, 'It's obvious that your cats really trust you.' I hadn't ever thought about it before, but it was true; they trusted me. They knew that I'd always make sure they were cared-for and safe, even through apparently scary things like major moves to other countries, plane trips, car trips, bus trips, and stays in strange places with strange animals. They behaved calmly and adapted to all circumstances, as long as I was there.

Also, thank you for the link to Rachel's blog. Reading all those descriptions made me glad I didn't wait until he had been suffering 24-7 for weeks or months before taking him in. He was starting to vocalize consistently, refusing to eat, scarcely able to walk, and was obviously in distress at every moment; furthermore, we are slated to leave town next week. I knew that if I left him alone he would definitely suffer a lot, and also I didn't want the neighbors to have to cope with possible seizures, coma and death. That would really have freaked them out.

Chris Rywalt said...

I am reduced to incoherent sputtering. It's a cat!

Desert Cat said...

And you're a hairless ape!

Chris Rywalt said...

Not so hairless, actually.

Desert Cat said...

Relatively speaking.

Anonymous said...

chris, I feel you. They're just freakin' cats. But far sillier things have "saved" people from very real traumas, emotional and physical, and I'm not gonna tell anyone they're an asshat for clinging to whatever gives them hope or comfort. Personally, I think it's ridiculous to shell out that much money on an animal you'll see no return on, but then I was raised around breeding stock and farm animals. But I blow my money on what most would consider to be much more trivial shit, so . . .

Anonymous said...

The question is not whether cats are capable of love (yes, they are), but whether we, humans, are. It's not silly or delusional or insane to love others, and there is no such thing as loving too much. There is only loving weirdly, but live and let live is a good principle on those occasions.