For the first time, I’m faced with making an end of life decision for one of my cats. Though I knew this time would eventually come, I always felt it was far off in the future and I didn’t need to think about it. But suddenly that time has come with my cat Pumpkin and I’m forced to examine what the best, kindest, and most loving path is for my terminally sick but beautiful 18-year-old cat Pumpkin—to let her die a natural death at home with pain-killers or euthanize her.
Some backstory: About two years ago, my once sprightly, independent “Princess Pumpeedo” (my friend’s nickname for her) started showing signs of slowing down. She was my first rescue cat in 1998. She had been living outside of my apartment in the parking lot for almost a year, living under parked cars where she hid from the constant rain and weather. I fell in love with her the day I set eyes on her. She was sunning herself on the paved path to the road, and she let me approach and pet her. She was stunningly beautiful with a shimmering smoke grey coat, white chest, and green eyes that sparkled with life. She was so sweet, loving, and trusting, and she had a deep wisdom about her. At the time, I thought she must have belonged to someone, but it became apparent over the months that she had been abandoned and was homeless.
Following my mother’s death in March, I decided to bring her inside my apartment and adopt her. I could no longer stand to see her suffer outside in the elements, thin from trying to find enough food to eat. That was 16 years ago, and during those 16 years together we have shared much of life — moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, finding the job of a lifetime, getting married, buying a house, remodeling, going to graduate school, and spending 10 years in cat rescue. One by one, she has had to grapple with each rescue cat that has come into our home to be fostered, been put up for adoption, not been adopted, and has come to live with us. This was much to Pumpkin’s dismay and it has been her greatest challenge.
But 16 years later brings us to today. Pumpkin is now a beautiful old lady. She loves being outside in our protected yard, loves sunning herself, and loves life. She’s been incredibly healthy until only a year ago when suddenly one day her left eye was protruding out of her eye socket, symptomatic of a deeper, related problem. The problem arose in a matter of hours and fortunately I was home, so I raced her off to the vet. We discovered that she had stomatitis as well as an infection and ulcer in her mouth that was putting pressure on her eye and causing her eye to increase in size and protrude. So she immediately went into surgery that afternoon, was given a round of antibiotics, which later was followed up with a dental cleaning and removal of several of her teeth. The long-term treatment of choice was steroids (Prednisilone) to keep the inflammation down in her mouth caused by the stomatitis. Due to her age, removal of all her teeth and roots was not recommended. Up to this point, she really had no medical problems. That was a year ago.
In the past year, Pumpkin has showed more signs of aging and has significantly slowed down. She has arthritis in her legs, has increasing dental problems, shows high levels of protein and calcium in her blood tests (very possibly cancer), and has lost weight. But she’s still loving life – lying in our gardens, feeling the sun on her coat, loves her daily affection from us, and tolerates the other rescue cats around her, even if grumpily.
This morning, she lay quietly beside me—peaceful, comfortable, softly stretched out on my bed. Her breathing is shallow, her purr barely audible, she stares out at me and into space. She has lost significant weight in the past two weeks and has stopped eating and lost her appetite. Her body looks so different than it did only months ago, that I’m caught off guard by the sudden change. Though her eyes still sparkle, and she still enjoys the simple pleasures of being petting, massaged, and feeling the outside air—the end somehow seems closer. She will not eat and has no appetite. We are giving her sub-Q fluids now every day to keep her hydrated. She is throwing up daily likely due to nausea. She had two senior blood panels and X-rays done, one two weeks ago and the other 6 months ago, and cancer is suspected. Possibly lymphoma in the intestines or cancer of the liver is thought to be most likely, but our vet can’t see anything specific on the test results. There are no obvious tumors or growths visible. We have tried everything for her, the vet does not know what else can be done, but to let her go. And Pumpkin seems to be letting go herself.
So we took her to our vet two days ago and they said there’s nothing more that they can do for her. Our vet said the kindest thing is to euthanize her now—to take her out of pain and suffering. She gave her a powerful injectable steroid that was to last for 2-3 days, that will be wearing off today. She didn’t respond to the steroid, she’s still not eating and drinking water. So now, the question for us is whether to take her to our vet to be sedated and euthanized and stop her suffering; or to let her die a natural death–and let her die in peace and dignity with us at home with sedatives and pain killers.
To try to help make my decision, I have been reading books about letting animals die naturally, supported by hospice care. But I somehow don’t feel prepared for this, I’ve never been through it and I can’t imagine watching my cat dying slowly before my eyes and possibly watching her suffer or feel pain in that process. I don’t know what’s ahead, I don’t know if she will suffer, I don’t know if I will be able to cope, or if I will break down.
So today she has an appointment at 5 pm to be euthanized. I must make the decision and I may postpone this decision as long as I can and take her dying one day at a time, at home. It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow and my vet will be closed. Although I have an appointment today to bring her in, I just can’t do it. She’s still showing signs of enjoying us and seems to be feeling some pleasure in living.
So I will postpone the decision until the Friday after Thanksgiving day, and hope to get through the day with her. This is such a big decision for me, and I want to make the right one for her — for her but also one we can live with. Pumpkin deserves no less. I have always given Pumpkin my very best in caring for her, and I don’t want to fail her in the end. It’s too important, too significant not to do the right thing. So now it’s one day at a time. The answers, I trust, will come to us. The right and best path will show itself.
Please say your prayers for my Pumpkin.