We just experienced a very sad evening at our house. I had to euthanize Keelor, my 18-year-old kitty. It wasn’t unexpected — he had been battling chronic kidney disease and hyperthyroidism for the last year or so — but that didn’t make the emotions any less intense.

He was what I called my primary kitty — the first I had ever lived with. He and his three siblings were born at a cabin in West Virginia, and friends and I adopted the remaining litter of three (after one kitten died before weaning). Keelor lived with me through my single days in Washington D.C., veterinary school and my subsequent career, marriage, and child-rearing. He was a laid-back, low maintenance kind of boy, only expressing his displeasure with whatever life brought his way by occasionally pooping outside of the box.

He remained low maintenance even when it came to end-of-life decision making. He was doing exceptionally well on his methimazole, subcutaneous fluids, and kidney diet until just a few days before his death, when his eating slowed down and he started looking like he felt bad. After his last blood draw for rechecks of his thyroid level and kidney values (both getting worse), I promised him we wouldn’t do that again (he HATED being restrained for blood draws). We were 100 percent in hospice mode.

When his conditioned deteriorated, I performed a physical exam, fully expecting it to only reveal a worsening of thyroid and/or kidney disease. I dreaded what I thought was on the horizon for us. Tweaking his treatment protocol, his condition slowly declining nonetheless, agonizing over when to say enough was enough … but no, what I found was an abdominal mass. "Where the h--- did that come from?" I thought. It wasn’t there (at least as far as I could tell via abdominal palpation) just a few weeks ago.

Hoping it was lymphoma (remember, he was a hospice patient at this point so we weren’t even going to consider surgery, biopsies, etc.) or another steroid-responsive tumor, I put him on appropriate meds. Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated rapidly. I came home on Saturday evening after picking up family from the airport to find him struggling to breathe and miserable (Saturday afternoon he was still pretty bright) .

Keelor made my decision to euthanize as obvious as it ever can be — thank you for that, my friend. After a sedative injection, he fell asleep on my lap as I stroked him and told him over and over how much he was loved. Once he was completely unconscious, I euthanized him on his favorite couch. Not a bad way to go.

I’m grieving, but more for myself than for him, to be honest. He lived a great kitty life, and soon my memories will be of those times, but right now I’m thinking about how much I will miss his constant and reassuring presence in my life.

Grief is never easy. If you ever find yourself struggling over the loss of a pet, reach out to the good folks who staff the counseling services provided by one of these organizations:

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Dr. Coates and her cat, Keelor