Recently my cat, Mickey, was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). There is no cure for CKD, only management until “the end” which varies with each cat. Since then, I’ve been learning all I can about caring for a terminally ill pet. I don’t know how much time I have left with my sweet boy, but I do know I’ll do whatever I can to make sure it is quality time. I also know I will have done everything I could for him; that’s all any pet owner can do.
When you love an animal deeply, it’s a very scary time when they are sick, whether it’s a treatable illness or not. As I said to a friend, pet ownership is not for sissies. Caring for a sick pet can be an emotional roller coaster, but there are things you can do to help yourself as well as your pet.
This is, I believe, the most important thing you can do. When I first found out Mickey had a terminal illness, I felt hopeless. My discussion with the vet about my options was brief; I left thinking there wasn’t much I could do for my cat. As I soon found out, that isn’t really true.
Once home I logged into the cat blogging group on Facebook. I hoped there would be someone here who had experience with CKD and could give me guidance. The internet can be a great resource for pet owners, but it’s also rife with misinformation and it’s important to know where to go for help. My cat blogging friends pointed me to a reputable website devoted to kidney disease in cats, and a Facebook support group for the same. As a result, I’ve learned there are several things I can do that may help slow the progression of Mickey’s disease, none of which were mentioned by my vet.
Dogs cannot verbally tell us when they are not feeling well. They show it in altered behavior or physical cues. As we get to know the normal ways they act, any changes in their actions and reactions may be a sign that something is wrong. Here are five things to watch for.
The most obvious signs that your dog is not feeling well may be a visible injury, infection or vomiting, but other signs take observation skills on your part. Skin lesions or irritating rashes, coughing, difficulty breathing, lumps, discolored eyes, excessive scratching, abnormal drooling or bad breath are all possible signs that can mean your dog is not feeling up to par. They may be signs of a simple condition that is easily treated, or of something more serious. If you have doubts or you can’t easily figure out what is actually wrong, go see your vet.
Early detection is always best for any illness. Catching a disease before it becomes advanced increases the chance that it can be treated successfully. What makes this problematic for cat owners is that felines are hard-wired to hide signs of illness. Their wild ancestors did this as a means to survival, and it’s instinctual for a feline to conceal the appearance of sickness, even if they lead the life of a very spoiled housecat.
Your best course of action is threefold: 1) take your cat to the vet for wellness checkups at least once a year; 2) know your cat well enough that you can immediately recognize any changes in their normal behavior; 3) know the subtle signs of a sick kitty. Here are some things to watch out for:
Both an increase and a decrease in a cat’s food intake can signify illness. If a cat begins to eat ravenously and always seems to want more, diabetes or hyperthyroidism could be the culprit. Eating less could mean dental problems or something more serious such as kidney disease or cancer. It’s important to be aware that cats who stop eating can quickly develop a potentially fatal liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. If your cat won’t eat anything for more than a day, get to the vet ASAP.
As with food, both an increase and a decrease in water intake can indicate health issues. Excessive thirst can be a sign of kidney disease, diabetes or hyperthyroidism.
“Cat food breath” is one thing – all felines have that to some degree. However, if your cat opens his mouth and the smell just about knocks you over, that’s definitely cause for concern. Stinky breath can indicate dental disease, infection, digestive issues or kidney problems; a sweet, fruit-like smell can be a sign of diabetes.
I was originally going to title this post, How the Internet Makes Being a Pet Parent Better. I changed my mind when I realized that it wasn’t really “the internet” that I meant, but the people a pet owner can meet there through various online avenues. For me, those avenues are primarily a pet blog and Facebook. There are many others that one might choose as their favorite “virtual water cooler,” but in the end it’s the interactions we have with other pet owners and the friendships we form that matter more than where we choose to gather.
Some people, including me, have a hard time remembering what life was like B.I., or Before Internet. My virtual water cooler visits are an integral part of my day. It’s how I stay connected to others while enjoying the solitude and freedom of a work-from-home career. Yet it’s become so much more than that to me, and I only realized just how much more when my beloved cat, Annabelle, recently fell gravely ill.
I was cycling through all of the “downer” emotions that besiege us when our fur kids are sick: anxiety, fear, sadness, dread, helplessness. Mostly, I was just very worried about Annabelle and terrified that I would lose her. I do have people in my “real life” who understand the turmoil that having a sick pet creates, but only a precious few. I really needed an army, because I was trying to be strong, for Annabelle…and I was failing miserably.
I found my army on Facebook, where my friends’ list includes many good-hearted souls who love their pet as deeply as I do. I also participate in a Facebook group that’s comprised of crazy-about-cats people like me. One thing I especially love about Facebook is that no matter what you might need from others – support, opinions, answers to questions, knowledge that only comes from personal experience – you can post a status and get what you need immediately. It’s like a real-time lifeline, a metaphorical tow rope thrown to a drowning man.
Over two years ago my son and I were driving home from work. In the middle of a busy 4 way stop intersection was a little silver patch of hair limping across the street nearly being struck by careless drivers. I immediately pulled into the intersection and yelled at my son to grab that dog before she gets hit. My son opened the passenger door and a frail little Shitzu came to the door and lifted up her little paw. My son grabbed her and she immediately fell asleep on his lap for the 5 minute ride home.
We arrived home to be greeted by my wife who took one look at the dog and said, “Oh my gosh, what are we going to do with her?” The little dog was flea ridden, lost most of her hair, could barely walk and had a toe nail so long it curled all the way around and was imbedded into her tiny paw. I should also mention the smell was so tremendous we could hardly hold her. We bathed her in the bath tub to wash off some of the grime and started the long road of recovery including vet visits, medication, and the introduction of dog food which she apparently had never received before.
We put up signs and an ad in the paper trying to find the owners, but after several days re-thought that idea as anybody who neglected a dog this badly doesn’t deserve one, so I went and took the signs down. I called my parents, who hadn’t owned a dog in years, and told them I had the perfect little companion for them. They were excited over the idea however I wanted to get her healthy before I turned her over to them. My parents didn’t need the emotional burden of dealing with a sick dog as they hadn’t owned for years due to the pain of losing our family Dachshund Duke to cancer many years ago.
We named the little dog Lady because she reminded us of a little bag lady wandering the streets. She later received the nick name Lady Bird. The road to recovery was a little longer than expected and those big black eyes took a toll on me. I fell in love with a little tiny homeless dog like no other love I have had for any other pet. She went everywhere with me including going to work every day. Needless to say my parents never got the dog. I later made up for it by giving them a tiny puppy to raise and love on their own.
I write this story as tears roll down my face as my little Lady Bird clings on to life in an emergency vet hospital. Just over a week ago she was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and valve that is no longer working properly. She has been in and out of the vet 4 times trying to control her heart with medication. Last night she started having troubles breathing so my wife and I once again rushed her to emergency. She has fluid around her enlarged heart and I am terrified awaiting the results.
I understand the pain and emotion of dealing with a sick pet we fall so deeply in love with. I also understand the desire to find fault or blame to help with the pain. However I am also a realist. The facts are Lady is approximately 14 years old and has an enlarged heart. There’s no one to blame. I have done everything I can for that little dog and I only pray she pulls through this.
Looking for help on how to deal with my emotions I started surfing the web. To my surprise “blame” is a normal human emotion in a situation like this. Here are a few sites I found that might help you out as well.
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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.