The downside of having a pet is dreading ‘that day’

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If there’s one thing that’ll make you forget all about your own troubles, it’s when someone you love gets sick. Even when that someone is covered with fur.

If you’ve been visiting this space long enough, you’ve heard many stories about my little fur people, Angelo and Milo. Just like their owner, they’re getting on in their years, but as indoor-only cats who’ve been spoiled and healthy, I expected them to make it to 20 at least. Now I’m not so sure.

Unlike Angelo, a furry toad beast who tops 20 pounds, Milo was always slender. Milo never really cared much about eating. If he got distracted mid-bite, he’d just walk away from the dish. When he did eat, he was picky. Maybe he just really wasn’t that hungry because his stomach was full from compulsive grooming.

When Milo finishes grooming himself, he starts in on his brother, who is perfectly content letting him do all the work. Which means that Milo consumes twice the amount of cat fur, and this increases exponentially each fall, when both cats shed their summer coats and grow winters ones. More hair means more barfing, and ultimately more hairballs, which you always find first thing in the morning while still barefoot.

This year seemed no different. The barfing started, but no ultimate hairball was produced, as had been the case in years past. Milo started to get thinner, but he’d done that before and once the lodged hairball finally came up, he’d bounce right back. But this year — no giant hairball. And then, oddly enough, the vomiting stopped. But Milo didn’t gain any weight. He also seemed extremely thirsty. I attributed all of this to the ultimate hairball, but despite an array of products both conventional and natural — nothing came up.

As the days went by, Milo got downright bony, which wasn’t readily obvious because of his long, fluffy fur. And then his little light seemed to start flickering. He just wasn’t his goofy, sparkly, pesty self. Maybe this wasn’t just another hairball after all.

I took him to the vet, blood work was done, fluids administered, and the unhappy diagnosis came in: feline renal failure. An X-ray additionally disclosed that either Milo’s kidneys had swollen to the size of walnuts, or there were two huge masses growing on them. But, the vet wasn’t ready to put him down.

He explained Milo’s condition to me, and outlined a treatment plan, prescribed four medications to squirt down his throat, ordered special food and even gave me a lesson in administering subcutaneous fluids, which I still haven’t quite mastered and gives me the heebie jeebies. But I’m determined to learn because I decided that my love for Milo is greater than my fear of needles.

While I’m mastering “sub-cue” hydration, I keep trying to find something, anything, that Milo will eat. Canned food, tuna, baby food, butter, canned fish fillets, roast chicken… Nothing. He looks at it, then slowly returns to the water dish, and starts his back and forth plodding trips to the litter box, until he finally curls up somewhere and goes to sleep.

His deterioration has been so swift and severe, I’m torn between throwing everything I can at him because he seemed thinner but fine just a few weeks ago, or abandoning all this force-feeding, and just easing his pain. He’s clearly miserable when I’m shooting multiple (and clearly icky-tasting) medications down his throat, and not much happier when it’s liquid food. He hates the whole process. And he associates it with me. He’s no longer delighted to see me approaching. I’m not his loving Kitty Mama anymore. I’ve become his torturer.

Sadly, there’s no way to explain to a cat — particularly one who already doesn’t feel well — why I’m grabbing his head, forcing his mouth open and shooting liquid down his throat. I know I’m doing this to help him, but from Milo’s perspective, I’m just adding to his misery.

I’m so torn. Do I push forward and hope for a recovery, or just leave him be, and hold him and pet him, and let him do his water dish/litter box ritual until he finally just falls asleep for good?

Or, do I ask the vet to administer one final injection? Frankly, I’m just not ready for that. But maybe Milo is?

This is the down side of having pets. You know “that day” will come eventually, but when it does, it still catches you by surprise. Do you heap piles of money that you don’t have on an animal? How much is too much? Do you “put them out of their misery?” And if so, when? And whose misery is it really, anyway? Yours or your pet’s?

However it plays out, I don’t want to think about that morning when Milo’s not waiting faithfully outside my bedroom door with his fat toady brother, greeting me with kitty-yoga stretches, meowing for treats, and then joining me on the recliner to watch the morning news. But the sad fact is — that day has already essentially arrived. Milo hasn’t had the energy for greetings or kitty yoga for days. But he still manages to hop up onto the foot of the recliner and sit with me. There’s still a little Milo left in him. So, maybe there’s a little hope too.

What the heck — why not put it out to the universe: Is there a veterinary graduate student out there who’s ready to try her or his first feline kidney transplant? Need the educational experience before you can tack “DVM” after your name? If so, call me. I know of a really worthy patient.

— Email Debra at; read more of her work at and

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