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I'm Sick of Having Cats Who Die Young from Serious Illness

Agnes had to be fine because I needed her to be fine, and if she wasn't fine I'd fall apart even more and that didn't seem possible.

 |  Feb 28th 2014  |   38 Contributions


At the end of 2011 I adopted a kitten, Effie, and in the middle of 2012, after five months with her, most of it spent attempting to nurse her back to health, I lost her. She had a fatal disease, it was no one's fault, I did everything I could -- these are the things I try to tell myself now, when I think about her while I'm trying to fall asleep, or when I'm in the shower, or when I hold the tin that holds her ashes. I think I expected the grief to fade more than it has, or maybe I just expected not to have to experience that grief in the first place. But it still feels raw.  

With my sweet Effie.

After Effie died, I still had Agnes. Agnes is four now and I can't imagine life without her. I make a lot of jokes about being a crazy cat lady, but let's be sincere for a moment. My love for Agnes is fierce. It makes me so happy when she runs to the door to greet me when I come home. When she's been sick, I've panicked the entire time. Once she ate lily pollen and once she developed a mysterious infection and had the beginning stages of fatty liver disease.

And she had a heart murmur. The heart murmur, I was told in the beginning, might not be a big deal. But shortly after Effie died, when I brought Agnes in for her annual checkup, my vet recommended an echocardiogram, or ultrasound of her heart, to make sure her everything was OK.

My love for Agnes is fierce.

It was going to be expensive, but I figured it would be worth it for peace of mind, to find out that her heart was just fine. I adopted another cat before I took Agnes to the cardiologist, telling myself that surely Agnes was going to be OK, it was just a thing I had to do. She had to be fine because I needed her to be fine. If she wasn't fine I would fall apart into even more pieces and that didn't seem possible.

So we went to the cardiologist and they took Agnes into the back and told me to wait for an hour and I drank bad coffee and read bad magazines and thought, she's going to be fine, she's going to be fine. But when I was called into a room I was told she wasn't fine, she had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. But lots of cats can still have long lives, just not the cats who die suddenly, or have horrifically painful blood clots in their back legs, or whose hearts fail when they're still young. But she couldn't be one of those cats because I couldn't handle that. 

Me and Agnes. Illustration by Nigel Sussman

I took her home, and I thought about her heart disease sometimes, but mostly for the next year she seemed good. But a month ago Agnes woke me up at 6 a.m. with loud whining. I tried to ignore it at first, assuming my other cat was annoying her. As I became more alert, I felt like something was really wrong. I turned on the lights and saw that Agnes was struggling to walk. She was dragging her back leg. It was a blood clot. I knew it could happen, and I knew from the reading I'd done that it would probably kill her. We went to the emergency vet.

Agnes, recovering after her first blood clot.

Agnes recovered completely from her blood clot, which is amazing because a lot of cats don't. But when she got another echocardiogram, I learned that her heart disease had progressed significantly. We put her on three different medications that were supposed to help, but her cardiologist said the best-case scenario was likely that she would be alive for six months to a year. Her heart was on the edge of failure. 

And then two weeks and one day later, she got another clot. The medications weren't doing enough. I was told there was one more option that could potentially help prevent future clots -- low molecular weight heparin twice a day -- but it was very expensive and I would have to inject it. The doctor told me that if I chose not to do that it “wouldn't be wrong” to let her go that day, because the clots were just going to keep coming. I hated the idea of putting Agnes through twice daily shots. But she also didn't seem like she was in pain at the moment, thanks to powerful pain medication. So I brought her home, with a pamphlet for an at-home euthanasia service in my hand.

Agnes and I, enjoying every moment together.

And then Agnes recovered from that clot, even more quickly than the previous one. She came running for treats and chirped at the birds outside. Euthanasia didn't seem right. She wanted to live. But if she got another blood clot when I wasn't home, she would be in excruciating pain. Her legs could become entirely paralyzed. What if I went to work and she spent the whole day like that? Would I still feel like I made the right decision? I decided to try the low-molecular-weight heparin, despite my fear of needles.

She's actually doing really well now, though I know it's all borrowed time. The injections might postpone a clot, but she'll get another one. I am trying to prepare myself for her decline. The pamphlet for at-home euthanasia is on the fridge. I spend as much time with her as I can. I wonder if there are things I should be doing differently. I wonder how it's possible that this can be happening. I wonder if I will ever adopt a cat again. 

I spend as much time with Agnes as I can, even while she's sleeping.

I have a lot of friends who love cats, and a lot of friends who have lost cats, or have elderly cats who they might lose. I want to empathize with all of them. I want to feel so horrible that a friend's 16-year old cat has cancer. I want to understand her grief. I want to have empathy for people with 19-year old cats with diabetes, 17-year old cats with kidney failure. I want to feel sad. I'm sure it is sad, to go through that. But when your 17-year old cat dies, people say she had a good life. And it's true. And what did you expect when you adopted a cat, that she would outlive you? I want to feel empathy, but I don't. I feel resentment. I feel envy. I want to have a senior cat die of cancer or kidney failure or anything. I want to have a senior cat.

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