Confession: I Once Thought Owning a Cat Was a Casual Affair


I didn’t think much about commitment and cats when I adopted my first cat. I figured cats were relatively self-sufficient. I figured that I could take off for a few days, or at least a weekend, and the cat would be okay. Just add a little extra food, water, a clean litter box, and have someone drop by to make sure the cat didn’t get into harm’s way, like getting tangled up in a curtain string or something.

Cats, I figured, didn’t require the same level of commitment as dogs, who need to be taken out to do their business a couple times a day, every day, regardless of subzero temperatures or horrendous downpours.

That footloose and carefree attitude came to a screeching halt when one of my cats was diagnosed with a long-term illness, requiring pills twice a day for the rest of his feline life. It is my responsibility, obligation, and duty to make sure kitty comes first and is taken care of, over and above anything else. That’s what I signed on for when I took on the responsibility of adopting all my five cats and sharing my home and heart with them.

My fourth cat is Little Yellow. When he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — the most common heart disease in cats, in which a portion of the left ventricle enlarges and gets abnormally thick — it was a rude awakening. This wasn’t child’s play. This was serious business. The medication reduces his heart rate, and aspirin prevents him from throwing a clot, which could be deadly or at most debilitating. The prednisone makes him feel better.

No more leaving for a night or a weekend without a backup for the pill regimen.

Even with this regimen of pills, he continued to cough. I wondered, “Is he getting worse? Is it hairballs or a byproduct of the disease?”

Three months later, Friday the 13th, I rushed Little Yellow to the vet, thinking this was the end. He was lying on the floor, hardly able to walk. Was this congestive heart failure, a common outcome with HCM?

Turns out it was far from his last visit. Surprising to the vets (and even more so to me), there was no congestive heart failure. Little Yellow had respiratory problems and began a regimen to be treated for asthma. Poor kitty was having an asthma attack, and for anyone who has seen one in a human or a cat, it’s really scary.

At this point, I have to write the pill regimen on the calendar to keep it all straight, because it’s impossible to keep track of it without a written schedule.

When I adopted each of my five cats (as well as the three others who passed over the Rainbow Bridge some years ago), I made a commitment to take care of each one of them, through thick and thin, better or worse, sickness and in health. Sound familiar? Only we can’t walk away from those vows — that commitment — and be a responsible pet parent. Divorce is not an option. Giving them away is not an alternative. We need to stick by them and alter our lifestyle to meet their needs.

Commitment to my cats boils down to a promise and obligation to give Little Yellow his pills twice a day to help maintain his quality of life, as best I can.

Until now, I’ve never had a cat who required pills twice a day, long term, and continue to live a happy, somewhat healthy life. My Tubby died from FIP, but that was quick and only lasted about six weeks. This is different. HCM isn’t going to kill Little Yellow in a day, or month, or even a year. The life of this handsome long-haired silver coon is contingent upon my commitment.

I live on my own — no housemates, no significant other, and no kids — so it is up to me to make sure Little Yellow gets his pills, no matter what. If that means driving through an ice storm when work offers a hotel stay because the weather conditions are dangerous, I drive home to make sure kitty gets what he needs. This past winter, it’s been some tricky driving, some nights going as slow as 15 m.p.h. on glare ice to drive some 30 miles home after midnight. Or driving through mostly unplowed roads because the plow crews were running out of money, or maybe they just broke down.

The bottom line is that if this cat person is going to attend a conference or go on vacation, I must find a cat sitter who is capable of administering meds. And in rural New England, or should we say, Outta Oshkosh, cat sitters do not exist.

Mind you, Little Yellow is no terror when it comes to his pills. He’s actually pretty good about it. I often find myself thinking, thank goodness this isn’t my Pink Collar, because I’d need body armor. There would be no escaping wrapping her up like a burrito in a towel, and then she’d hiss and snarl at my audacity of putting something she did not want in her mouth. How dare anyone think she’d swallow something that did not fit in with her exquisite palate? Two years later, the vet’s office still remembers the scars they got from her.

That’s not to say I haven’t gotten my share of nicks and a few puncture wounds from Little Yellow. I need to remember he is scared. I’ve found peroxide, some Neosporin and Band-Aids work quite well. They are now must-items to have in the house. But that’s mostly when the little fella senses his mummy is in a hurry or stressed out about something, like the shed collapsing.

He usually is very trustful of my picking him up, giving him kisses, curling him up like a baby, opening his mouth, and putting in the meds as fast as I can. If it means not going to a play, concert or other event, I stay home, so my kitty can stay as well as he can.

In addition to the time commitment, there’s a financial obligation — two to three vet visits a year, medicine, and the ongoing challenge of keeping him comfortable. Stress is now becoming an issue — that’s one more medication every morning after he eats.

I didn’t sign up for this level of commitment, but it’s one of those things we just have to do, because, well, how can we do anything but make sure our kitties have the best we can give them? And if that means commitment with a capital C, then that’s what we have to do.

Are you as committed to your cat as I am? Tell us your story in the comments.

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About the author: BJ Bangs is a cat person through and through. Age-defying wisdom has brought her to appreciate the human likeness of cats, and she loves her five felines as if they are all her soulmates ÔÇô but, of course, they are. When she isn’t writing about cats, she writes about other stuff. Follow her on Facebook at Cats Paws for Reflection and on Instagram, Google+, and Twitter.

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