Ash is my oldest kitty-baby, at 10 1/2 years old. He came to live with us in early November, 2009, when he was only four months old. He and Christabel, who was 2 1/2 years old, came home together and were named for the poets in AS Byatt’s Possession. Christabel had lymphoma and sadly passed away six months after we adopted her. For the next five years, Ash was our only cat, and he preferred it that way. He was none too happy when Gavroche joined our family, heh, and the only kitty friend he seems to really like is Nimi. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon, but he loves people and he’s the gentlest cat I’ve ever known.
Unfortunately, he’s also a bit prone to illness. He has had frequent stomach issues since he was three years old, and several times he’s lost weight rapidly due to this. About a week after we moved into this new house, he again began to lose weight. He wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink, and he was hobbling around the house. Most of the time he was very lethargic. At first we thought it was the stress of moving – this has happened before, and after a lot of extra feedings, he gets better – but this time, he wasn’t improving. We brought him in to the vet on the 2nd. By that point, he’d lost about 1.5 lbs.
I wasn’t prepared to hear some of the things our vet said. Ash was severely jaundiced (gums, skin, ears, etc) and she was worried that he was in complete liver failure. She wanted to get bloodwork done on him, and get him straight onto an IV because he was so dehydrated. I said goodbye and let him go, hoping to get good news later that day. Which was a partially fulfilled wish. Ash’s bloodwork came back with elevated liver enzymes, but not nearly to the level our vet was expecting and not high enough to cause the issues he was having. Nothing else appeared weird with his bloodwork, so we had no idea what might be causing the problem.
After two days of IV and eating only at night when the vet’s office was closed, Ash was sent home with us. He had a lot more energy, though he still wouldn’t eat or drink and that energy faded quickly as the IV wore off. We quarantined him to the master bedroom so that he wouldn’t have to compete for food/water. The goal was to see how he did over the weekend to determine if he could stay with us until the vet’s office could schedule an ultrasound (mid-week), or if he needed to get back onto the IV. Poor baby. Sadly, he didn’t eat or drink a thing over the weekend, and we brought him back to the vet on Monday morning.
This is where things got really tough. The vet scheduled an ultrasound at a specialty clinic so that we could get in early. The ultrasound revealed nodes in his intestines that possibly indicate lymphoma, and abnormalities on his liver that could be cancer, liver disease, or (somehow?) renal disease. Three years ago, Ash was diagnosed with having a slightly shrunken kidney and was put on a special low-phosphorus diet. He improved greatly, but this is probably just a continuation of the same condition – dehydration, failing kidneys and liver. The specialty clinic wanted to do some biopsies, and I admit, I just broke down. I couldn’t bear to put Ash through all that if in the end he would just be scared and miserable and in pain. We brought him home – his platelet count was too low for surgery anyway – and contacted our regular vet for next steps. I couldn’t stop sobbing while we waited.
The vet’s news was less dire. She recommended skipping the biopsies. There was no point of doing them as the treatment for all of those conditions would be the same: IV fluids, antibiotics (for the fever Ash had now developed), and steroid treatment to decrease inflammation and help him to feel more energized and able to eat. It’s not a cure, but it might help him to feel better for possibly up to a few years with a regular steroid maintenance dose. And miraculously, after Ash got home from the ultrasound, he actually began to eat a little again. Not much, but far more than he had been over the weekend. He drank some water as well, just a tiny bit. It was enough that instead of an IV, the vet just gave him some subcutaneous fluids during Tuesday’s treatment. Ash came home that afternoon, and we’ve been nursing him along (and force-feeding him steroid pills) ever since.
It’s very hard to know when it’s time to stop trying and let a kitty-baby go. Ash was the first pet I’d had since I left home for college. I hadn’t wanted any animals. There had been some trauma with pets when I was young, and I think part of my reaction (tied to the other PTSD stuff I was going through) was to shut out animals altogether. I had no connection to them. Jason wanted a cat, and I agreed to adopt Ash and Christabel for him. I never expected that Ash would be the creature that taught me how to open my heart again and love without protecting myself from the inevitable hurt. He’s my baby, the kitty who deemed me the alpha, who wouldn’t eat when he was young until I sat down to eat first, who claims my office chair is his own and periodically challenges me for alpha position. He’s my Ash, and no matter how many kitties I’ve loved afterwards, he holds a very special place in my heart. The thought of being without him, especially after such a short time (only ten years!), is heartbreaking.
But I’m also not going to force him to suffer. I’m not going to terrify him and make him feel unsafe at home. I’m not going to put him through needless surgeries and painful procedures, not if it’s time. I won’t syringe-feed him food just to keep him alive. I know where I draw my line. Hopefully, I won’t have to meet that line any time soon – Ash actually ate almost an entire can of food last night, for the first time in weeks!! – but the entire family is preparing ourselves, just in case, and spending every last minute we can with our baby.