I Confront the Reality of My Senior Cat’s (Failing) Health


I’ve cried so much this week, I’ve run out of tears. I don’t know if you’ve gotten to the point where your face is crying, but your eyes have no more tears to surrender — it’s a desperate place.

My cat Brandy started having seizures on a recent weekend. At 15, she has a host of other chronic issues (renal failure, hyperthyroidism, heart issues) that require my husband and me to be very vigilant about her health. I pay better attention to her diet and medications than I do my own. Yet this blindsided me.

During less stressful times: Brandy gives me some serious side eye when I introduce her to our new "friend".
During less stressful times: Brandy gives me some serious side eye when I introduce her to our new “friend”.

Brandy’s health is always somewhat precarious, but lately our vet and I had thought she was on an upswing. Her appetite had improved, she was obediently taking her meds, her formerly insatiable thirst was abating. Unbeknownst to me, trouble was brewing.

On Saturday night, Brandy started acting strange. Normally one to curl up on her blanket or bed when I settle in to “Netflix and chill,” she couldn’t get comfortable. As the night wore on, she started pacing around my bed, meowing for seemingly no reason. After a bit, I realized her meows had escalated from “Pay attention to me!” to “I’m not OK!”

As I tried to comfort my girl, her agitation continued to worsen. She’d lie down then hop up immediately to meow around the bed. Soon she started hissing at nothing. By now, I had reached the terrifying realization that something was very, very wrong.

Brandy usually appreciates scratches. Not that night.

Then it happened.

She started sort of licking her lips, licking at the air, and before I could fully react, her poor little kitty head jerked back, her lips curled up, and her body shook and shook. I’ve never felt so helpless.

Staying by her side I tried to let her hear my voice, feel my touch, comfort her, but as soon as she came out of it she shot around the house YOWLING in utter confusion. I immediately picked up my phone and called my vet. It was after hours, but my vet’s clinic is part of a 24-hour ER/vet hospital. I described what happened. The person on the line said the vet would call me as soon as possible. I thanked her, hung up, and fought the urge to throw up.

Brandy was darting around my house, her eyes wide and dilated, seemingly baffled by her surroundings. I followed her around, talking to her softly, trying to reassure her, but it seemed she couldn’t quite recognize me. Though her initial episode lasted less than 30 seconds, her confusion lasted 10 or 15 minutes.

When she calmed down and returned to my bed, I hoped the worst was over. “Please let this be a freak, isolated incident. Please let her be okay, please let her be okay, please, please, please.” I prayed to any deity anywhere that might listen.

A "Brandy selfie" —I'd do anything for this face.
A “Brandy selfie” —I’d do anything for this face.

I thought my prayers might have been answered when she fell asleep, but only a few minutes later, she shot up and again hissed at nothing.

No. Please. No, no, no. 

It happened again. She spastically licked at the air, her head jerked back, her lips curled up, and shaking rattled her body. When she came out of it she let out a bloodcurdling cry and proceeded to run around the apartment again. As I followed her around, fighting tears, trying to appear calm for Brandy, the phone rang.

It was the vet — one of Brandy’s regulars. (She is well known at the vet clinic.) I tried to keep it together, explaining what had been happening, but I’m sure she could hear the strained subtext beneath my words that communicated “Help us, help us, help us.”

I will forever be grateful for her kindness and understanding. In situations like these, I don’t know why so many of us feel the need to give a knee-jerk apology for overflowing emotions, but as I apologized to our vet for being so scared, she gently replied, “She’s your baby. It’s okay. We’re going to help her.”

I packed Brandy up in her carrier and took a taxi to the vet hospital. Multiple tests were administered, she was checked from tip to tail, and her meds were adjusted. It was confirmed that seizures were most likely the culprit.

Brandy came back home with me that night with instructions to carefully monitor her, and to immediately bring her back in if another seizure occurred.

Again, I prayed to whoever was listening to make this a one-time thing.

My prayers were not answered. We were back at the hospital the following day, Brandy having had multiple seizures during the time it took to get from my home to the hospital.

She stayed there for two days.

During that time I wallowed in a kind of guilt-tinged sadness that choked every moment. Had I caused this? Had I not been careful enough? Should I have seen this coming? Was she scared? Did she hate me? Did she think we’d abandoned her? Would she ever trust me again? Was I wrong to bring her around the world with me? Have I been fair to her?

On and on the accusations went, until she came home and I had to quiet the worries so I could focus on her care.

Brandy gives me instructions.

She is doing okay. Our vet warned that Brandy’s health is shaky, and that any unusual developments in her behavior should be noted, taken seriously, and reported to him. With the help of altered meds, her seizures have not returned. While she is a little wobbly and tired, she is nearly back to her cranky kitty self.

I’ve committed myself to savoring every moment I have, of sniffing the top of her head, giving her butt scratches (her favorite), and seeing her smile at me from her spot on the couch.

I love this. The perfect view from my desk.

Though I intend to fight for every last moment of a happy, comfortable life for Brandy, the reality that her life could very well be reaching its conclusion is sobering. I know I may have weeks, maybe months, maybe longer, but I have to prepare myself for what may come. My only hope is that my girl will never really know pain.

I’m relishing my time with her. As I am a naturally “glass half empty” kind of person, being positive and bright takes a concerted effort, but it’s worth it. As soon as we got her back, my husband and I agreed that we couldn’t let Brandy get any whiff of worry or fear from us. That’s not easy, but I believe cats take their cue from us, and if Brandy thinks we’re “preparing for the worst,” then she might too. So, quite simply, we’ve chosen to focus on joy.

I don’t think I’ve ever quite understood “living in the moment” until now. My husband, Brandy, and I are living life to the fullest in these moments.

Happiness is Brandy snoozing in her bed.

At this time we have the most perfect kitty ever, and life is wonderful. She makes us laugh, she swats at us when we misbehave, and nothing is more lovely than the sound of her happily eating her dinner — then mewing for more! Peacefully curled up in her heated bed, blinking at me and offering the occasional “Mrrrrr,” she doesn’t know she’s sick. She just knows that she is in her home, with her people, and life is warm and safe.

Even as tears roll down my cheeks as I write this post, I’ve never known a time quite so precious.

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