02 November, 2010

Goodbye to Our Sweet Maine Coon Séamus

I haven't felt much like writing, lately. A few weeks ago, we had to make the terrible decision to let Séamus go. It was less than two years ago that we brought him home. He was a sweet, affectionate kitten, a tiny little thing with blue-gray fur and golden eyes. He was also the first cat I ever "picked out," who didn't come to me by circumstance. Here he is with Ted in the car. Ted sat in the back while I drove. It was cold, and Séamus was snuggled down in his lap.

Although I got Séamus and his sister, Bella, as a birthday gift for Ted, Séamus quickly became my cat. He would sleep next to me at night, stretched full length by my side or tucked under my arm. When I worked in the garden, he would follow me from window to window to watch what I was doing, providing commentary along the way. And when I came home from wherever it was I had been, he would be waiting for me at the door, his sweet kitten face gazing up at me.

Bella and Seamus as kittens.
Séamus was a Maine Coon, and for such a big guy, he didn't have much of a voice. When playing with his sister, his battle cries would come out more like squeaks. When I tried to take a nap, he would stand on me, kneading my stomach with his little bunny feet, happily chirping. He didn't sound like any cat I ever had before.

The weekend before he died, his breathing grew wheezy and he wasn't very hungry. Also, he didn't want to roughhouse with his sister or our shepherd-mix dog, as he usually does on a daily basis. We were able to get him to eat, although not much, some Catsip milk, his favorite crunchie snacks, and took him to the vet on Monday. 

We were concerned, but figured it was probably just a respiratory infection; his gums were pink and healthy looking. I once had a cat who had asthma, so also considered that as a possibility. In any case, we expected to go to the vet, diagnose the problem, and get the appropriate treatment.

He did not like the car trip over, and I felt bad for making him go out when he wasn't feeling well. Luckily, we didn't have to wait in the lounge, but went straight to an examine room where he was able to calm down while we waited for the vet. 

His blood work all came back clean, and the vet said his lungs sounded clear and his heart sounded fine, too. She couldn't detect an arrhythmia. She couldn't detect any obvious issues, but wanted to put him on a broad spectrum antibiotic, just in case.

By this time, Séamus's breathing had become quite labored. It was obvious he wasn't well. Ted and I became alarmed that it might be feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a horrible form of heart disease that can affect any cat. I had read up on it before, but only in an abstract way, so didn't really think of it as a possibility until now. Séamus was only two. The symptoms, which can appear to come on suddenly, even in young cats, include:

  • lack of appetite
  • gagging
  • difficulty breathing
  • increased respiratory rate
  • reluctance to move around
The vet recommended a thyroid test and chest x-rays, so we went along with the x-rays to start. While we were waiting for Seamus to come back from the x-ray room, there was a gentle knock on the door, and a stranger stuck his head in. He was there with his critters, he said, and heard that we had a very sick cat. He wanted to know if there was anything we needed, and if he could go down the street to the Steak and Shake to get us dinner while we waited.

It was a very kind gesture from a stranger, but it sent me into a mild panic. No one at that point had said just how sick Séamus was. How did this stranger know? What weren't they telling us? The vet's assistant then came in and asked us to go into another room with her, so the vet could show us the x-ray.

At that point, we discoverd that Séamus had fluid collecting in the chest. The vet recommended that we take him to the emergency animal hospital, where they could tap his chest and drain the fluid, perhaps being able to determine what was wrong based on what they drained out. So we took him there immediately. He was obviously scared at this point, gasping to catch his breath, and I held his little paw the whole way over. Luckily, it was just a ten-minute drive, but I felt bad for having to put him through the emotional trauma. He calmed down by the time we got there.

The ER vet, it turns out, is very experienced with cardiomyopathy. She showed us on the x-ray that Séamus's heart was greatly enlarged. He was in heart failure, and without treatment, he wasn't going to make it through the night. She was very compassionate, very clear, and told us straight out she wasn't sure she could stabilize him, even with treatment, and if she could, his expectancy was going to be a few months, at best. I later learned that the majority of cats with clinical signs of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can be expected to die within a few months of diagnosis, even with the most aggressive of treatments.

