When is it time?
June 7, 2016 6:44 AM   Subscribe

My middle aged cat has been grappling with some ill-defined health problems for the last month or so. She's been through the gauntlet of vet visits and pilling and has taken a turn for the worse. Next step is back to a weeks' hospitalization with a biopsy and feeding tube. In my heart I've already said goodbye to her. I don't know why I am feeling this and whether it's the right thing to do.

I spoke with the vet this morning who seemed fairly upbeat that the hospitalization, biopsy, etc. would be the best thing for her and from his tone seemed almost to suggest that the hospital environment would be less stressful for her than continuing to suffer at home and/or get carted back and forth to the vet. He said that if it's one condition then prognosis is generally good and we could get several more years with her. If it's these other conditions, prognosis is not good. We won't know without a biopsy.

She's not eating so we're force feeding her, which sucks, but I've done that with cats before. However, we have also been pilling her endlessly over the last month and it's misery for all involved, and we just added a few more pills to the regimen. She also seems to have aged by five years in the last two days. She is zombielike, peeing all over herself wherever she lays, she is not herself anymore.

Since she first fell ill, she's had a couple of overnight stays at the hospital and probably upwards of 10 visits to the vet's, some of them daylong affairs. She was rebounding until this weekend, when she got as sick as I've ever seen a cat get.

But am I writing off too soon what is just a temporary illness? Why do I have this certainty that it's time for her to go? Why am I not fighting this harder? She is my heart-cat. Until this past month I would have thought that I would do anything for her and the thought that I would be seriously considering putting her to sleep would be ludicrous.

I'm worried that if we have her euthanized I will regret it. The last several months have been rough for other reasons and she has also had a lot of other health problems throughout her life, and this last month of vet visits/pilling/uncertainty have been extremely exhausting for both me and her. I'm worried this is me just throwing in the towel because I'm worn down in general and not because it's really time for her to go.

Not sure of her age but think she's about 10-12.

How do you know when it's time to stop trying?
posted by whistle pig to Pets & Animals (30 answers total)
Wait for the biopsy. It will most likely tell you straight up whether she'll get better. That was when we knew it was time -- the vet said "We can do this intervention, and it will probably stop the decline, but not for long, and he won't get any better, ever."

The last gift you can give your pet is preventing a long, slow, confusing, painful decline that animals just are not evolutionarily or emotionally set up to process.
posted by Etrigan at 6:51 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry.

If I were in your shoes, I'd think the time is now. :(
posted by heathrowga at 6:52 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

- Is there any chance that any of the medication is causing some of her symptoms, as a side effect? I'm not suggesting it is, just one thing to consider when you think about her general state.

- Would it be worth it to get a second vet opinion? Maybe not, since it would mean yet more stress to take her to a new vet, but again, something to consider.

This is hard, I know. Sorry you're going through this.
posted by amtho at 7:02 AM on June 7, 2016

Oh man, I'm so sorry. I've been just where you are. I had an absolutely amazing five year old cat with uncontrolled epilepsy and we were pilling him four times a day and his symptoms were not abating and it is so, so hard to let go and stop trying to fix the unfixable.

If I were in your shoes I'd probably do the biopsy for peace of mind, assuming it's not wildly expensive or too physically invasive. Then you can feel confident your decision is a completely informed one. That peace of mind is important for the future. With my epileptic cat we knew when we reached the Last Ditch Effort Phase, and we also knew what the outcome of that phase would certainly be, but it was important for us to at least give it one last formal try.

Also, for what it's worth, I have heard a lot of vets say that for the most part their clients feel like they waited too long to have their pets euthanized, not that they did it too soon. It's okay to trust your gut here on what you feel is right for you and your cat.
posted by something something at 7:04 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry that you and your cat are going through this.

Why am I not fighting this harder? She is my heart-cat. Until this past month I would have thought that I would do anything for her and the thought that I would be seriously considering putting her to sleep would be ludicrous.

Because you love your cat, and she is suffering right now.

This sounds really difficult. Here are the things I would ask myself if I were in your shoes: If the prognosis is generally good, what will the treatment be like? Will I have to keep on pilling her multiple times a day? If so, are there any easier delivery methods (some cats do very well with sub-q injections, for instance)? Would it be easier if her appetite improves (using pill pockets or other food to hide the pills)?
posted by amarynth at 7:04 AM on June 7, 2016

Thanks for your thoughts. To answer a couple of questions: the peeing on herself is not a side effect of the meds; the vet said it was possibly because they'd given her subcutaneous fluids in her most recent hospitalization and she is now too weak to walk to the litterbox. (We've moved it to be close to her.)

