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Mr. Stripey, sweet, quirky boy.

We lost Simcha yesterday. He’s our striped kitten, just over eight years old. Sweet, quirky, more than a little squirrelly, he’s always been one of the sweetest cats we’ve ever had. He could also hold a grudge like nobody’s business, that cat. If you sneezed while he was in your lap, moved wrong, twitched, laughed, coughed, he’d get mortally offended and stalk away, ears back and displeasure in every line of his little black-and-grey striped body. With some cajoling and work, he could be coaxed back most of the time where he’d cuddle up like the biggest lap cat in the world.

Part of living with cats, perhaps the most difficult part, is knowing you’re probably going to outlive them by several decades. It’s a short-term yet long-term relationship that’s bound to end in sorrow, and all you can hope is that the years are long and filled with happy purrs and joy.

Sometimes you don’t get as many years as you’d hoped. Such is the case with Simcha.

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Such a pretty girl… Squiddles.

A month ago on September 10th, we said goodbye to our Squiddles girl. She was our 18-year-old, a little black cat who withered away to less than five pounds due to old age and kidney disease. But she was a powerful, forceful personality, that cat. She ran this household to her standards, humans and cats alike. She dictated when feedings happened (literally every two hours thanks to her kidney disease – thank God for automatic feeders,) she kept her “brudders” in line like a master sergeant, and she was so funny. But we knew, had known for a while, her time was drawing close. Every day we had her, we knew we were fortunate that it wasn’t “the day.”

When she stopped enjoying life, when she was obviously so tired it was time, when her bad days outnumbered her good, we made the decision to let her go. She blessed us that day, waiting calmly beside the door as though to say “let’s get this show on the road. I have things to do on the other side. Time’s a wastin’, Mom and Dad.” She purred happily and was eager to go to the vet, this from a cat who always, always ran and hid if I got up too early for her liking and put my jeans (i.e. “going out” clothes) on. Not an hour after she was gone, she sent us a sign – a lizard dancing crazily on a window screen outside – that she was okay. That everything was going to be all right.

As I said, we had known for a while this was coming. We were as prepared as you can be for the eventuality that she wouldn’t be with us. Her absence left a huge hole, to the point that we looked at each other and asked “how in the world do we even feed her brothers?” They ate around her schedule, as food was nearly always available. We didn’t even know how or when to feed them. We did figure it out, though.

We expected the boys to be sad, and they were. Julius, our lily-eating orange guy, was less sad than we thought he would be at her departure. He’s our heart patient, and we were gravely concerned the loss would damage him or send him into a decline. But he’s rallied, and well. He’s adjusted with a little anxiety that we’re handling well enough. Simcha on the other hand, the kitten who would sing to her and play with her, became utterly lost. Literally, as it turns out.

About three weeks before we lost her, Sim started acting like he wasn’t feeling well. He started peeing outside the box, and he started sitting more upright than he had in the past. I’ve since learned this is called “meatloafing” and it is a huge warning sign that something is drastically wrong with a cat. He was also more anxious and jumpy than normal. Given his history of chronic UTIs (urinary tract infections), we started him on antibiotics and took him to the vet. His labs were good, nothing else seemed amiss, so our truly wonderful local vet, Dr. Boland, said to keep an eye on him. He also started him on Composure treats, which helped a lot with the anxiety. Within a couple of days, Sim was back to nearly normal.

Then we lost Squiddles.

Overnight, Sim faded. He just didn’t have a spark, didn’t have the will to continue living. Now, since he has always been a little bit of a drama queen, this didn’t surprise us too much. After all, he was very, very close to his sister. He adored her. We gave him a couple of days, days where he didn’t eat much but was eating some, but then when he didn’t improve, the concern set in. We tried coaxing him to eat with every trick we could come up with.

His herpes virus, the one that causes upper respiratory infections, flared up. No doubt this was due to stress, and we reacted accordingly by following his flare protocol. It didn’t work.

I won’t go into the details of how much we tried over the next few weeks. Suffice it to say we tried everything. Treats, various foods, increased attention, probably twenty vet visits, B12, etc etc etc.

After a couple of weeks of trying everything, even with his labs still normal, we took the steps of taking him to the specialist veterinary clinic/emergency clinic in Lexington. Let me stop here and say that we are truly blessed to have an awesome veterinary team, both locally and in Lexington. These people are special, and God bless them all.

In Lexington, he was diagnosed with severe pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease. He stayed in the hospital there for a couple of days, then we brought him home. Ups and downs ensued, ups and downs and rollercoaster rides and emotional firestorms. He did well on IV meds, poorly on oral meds. Last Thursday, we took him back to Lexington, and he stayed there until yesterday. He was doing better, and it was time to bring him home and try again. There’s cat psychology to consider, both Sim’s and Julius’s. There are our limitations to consider, as well. I’ll just say that this has taken a toll on us physically, and we’re numb. Numb and very, very tired.

