This is the time of a pet’s life that a pet-owner dreads. My foster-cat, Parker, is terminally ill. There are times when he is obviously uncomfortable. There are times when he cannot find a position in which to lie that will ease his cancerous body. There are times when he becomes violently sick, when he vomits so fiercely and for such a long period that he breathes hard afterward, as if he had run swiftly down a lengthy path for twenty minutes.
But there are times when he lies peacefully for hours, when he butts his head against me and invites me to pet and stroke his still-soft fur. There are times when he eats half a large tin of food and sits back purring.
And these contrasting times often come on the same days now.
Last night he had a terrible episode of vomiting. I spent two hours cleaning up afterward, as it had spilled under the freezer in the store-room and against the walls. (Being a cat, he chose the moment immediately before I went to bed.) Yet this morning, he was hungry and, though he did not eat a great deal, he tucked away a quarter-tin of soft-food and was pleased about it.
Last night, I thought that Parker’s time was at hand, and I worried about keeping him alive and in pain over the weekend. This morning, he was still dying, but it was as if his body had decided that it would not be today, not this week.
How are such decisions to be made? Will I wait until Parker doesn’t eat for several days? He has done that previously, and rallied. In fact, I note from my blog that almost exactly a month ago, the orange-boy refused all food for a whole day. Since then, there have been stretches of days when he ate very well, and almost every day, he has eaten something. Clearly, appetite alone cannot determine his final moments.
I suppose, like many things in a pet-owner’s life, the actual decision will come down to improvisation. We can plan and anticipate, but at the last instants, our cats won’t like the food we have prepared for them, and we must dish out something else; they will get sick just before bedtime; they will want to play - after you’ve begged them to play all day - as you are leaving for the evening. It makes sense that the final actions in which they can involve us will be makeshift, as well.
Improvisation is not how I would like to make such a terrible decision, but it is fitting that, while the decision may be mine, when I make it will be entirely up to my cat.