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