Above: Maggie, Seamus, Bella sleeping on the sheepskin.
Below: Seamus and Bella. Seamus is on the left.
We felt completely blindsided, as he was literally running across the house and jumping off the refrigerator and attacking his sister just a few days ago. We're also surprised the first vet didn't detect the enlarged heart on the x-ray, or at least didn't mention it to us. The ER vet traced the outline for us, it was hard to see through all the fluid in his chest, and showed us how it compared to a normal image. We were horrified, because we simply didn't know--he was a robust, active, vibrant cat.

The ER vet equated it with those athletes who seem to be at their prime, but drop suddenly from a heart attack, and that we shouldn't feel bad, as the standards for early detection include x-rays, electrocardiography, and cardiac ultrasounds, which aren't standard on an annual exam. A routine check wouldn't diagnosis it. In fact, earlier that day, the other vet said his heart and lungs sounded fine.

Still, I felt, and still feel, like I somehow should have known. He was my little guy. How did I not know something was seriously wrong? My mind flashed to the evening before, when he sat upright next to me at my desk, leaning into my side. I thought he might just have a cold and was congested, and wanted some comfort, so I scritched his little head and chatted with him while I worked.

It all seemed to be happening too fast. How does a cat run full-speed across the house one day, chasing the dog, to dying of heart failure the next?

While we were discussing the options between the two of us, Séamus started to seizure and had a series of strokes; he was sedated to make him comfortable. The ER vet had mentioned pulmonary embolism. We were losing him and there was nothing we could do to stop it.

It was a very hard decision, because we love our little guy so much, but the vet indicated if it was her cat, the kindest thing we could do would be to euthanize him, as his chest would just keep filling with fluids even after we drained him; at this point he would only get worse, not better, and it would become a quality of life issue. He was literally drowning in his own fluids. She emphasized that she works in an ER, and even with all the technology available to her, she felt it sometimes isn't in a cat's best interest to prolong the inevitable.

So we felt we had to let him go. 


Our house is only a few minutes away; with Séamus sedated and made comfortable, we rushed home to get Mom so all three of us could be there with him. I was digging my nails into my back so hard to keep from crying; the last thing Séamus needed to see as he left this world was me freaking out. How was I to know when I got up that morning I'd have to say goodbye to my little friend? He went quietly, surrounded by those who love him.
Our hearts are breaking.

Seamus (left) and Bella, earlier this spring.

To learn more about Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, go to Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.


modernemama said...

It's the most awful thing to happen to a young animal but he had two happy years with you and although it probably doesn't seem like it at this moment, very little suffering. Thinking of you...

Rebecca said...

I found this post because I follow houseblogs.net on twitter. The title instantly grabbed my attention.

I lost my 2 year old part maine coon, Sunny, two and a half years ago. We had him and his brother, Macky, since they were just a few weeks old. I can't begin to tell you how reading this brought back so many awful memories and how hard it is to lose a pet. So many people just don't understand what it feels like. It literally still feels like my heart has been ripped out of my chest and it's been 2 years.

Sunny began having seizures and at one point they also thought he had cardiomyopathy. After a vet visit following a seizure, he contracted feline panleukopenia, though it went undiagnosed for nearly 7 days. He could not keep any food down and needed to have a feeding tube inserted just to give him some strength to try to fight it. Something like 70% of cats who get panleukopenia do not survive. We also made the painful decision to put him down when we realized he wasn't getting better. I think the saddest part even today is looking at his brother and knowing he has no clue what happened to Sunny. They were best buddies and he went through his own mourning period, I think.

My heart goes out to you and I just wanted to let you know that I know exactly what you're feeling right now.

Rae said...

I am so sorry for your loss!

Karen Anne said...

I am so sorry. At least he and you had the two years, but there is something particularly terrible about an animal passing away after such a short time. I rescued the wonderful cat my neighbors had abandoned, only to find that he was in the last stages of a terminal disease. The wonderful guy only had a couple of weeks of happiness, but at least he didn't pass away in pain with no one with him.

Kate R said...

I am so, so sorry to hear about Seamus.

Your Maine Coons were part of the reason I have my current cat that I adopted last year from my local animal control. I remembered what I had read in your blog about their great temperament, so when I saw one lounging/sprawled on top of the filing cabinets in the office area, I knew he was the cat for me. Thank you, and Bella & Seamus, for helping me make that choice.