Almost as soon as he got home, we saw the perky, somewhat healthy cat we’d seen in Lexington change. He let out a sigh almost as soon as we walked in the door, which we later interpreted to mean “I’m home now, I can finally rest and stop fighting.” He was finished, but we didn’t realize at that moment what that tiredness meant.

His slept most of the afternoon and evening, but then his breathing changed last night about eight o’clock. We got him to the local vet, and he confirmed the worst – he was struggling to breathe. Sim was done. He couldn’t fight all the raging infections and inflammation anymore. So we made that terrible, painful decision to let him go, to send him to Squiddles. He was so pitiful, so frail, a change that happened so fast it’s left us reeling and asking how in the hell this happened.

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Side by side, best friends.

He went very quietly, very peacefully. Just like Squiddles, but with so much tiredness. Where she was happy and cheerful and purring – a truly weird thing to say about a cat you have to have put down but true – he was just tired of fighting. We really think he just didn’t want to be here without her. He adored her that much. He went over on the tenth, one month to the day that we lost her. They were like an old married couple who couldn’t bear to be parted, minus the romance.

Today, we’re still numb, still reeling, with bright and painful moments of pure grief that come through. I think we will be adjusting for a while from this. No bouncing back right now.

One of the reasons I wanted to blog about this was to share what we learned. We try to be very proactive pet parents, but this snuck in on us before we could blink and before we could do a damned thing to help him. If we’d known the warning signs he was displaying, maybe we could have stopped the progression. I doubt that to some degree because as I said, I don’t think he wanted to be here without his sister. I do know we gave him every fighting chance we could, though in the end he just wasn’t up to the fight.

I’m including some links here so that you all can read up on cats with inflammatory bowel disease, cats who meatloaf, cat warning signs. Looking back, I can think of so many instances where Sim was showing us he was in pain, dealing with nausea, but we didn’t know what to look for so we didn’t see it in time. We knew he had gut issues, and we thought those had been addressed as they related to his diet. As it turns out, they had not.

The funny thing  about cats, the thing that isn’t really funny at all, is that they are masters at hiding pain and illness. Even if they have perfect labs, they can be gravely ill. Sim’s markers for illness, pancreatitis, never changed. The only big red flag clinically (not counting physical exam and ultrasound, which was bad) was his white blood cell count, which was up on one test. His symptoms improved with some of the treatment, but his mental attitude didn’t. His spunk was gone, his spirit low. Nothing we did, not even when he had good days in the last couple of weeks, brought that back. That was a big clue, and something I think means more than all the lab tests and ultrasounds in the world.

If the cat acts happy, even if labs are awful, if the cat is still relatively healthy, they can go for years. We saw that with Squiddles. She should by all rights have gone from us years earlier than she did, but she was a strong, spunky cat who let life roll over her. She was determined to stick around until she physically couldn’t be here anymore, and then she approached what came next with that same spunk. With her, when the time came, her labs did reflect her decline. That just wasn’t the case with Sim. He went away from us when we lost her, and it just took his body a few weeks to catch up.

By all means, get labs done on your animals. Get ultrasounds done yearly as part of a wellness routine. Know what their baselines are so that if something changes, it can be addressed. Know how your cat acts when they’re happy and healthy, and know when something is wrong by their behavior. And please, please, learn from what we’ve been through – know the positions for cats that mean “something’s wrong.” If it lasts more than a day, get them to a vet as soon as you can. It might very well save them. Please note – I’m not a veterinarian or medical professional, and none of this is intended to be medical advice. I’m just hoping some of you can learn ahead of time the things I wish we’d known.

I can’t let myself play the what-if game with Sim. I know I will somewhat, but I’m trying not to focus on that. It takes away from what was, for the most part, a happy, joyful life. He came to us as a rescue kitten with a broken tail when he was eight months old, and he kept us laughing and smiling most of the time with his antics, even if we were exasperated by some. He was deeply loved, and I think someday we’ll see him again. Either he’ll send us a kitten/cat that he handpicks for us, or someday… well. Someday.

Here are the links to some good sites that deal with chronic kidney disease and inflammatory bowel disease in cats, and the link about meatloafing that I promised. I hope this helps someone out there. I hate that it happened, but like my post a few years back with Julius and the lily, I hope it helps at least one pet-parent. Bless you all!

Pancreatitis/Inflammatory Bowel Disease: http://www.ibdkitties.net

Chronic Kidney Disease: http://www.felinecrf.org

Pancreatitis and the Meatloaf Position: http://www.ibdkitties.net/pancreatitis/