Saying farewell to our much adored cat, Spin
Two months ago, I wrote about my own cat Spin who was suffering from cardiomyopathy, a serious and incurable disease affecting the heart muscle.
I am sorry to say that this week I need to report sad news: Spin has passed away.
Spin's heart problem had been responding well to treatment: he was on six tablets every day, but he was easy to medicate, and he continued to live a normal, active life. He had a tremendous appetite, asking to be fed two or three times daily. In many ways, he seemed to be as fit and healthy as ever. He continued to be a friendly, interactive cat, spending time with anyone who would give him attention. He had a loud purr, and he especially loved to have the underside of his neck tickled.
A month ago, his disease developed a new aspect: his abdomen began to fill up with fluid. This is known as "ascites", or "dropsy". It's caused by the disturbance in blood flow dynamics that happens when the heart stops beating as strongly as it should. The heart works as a pump: drawing fluid in from the body, pumping it into the lungs where it becomes refreshed with oxygen, then drawing it back from the lungs and pumping it around the body. When the heart starts to fail, it can't suck blood in or push blood out as effectively, so fluid starts to back up, either in the lungs (where it causes coughing or difficulty breathing) or in the abdomen (where it causes abdominal swelling). In Spin's case, he did start to breathe more quickly, but he never coughed, and his breathing never became too laboured. And it was just in the last month of his life that the abdominal swelling became an issue.
It was subtle at first: his tummy just looked more pendulous than normal. But over a few weeks, he developed a large paunch which swayed from side to side as he walked. He was still able to jump up onto the utility room counter where he was fed, but it was visibly more difficult for him than before. He began to sleep more, and it was obvious that he had to make a little more effort do do anything. He was carrying several pints of extra fluid around in his abdomen, and it was hard work for him, like carrying an extra kilogram of weight.
I adjusted his medication to try to ease the swelling, giving him a new type of diuretic which aims to help the kidneys remove larger amounts of fluid from the circulation. The drug helped a bit, and Spin continued to be a contented, happy cat, but the fluid in his abdomen remained, giving him an awkward, pot-bellied appearance.
As a vet, I'd been able to look after most of Spin's care on my own, bringing a stethoscope home to listen to his heart, and adjusting his medication as needed. Last week, Spin stopped being able to jump up onto his favourite counter, so I decided that it was time to ask for a second opinion. I brought him in to my clinic, to see my colleague Nicola, who has a special interest in complex cat problems. Nicola checked him over carefully, and she looked gloomy when she turned to me. She suggested that we could increase some of his medication from twice to three times daily, but I could tell from her tone that she was not hopeful that he would respond well. The truth, which we both realised, was that Spin's heart disease was incurable, and he was now reaching the end of his days.
That Friday afternoon when I went to work, I decided to bring the euthanasia kit home with me, in case Spin became distressed in any way over the weekend. I knew that his time was close.
As it turned out, the time was closer than I realised. Two hours later, I was busy in my evening clinic when a call came in from my wife: she was on her way down with Spin and our two daughters. He had fallen over onto his side, and had been agitated and flailing, unable to understand why he was in such difficulty. It had been terrible to witness this but we knew that the answer to his distress was within our control. By the time he arrived at the vet clinic, Spin had recovered, and he was now sitting comfortably. I gently lifted him onto the consulting room table while we all discussed what to do.
Spin sat between us all, his sides heaving as he laboured to breathe, and his enlarged abdomen making him look bigger than he really was. He was as amiable and contented as ever, purring and intermittently narrowing his eyes as he gazed at us. He was definitely not in pain, nor was he distressed in any way, but our discussion focussed on what was likely to happen in the near future.
We all agreed that it was time to say goodbye: we didn't want to witness Spin in distress again, and that was inevitably what lay ahead of him. We were all able to have a final conversation with Spin, telling him that we adored him, but that he could not stay with us any more: he had to go his own way.
He didn't notice as I slipped the fine needle into his vein, and moments later, he was asleep, and then he had gone. The end of a good life, but a life that was far too short.
His empty food bowl still sits on Spin's favourite counter; somehow we're not quite ready to put it away. Spin: you're being missed hugely, but we know that we did our best for you.