The biopsy would answer things but I'm concerned about her quality of life if this is indeed the end of it. She would need to stay in the hospital possibly through the weekend. But these answers here are making me reconsider that maybe we should try it.

We can't get a second vet opinion because this is the state of the art vet hospital in the region and unfortunately there is nowhere else to go without driving across the state. Our original vet referred us here.

Thanks again.
posted by whistle pig at 7:17 AM on June 7, 2016

What does "prognosis is generally good" mean? Depending on what that means (1 shot a day vs a complex pill regimen and weekly vet visits), I'd either go for the biopsy or say goodbye. Your decision is okay, either way.
posted by jeather at 7:20 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh I am so sorry. It honestly sounds like her time has come. You seem like a caring cat parent. Her current situation and possible future sound really rough. I don't think a hospital stay, feeding tube and all those pills are worth a few years, but that is my opinion.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:25 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh man. This is sad, but when a cat is too weak to walk to the litterbox I tend to feel it is time. I wouldn't force further procedures on her.

I'm so sorry.
posted by zadcat at 7:52 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

If it's a vet school, ask the vet what they would do if it were their cat. Vet schools may be a little more inclined to treat things actively since they are there to teach and learn, but they also know what to expect and have thought about it in connection with their own love for animals.

One possible mitigating factor: if your cat feels really really awful, and wants to sleep all the time anyway, she may not be that affected by a change in locale.
posted by amtho at 8:21 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a heart-cat too. I've had many adored cats, but she's my heart-cat. I've put cats down before and it's a tough decision but one that is loving and compassionate, but I was sure of either impending decline or inevitable loss of quality of life.

In this case, I would do the biopsy. If the regimen that would prolong her life is sustainable and non-stressful (ie, not 4 pills a day and constant vet visits, which my heart-cat would not be okay with), I would want to know and try. Selfishly, because I'd want heart-cat with me as long as possible and I could not live with not knowing I'd at least made an informed decision.
posted by lydhre at 8:27 AM on June 7, 2016

Until this past month I would have thought that I would do anything for her and the thought that I would be seriously considering putting her to sleep would be ludicrous.

Having her euthanized is doing "anything for her" because she will be out of pain, but it will break your heart.

You love your cat - there is no decision you can make that won't hurt and won't have you wondering if you did the right thing. Personally, I would not put an older cat through a week-long biopsy, feeding tube, and hospital stay. She won't understand what's happening to her or why.
posted by FencingGal at 8:40 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Personally, I would not put an older cat through a week-long biopsy, feeding tube, and hospital stay. She won't understand what's happening to her or why.

This. So much this. When Old Lady Cat got a v obvious tumour growing out of her side, we scheduled a biopsy originally, but after thinking about it, we opted not to. She was an 18-year-old cat who went absolutely mental for any and all vet visits, so the idea of her being there, getting a procedure she didn't understand, and not being at home to recover was too much. (My husband feels certain the shock of the procedure would have probably killed her outright.)

I am so sorry this is happening. This is the worst. But I think it's time. You have always done right by her, you have always loved her and taken care of her, so you have to do right by her one more time despite all the heartbreak it will cause. My heart goes out to you and yours.
posted by Kitteh at 8:52 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

She's not eating so we're force feeding her

It sounds to me like it's time. I'm so, so sorry.

(Context for my opinion: My cat passed away in January. She had lymphoma, and we did chemo for several months, including daily pilling that was miserable for her and for us.

We finally drew the line and had her put to sleep when she stopped eating and couldn't keep herself clean anymore and the vet suggested several days of hospitalization and force-feeding. We couldn't bear to put her through that, and we didn't believe it was likely to lead to years of healthy cat afterwards anyways. Months of sickly but somewhat better cat, maybe, at best. Which wasn't worth the suffering.

I don't regret that decision; if anything, I frankly regret doing chemo at all.

And now I'm going to go cry some more.)

