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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

When the Vet Loses a Pet

If you’ll allow me one blog to digress from the large animal realm, I would appreciate it. I have some sad news to share. Saturday morning, we had to euthanize my cat Amber. 

I obtained Amber, a gorgeous brown shorthair tabby with flecks of orange, from a former client who was moving across the country and unable to take her animals. This client at the time worked for a local humane society and had a barn-full of outcast animals. One of these outcasts was Amber, who was blind. Knowing that the shelter would euthanize Amber due to her age (12 years) and her disability, she asked if I would adopt her. Really, there wasn’t much of a choice. Of course I would take her.

So Amber came home with us about three years ago. She became our third cat and we quickly realized we were not meant to be a three-cat household. Our male cat, Tuna, became stressed and started defecating outside of the litter box. The litter boxes were always a mess and I had to start Tuna on Prozac. It all felt like a little too much. I went so far as to put an ad in the local paper seeking another home for Amber, but when I received a few interested calls, we found we couldn’t part with her. Unbeknownst to us, she had already embedded herself in our hearts.

You see, Amber was the smartest cat I’ve ever known. At first meeting her, you would be hard pressed to realize she was blind. The way she navigated each room, mapping the perimeter and sensing obstacles like shoes and dog toys with her whiskers to avoid tripping over them was remarkable to watch.

Being sightless, Amber’s other senses were extremely heightened. She would “look” out the window and follow the birds with her ears. If we were eating at the table, she would know when we were looking at her from the sound of our munching as we turned our heads. In fact, my mom constantly debated with me over the blindness of this blind cat. Truthfully, Amber would occasionally bump a wall or a chair, but she recovered and carried on like nothing had happened.

It turns out that Amber had more problems than blindness. After about six months at our home, we found her one night limping and panting. Rushing her to the emergency room, we found out she had a heart condition causing severe arrhythmias that likely triggered a clot in one of her front legs. She was also hyperthyroid and, at the time, had a bladder infection.

After spending a night in an oxygen cage, we brought Amber home on five different medications. She recovered fully from the blood clot (and the bladder infection), had her overactive thyroid under control, and we calmed down her arrhythmia somewhat with a concoction of cardiac drugs. She was given six months to live.

We got another two years out of her.

Due to her heart condition, we knew a day would come when another clot would form somewhere and cause irreparable damage. That day was last Saturday, when a clot lodged in a main artery running to her back legs. Amber was paralyzed in the back and in great pain. In cats, this is called a saddle thrombus (also known as aortic thromboembolism) and has a poor prognosis. For us, the decision to euthanize was simple; with such an acute and painful condition, we wanted Amber in as little pain as possible. Note that I said simple, not easy. This decision is never easy.

And so I choose to remember Amber in her glory days, which were basically all her days with us. Listening out the window for the birds, scrounging for food crumbs in the kitchen, playing with her favorite red mouse toy, and being the only cat in the household to come when called — these are the many memories she left us with, and I thank her because she made our lives that much richer.

Dr. Ann O’Brien

Image: Thinkstock

Comments  11

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  • 06/28/2013 01:11pm

    When someone "gives a pet X# of days, months etc." I take it with a grain of salt. A major vet school gave a dog I was adopting about 6 months at the most. 2 1/2 years later I had to say goodbye after some wonderful, quality time. Thanks for a heartbreaking and affirming story. Now I suppose your going to be looking for your next Amber, as I am looking for my next great dog. They're few and far between.

  • 07/14/2013 02:16pm

    Grain of salt is absolutely right.

    And yes, my heart and home are both open to the next Amber :) Thank you.

  • 06/28/2013 03:42pm

    So sorry for your loss! Amber was one lucky kitty to have been adopted into a home where she was so loved and cared for.

  • 07/14/2013 02:18pm

    Thank you very much.

  • Sorry for your loss
    06/28/2013 03:55pm

    It's somewhat comforting reading articles like yours to remember our beloved companions when they are taken away too soon. Instead of thinking about their last moments, it's better to think of how much happiness they brought to our lives. My sweetheart was taken away from me too due to a saddle thrombus. That still kills me even after two years that she's gone.

  • 07/14/2013 02:23pm

    Yes, focusing on the happiness brought by our beloved pets is definitely the way to go. Thank you for your kind words.

  • 06/28/2013 04:17pm

    I'm very sorry for your loss. Amber is fortunate to have spent her last years with you and gotten the best vet care. I've known a few people (online) who have also lost cats to saddle thrombus. Some knew that it could happen due to known heart conditions, others didn't know and had to deal with the shock of such a sudden and awful loss. I hope we can learn more about this condition, and I wonder if there would ever be any hope for recovery.

    Have you heard of the book "Homer's Odyssey" about a blind cat? It became a best seller a few years ago and is a wonderful book. http://www.gwencooper.com/books/homer-s-odyssey

  • 07/14/2013 02:24pm

    Thank you. Yes, I have heard of that book, but haven't read it. I will have to look into it, thanks for the recommendation.

  • Sympathy/Empathy
    06/28/2013 09:34pm

    I'm so terribly sorry for your loss. It's heartbreaking to lose a much-loved family member, regardless of the circumstances.

    Know that you gave Amber 3 years she wouldn't have otherwise had. And they were GOOD years. It's obvious from your story that she was happy.

    I would suspect, though, that Tuna is doing dances on the countertops. Don't you wish they understood that it's a sad occasion?

  • 07/14/2013 02:27pm

    Thank you. Tuna isn't quite dancing on counter tops, but it's interesting to watch the other pets in the household react to the loss of another. My one cat Scabs, who is also quite old and with problems of her own, seems to be completely unaware that a fellow feline is missing. However, I do think Tuna understands that Amber is gone. I can't quite explain why I think this, but I can just tell. I hope to slowly start weaning him off the Prozac.

  • 08/12/2013 05:49pm

    So sorry for your loss. I too lost a cat from this condition, finding her on the floor of the dining room unable to move and in distress. It was the most difficult decision. My husband adopted the cat as a kitten from a local shelter knowing I loved long-haired black cats (and he is alergic). The day before we were taking our two sons (3 and 6 at the time ) to Disney, we found my kitty suffering. But I am a firm believer of doing what is best for my beloved pet, regardless of the pain it caused me. In time, I remember the good times more and not the difficult decision that was best for Milau.

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