Friday, August 24, 2012

A Tribute Blog: Lightning, the Hospital Cat

Written by: Suzanne Mead, RVT

In the summer of 1994, less than a year after we opened, Lightning came to us as a kitten in need.  Some of the current staff was here when he first came in.  His housemate, a big lab, was a little too exuberant for poor, tiny Lightning and he came to us limping.  We did not find any serious injuries, but the owner did not think he was safe at their house any longer.  Lightning worked his charm on all of us, most importantly Dr. Hatton, who finally decided he could be our hospital cat. 

As a kitten, he got into EVERYTHING, but we overlooked his mischief because he was so darn cute and loveable.  Ideally, a hospital cat should “earn his keep” by being tolerant to different treatments.  That way, we could demonstrate procedures with him to show other pet owners.  Lightning did not agree!  He loved all his caretakers, but being a cat, he called all the shots! 

He did not like strangers or even well meaning clients.  It was quickly obvious that we would provide his every need but he had no obligations to us except for affection on his terms.  For almost 18 years, he was a constant source of joy, frustration and always entertaining.  Lightning decided (on his terms as always) it was his time to leave us this past May.  He was a member of our family, and we will never forget him!  Rest in peace Lightning, we love you and miss you!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Our Senior Pets

Having a senior pet is quite different than a younger pet for many reasons.  Not only is there a stronger emotional bond after living together for many years, but the aging process in animals happens so much quicker than it does for people that it sometimes feels “sudden” that they are now “old.”

Like people, pets can cling to old habits and mentally, they may want to do the same things they have always done (run with you, go to the park, eat everything they are presented with, jump onto the bed or couch, etc.), but physically, those things may become more difficult to do.  Sometimes it is a challenge to relearn how to get onto the bed more safely, or when to stop running for the ball.  As their caregivers, we also have to be reasonable about what we ask them to do.  We may need to adjust our routine, walk a shorter distance with them, put a step stool or bench at the end of the bed, or provide a lower perch or more steps up to the cat post.  We may need to be more careful about the foods we offer, raise the food bowl, or put down non-slip floor mats to help them eat or drink on their own.  We also can be careful not to over feed them (out of love) to the point that it is more difficult for them to move (or even breathe!) sometimes. 
When we think our pets are no longer as comfortable as they once were, it is a reasonable time to have a discussion with your veterinarian about their quality of life and what options are available for comfort care.   More frequent visits and health checks to ensure they don’t decline prematurely just makes sense.  Sometimes medication can be recommended to help with arthritis, or alternative treatments for indigestion or incontinence.  Often we assume that age may be the reason for their lethargy, or weight gain, or incontinence, and fail to see that it is actually a correctable medical problem that could be the beginning of something worse if unchecked.   Or maybe one just needs reassurance that what we are seeing is a normal aging process rather than a medical or behavioral issue.  And occasionally it is time to consider whether a pet is actually suffering or not. 
It is not easy to contemplate euthanasia.  The fact that our pets’ life spans are shorter than ours makes it likely that if we are lucky enough to have a pet reach their senior days in our care, we will need to consider the option of euthanasia to help them transition “to the other side” as humanely as possible.  We recognize the importance of allowing our pets to pass with dignity and without pain.  One of the questions I always ask myself is if my pet is still having more good days than bad, and whether or not they are able to appreciate the things in life that they normally enjoy (e.g. spending time with their people, eating, drinking, resting).   If the time comes when that is no longer the case, and we can’t mitigate the discomfort, euthanasia may be the best for our beloved pet.   I encourage you to have a discussion with your veterinarian and your family about what is best for your pet, and for you.  It is not the same for everyone.   We have all hoped that somehow Fluffy would pass quietly in the night, but unfortunately that rarely happens.  Our pets give us years of unconditional love.  They depend on us to help them with their transitions as much as we are able.  
But in the meantime enjoy the journey because it is sooo wonderful!  Don’t you agree??