The other thing I'd add is - whatever choice you make is the right one. No one else has as much context as you. You know your cat, you know yourself, you're the one on the ground with the clue. You can't screw this up, no matter what you decide, even if you play it not the way I from a vague internet distance might suggest. You're getting this right. I trust you.
posted by 168 at 9:13 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Details are always soaked in tears. Structure, though, is what you try to see. Bubba was euthanized while he lay purring in Mrs mule's lap. He had a condition that left him paralyzed in his hindquarters. The doc said they might be able to give him some improvement, but he'd never be completely mobile again, and we'd have to keep him on pain meds. Bubba was our rescue cat, and he lived outdoors.

Having him euthanized was a terrible process, hard on both me and and Mrs mule. I am glad it's over. I know it was the right thing to do. He was a good cat and we loved him.

You may never believe it's a good thing, but sooner or later you'll take some comfort in knowing it's the right thing.
posted by mule98J at 9:35 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Fresh Air radio show did an interview with a vet who had written a book about how to make medical decisions on behalf of animals. Listening to that might help you; the whole program was interesting. In particular, they discussed how to know when it was time to put an animal to sleep. One statement I remember was the vet saying that in her opinion most people wait too long, in part out of fear of doing it too early. If you're feeling that the time has come, that clear awareness is valuable.

If it's the week of waiting that feels cruel, can they do the biopsy sooner?
posted by salvia at 10:43 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you all again for your thoughts. The vet will be coming out this evening to euthanize her at home. I have this sense of certainty and finality about it and I can only hope to god it's coming from the right place.
posted by whistle pig at 10:57 AM on June 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

Wishing you peace. It is good that the vet is coming to your home.

For what it's worth, I think you are making the right decision. It is very very hard to know whether it is the "right" time, but this sounds like it is. If I were facing the same situation you are, my fear would be that my cat would die in the hospital, instead at home with the people who love him.

When I had to make this decision back in November with a beloved cat, I did worry afterwards that it was too soon, and that I should have waited. But I found this AskMe thread, and it helped me a lot -- especially this post.
posted by merejane at 11:13 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

You clearly love your cat and want the best for her and have done everything to get there. Of course your decision is coming from the right place. I am very sorry for your loss.
posted by jeather at 11:19 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was going to amend my comment by asking if you had a vet who could come to your home. I am glad you do. We did the same for Old Lady Cat and did not regret it. She died at home in my arms, and while it was the worst day of my life, I am glad I could make her comfortable and tell her I loved her as she passed.

My condolences for you and your family. Your cat had a lovely life. You shared it with her. Remember that even as your heart breaks. I do, despite it still hurting.
posted by Kitteh at 11:37 AM on June 7, 2016

I think you have made the right decision, even though it is hard and might not, right now, feel like it. I'm glad the vet can come to your home, it really does make a huge difference. I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by halcyonday at 11:41 AM on June 7, 2016

You and your kitty are in my thoughts. I'm glad you don't have to take her to the vet for the last time.
posted by mogget at 11:50 AM on June 7, 2016

Oh whistle pig. I am so sorry you have had to go through this, but I am glad you've been able to come to a decision that's best for your cat. You have given her a wonderful life. I'll be thinking of you. It's so hard, no matter the circumstances.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:59 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am sorry about your cat. I think you are doing the right thing for her. I just talked to my next door neighbor who is going through the same grief with her elderly dog, and opted to end the dog's suffering rather than put her through the wringer. You are in my thoughts.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:16 PM on June 7, 2016

I'm proud to be a Crazy Cat Lady who raised a Crazy Animal Kid who is in veterinary school.

Both she and I are so sorry and want to reinforce that you are doing the Right Thing.

We're sending you lots of internet hugs.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:03 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sending love and peace to you and your cat. I absolutely think you are doing the right thing.
posted by beandip at 4:26 PM on June 7, 2016

Thank you all for your condolences. She died a peaceful death tonight in one of her favorite spots. I don't regret the decision one bit. To anyone out there reading this please give your pets a little extra love from me.
posted by whistle pig at 7:38 PM on June 7, 2016

All the hugs for you tonight, whistle pig.
posted by msali at 8:31 PM on June 7, 2016

Sending you love and hugs. You made a brave and selfless decision.
posted by Salamander at 9:01 PM on June 7, 2016

Sending a hug and a wish for peace in your heart. I know what an excruciating decision this must have been. I hope it brings some comfort to know that you gave her the very best care, which is just the best gift she could ask for. Sending love to you both.
posted by soonertbone at 10:06 AM on June 8, 2016

« Older How can I tell if I'm in an emotionally abusive...   |   What do you do about a love triangle? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.