Ming’s health has been getting steadily worse.
About a year ago he had a seizure. Since then, he’s had four or five more that we’ve seen. They haven’t seemed to be distressing him, though, so we decided to spare him the stress of a visit to the vet, and just monitor the situation.
The next bad sign was when I got home from London and noticed how much weight he’d lost. It’s been a gradual thing, so we hadn’t noticed it happening, but being away for a month I really noticed the change. But there can be a million reasons for weight loss, and he still seemed to be eating ok, so we wormed him (and the other two, just to make sure) and hoped for the best.
Then a few weeks ago I noticed his breathing was getting a bit laboured. Instead of the usual gentle fall and rise, his whole body would move as he breathed. This was all starting to add up to a pretty obvious conclusion, but he still didn’t seem to be in any distress, and he was still pretty active (for an elderly cat), so we decided again not to inflict a vet on him.
I’ve mentioned my philosophy on vets before, but least anyone think we were being particularly callous, let me explain it again. When a human is sick, they’ll go to the doctor and suffer the indignities and pain of treatment because they know why it’s being done to them, and have the choice to turn it down if the treatment becomes worse than the disease. That’s why concepts like informed consent exist – giving someone something like chemo or surgery without telling them why would be akin to torture. An animal can’t give informed consent. You can’t even explain why it has to take the pills, or have the injection, or be taken to a strange place to be poked and prodded by a stranger. No wonder they are terrified of going to the vet – only bad stuff happens to them there, and they have no way of connecting that bad stuff to the fact that a few days later their infected cut has healed, or their fleas are gone, or their cold is cured. They just know that they have been taken to a horrible place where bad stuff happens, for no apparent reason.
That doesn’t mean I’m against vets in general. It would be cruel to let an animal suffer when a simple cure is available. And the distress of a vet’s visit is soon over. So for example when Ming had an infected paw, or when Saffy’s flea allergy meant she licked herself raw on her back, they went straight to the vet. And although they were terrified, and there was pain and indignity, it was soon over, and they were successfully treated, so we judged their distress worth it.
But when it comes to more serious illnesses, things change. One quick vet’s visit isn’t going to fix anything. There’ll be tests, and long difficult treatments, and multiple visits to the vet, and no guarantee at the end that anything will have been achieved other than prolonging the animal’s life, and assuaging the guilt of its owners. And all the animal knows is that its owners have inexplicably started torturing it on a regular basis. (And of course, although we don’t like to acknowledge it as a factor, there’s the cost. There’s no public health system for cats, so any sort of prolonged treatment gets expensive very fast. Like any cat lover, there’s a lot I’ll sacrifice for my pets (my own health, for a start – I’m allergic to cats, so just having them in the house increases the chance I’ll have an asthma attack), but when it comes to a choice between being able to pay the mortgage and a vet’s bill, the realities of life mean the house is going to win.)
So when it comes to serious illness, the only time I want a vet involved is when the animal is in pain or obvious distress and it’s time to put the suffering to an end.
Let me make it clear though that in saying this, I’m not criticising anyone who chooses to have their pets treated for serious illnesses. Like any moral choice, everyone has their own way of weighing the conflicting factors. For some, being able to give their pet those few more months or years is worth the distress. And maybe it is, maybe I’m being mean not wanting to go through with it. But everyone has a point where they look at their pet and say the suffering isn’t worth it, and mine comes before the vet visits start.
Anyway, all that philosophising (which MrPloppy agrees with – believe me, we’ve talked this over at great length) adds up to our decision not to take Ming to the vet until it is time to say goodbye.
And I think that time has come. In the last week, his breathing has got worse, and he’s been audibly wheezing. And on Friday night he started coughing – it started off as just the normal furball sort of cough, but then each cough got him gasping for breath, which made the cough worse, in that vicious cycle that any asthmatic will recognise, until he eventually vomited (not a furball, but some of his dinner). He was so exhausted by the attack that he just slumped down, not even able to clean the vomit off himself. As I was cleaning him up, he gave me a look of pure fear, the first time I’ve seen him look distressed by his illness.
In the morning, he looked a bit better, so we decided to give him the weekend and then decide. But his perking up yesterday morning was the high point. The rest of the day he spent lying in front of the fire, not even getting up when I called him for dinner (and Ming is usually the first to come running if he even hears you open the fridge). When I took some food through to him, he did eat a mouthful, but the effort obviously tired him out and he started wheezing heavily again. MrPloppy was so worried about him last night that he made up a bed on the floor next to Ming and slept there where he could keep an eye on him. This morning he’s no better. He’s lying in front of the fire, and occasionally moves into a more comfortable position, but it’s obvious even that small movement exhausts him. And the look in his eyes is so tired. Remember Frodo climbing Mt Doom? It’s that look. I know I’m anthropomorphising, but every time he looks at me, he seems to be telling me he’s had enough now, that it’s all too difficult.
So tomorrow morning I’ll be ringing the vet, and we’ll make an appointment to say goodbye to our friend. And though right now my heart is screaming out to forget the expense, find a way to cure him, I know this is the kindest way.