Old Cat Friend, and Responsibilities Therein

I have no idea whether this is even a fair question to ask you, but I am currently struggling with my old cat. He is about 15 years old and has had some x-rays to confirm that his rather pronounced limp is due to arthritis in his hips and the back part of his spine. He can’t walk very far but he still purrs a lot and he was always one to sleep most of the time anyway and his appetite has not reduced. He can’t play or run around like his buddy who is 2/3s his age, but i suppose that his just aging. I am struggling to decide if I’m doing right by him and if I should wait until he basically just can’t move around anymore or if I should ease him out of this world before he gets to that point. I think I know what I would choose for myself but I struggle with laying my own issues on my cat. I just worry that he’s suffering since he can’t do much more than sleep and eat. Maybe that is just old age though!

I totally understand if this is not really the sort of advice you were thinking about dispensing.

Cheers!

p.s. I really enjoyed all your advice posts, including your rants and the lengthiness.

Oh boy. Sweet old animal friends nearing the ends of their lives: heavy stuff! But also, in a way it is kind of nice. Sometimes I look at my dog, and I think how lucky he is–and I am–that legally I am allowed to put him gently to sleep when his time of suffering draws nigh. I wish we were granted that same right for ourselves and our human loved ones, honestly. I think it honors the commitment you make to your pet, to not let it needlessly suffer for months and months. I think it shows love and an awareness of your responsibility to him.

That being said, from your letter, it doesn’t necessarily sound like you are at that point yet with your dude. I really think it’s great you are thinking about it and paying attention–this means that when the time does come (if it comes–there’s always the chance he dies in his sleep, in his bed, which would be so great, don’t we all wish the same for ourselves), you’ll be ready, because you will have already prepared and pondered, mentally. It won’t creep up on you. I hope we can all have this same experience with our own old ages, you know? Talking and thinking about it so it doesn’t creep up.

I am not a vet, but I have had relationships with many animal pets, and judging just by your letter I feel like your guy has some life and pleasure left to him yet. I think if a cat is still eating, he’s probably doing more or less okay. I think that especially if you know an animal well, you can tell when he’s just an ol’ gimpy grouch and when he’s crossed the line into truly gnarly suffering and decrepitude. I think you should relax, and trust that you’ll know when he crosses that line.

I housesat for someone a few years ago, and this involved caring for her morbidly ancient cat who had terrible failing kidneys and you had to inject her with saline solution every other day, which involved holding her violently squirming skeletal body between your knees and jabbing a needle into her shoulder. I personally felt that this had gone a bit too far, but I agreed to the arrangement, and even though it was emo, it was more-or-less okay for awhile. The cat still asked for pieces of cheese. The cat still wanted to snuggle. The cat still grouched around and switched her tail. I could tell that even though she was emo and old as shit and probably not super comfortable, she was still digging her life in some way. But then one day, the cat stopped eating. The cat stopped being able to get into the litterbox, and would sort of just lean against it and pee on the floor. It was awful. I could see in her face that it was not okay anymore. It was such a definitive moment of the cat crossing the line from still sort of okay into not okay at all. It was like, the moment I came home and saw her like that, I KNEW. And I dilly-dallied, because it wasn’t my cat and I felt weird making that call on my own, but I couldn’t get in touch with the cat’s owner, and so finally I couldn’t bear it any longer, the cat’s horrendously visible suffering, and I went to the emergency vet and they put her to sleep immediately. And honestly, my only regret was that I had waited six hours or whatever–my only regret was that I hadn’t done it IMMEDIATELY on coming home and finding her that way. That’s how bad she suddenly was. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind, in that moment, that her time had come.

This is just to say that I feel like you’ll know when the time is right. Right now, I wouldn’t worry too much. He sounds like he’s achey and old, but if he’s just sleeping all the time and still enjoying his breakfast and still enjoying pats, he’s probably still feeling okay about his life. And honestly, I think you’ll know when that’s no longer the case.

Any vets out there disagree with me? Any additional words of wisdom, things to watch out for, ways to conceptualize the kind of amazing responsibility of deciding when your friend should pass on?

If you have to leave him with a stranger for 6 months, though, while you live in another country (or the equivalent situation), I do think it is 100% acceptable, loving, and responsible to ease him gently out of this world NOW, rather than making his final months stressful. You know? So you be the judge, on that kind of thing.

Bottom line, don’t feel bad about any decision you make. Just the fact that you’ve had this nice guy for so long, and are so worried about doing right by him, means, I think, that whatever decision you make is going to be loving and tender and perfectly acceptable.

In conclusion, I am so glad you’re taking your responsibilities seriously and worrying about your cat’s comfort and quality of life. You are a good cat owner! And for now, I think just enjoy him at this final phase of his life, and pet him and give him all his favorite things, and keep tabs on him, and be honest about whatever changes you notice. You can do it! We all have to die, and what a blessing that he doesn’t have to worry about his final days being horrendous and shameful, because you’re there to help him out at the end. I know cats don’t worry about this kind of thing, but still, he’s lucky to have you.

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One Response to Old Cat Friend, and Responsibilities Therein

  1. Ann Onymous says:

    Thank you for your letter, reader. My li’l kit-cat is of indeterminate age and this is often on my mind… Anyways, my only comment is that I have had the urn that she will some day live in for years. I keep it next to her food bowl, he he.

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