NV said...

I am SO very sorry.

While it’s the right thing to do, that kind of experience never ever feels like it. DO NOT beat yourself up about it. You did all you could.

Sometimes it’s harder to let go than it is to fight. Just know that you did the most difficult but kindest thing that any of us ever have to as caretakers of furry family members.

Joanne said...

@Modernemama -- I think you've been reading this blog at least as far back as when we first brought the kittens home. Thanks for your kind thoughts.

@Rebecca -- I'm sorry about your Sunny. I read your blog(s), and the stories you posted about your critters. You're right, kittens do have their own mourning period. Bella looked for her brother for days, calling him. Our dog laid across the bed and cried. I think they've stopped looking for him, but both their personalities have changed a little. Feeding time is particularly hard for me; I'm still having trouble determining how much food to set out, and have to fight down the urge to sing out, "Bella, Moose, Bella Moose." (Moose was Seamus's nickname.)

@Rae -- Thanks. Your words really do help.

@Karen Anne -- I've born witness to the passing of animals before, and been with them in their final moments at the vet, but this one is particularly hard because he was so young. My other cats were both eighteen, my dog almost thirteen. When you've had a furry family member living with you that long, you're kind of prepared for the inevitable, and when it comes, it hurts terribly, but it's not a surprise. With Seamus, I feel like my heart's been ripped out. He was still in many ways a baby.

@Kate R -- Thank you so much for sharing your adoption story. Maine Coons are really amazing animals. I've never had a more laid back, friendly cat. Even in his last hours, when he was so sick he could barely breathe, Seamus still wanted to explore the vet's office and gave nose-to-nose greetings to all the staff.

NV -- Models of grief include five stages to the grieving process -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Ted says that I seem to have 42 or so, including guilt and self-blame. I know that what we did for Seamus had to be done, and I wish we could do something similar for the people we love (watching my grandfather in his last hours is an image that will forever haunt me), but it's never an easy process.

Thank you, all of you, for your kind thoughts.

Brigid Keely said...

Oh, that's so sad! A good friend of ours had a Maine Coon who was the sweetest, smartest cat I'd met in a long time, despite his previous history of abuse and neglect. He died suddenly, probably of the same thing Seamus died of. Maine Coons are extra susceptible to certain heart problems. Your post made me think of Nemo and how much I miss him. I'm sorry you're going through this, it's really awful.

Joanne said...

Thanks, Brigid. It is awful, and I just feel so heartsick. But I wouldn't trade these last two years with him for anything; Seamus was an *awesome* cat. I'm totally sold on Maine Coons, and would recommend them to anyone.

min hus said...

I haven't been online as much lately and am just now reading this. I'm so, so sad to hear about your loss. I've always loved when you shared pictures of your beautiful kitties.

It is terribly painful to lose a good friend, regardless of whether they walk on two legs or four. It's obvious no one could have loved him more or given him a better life.

Joanne said...

Thanks, min hus; reading about your cats is one of the things I like about your blog, too.

Losing Seamus has been so hard; of all the cats I've ever had--and I've loved every one of them--I've always felt particularly close to him.

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you in this harrowing time.
I'm crying as I type... we had to put our beloved ginge Bronson to sleep a week before we got married this past May.
Bless their furry little paws xo

Joanne said...

Thanks, anonymous. I'm sorry to hear about your Bronson. Losing a family member is just awful.

Tonia said...

I think I've mentioned before here that I've had paranormal experiences since I was a little girl, but did I ever tell you about the ghost kitties?

My beloved Misha hung around for a good two years after he passed (the hardest death I'd ever had to cope with); I think he knew I needed some extra attention during my grief. He even made a special return appearance the night Tybalt came to live with us! I think he wanted to see who this new, unfamiliar cat was, who was hanging out on his chair and in the company of the cats he'd known his whole life.

Our family home in Western Illinois, built by a veterinarian ancestor, has ghost cats that visit guests when they sleep. It's so funny to see people come down to breakfast and talk about the cats they dreamed about all night!

And when I visited a psychic in Florida, she perfectly described my James William (whom I never talk about, because his death, 20 years before, was so painful for me). She said he'd been pacing back and forth during our entire interview, rubbing against my ankles.

While I still miss each and every one of my departed pets, it's really comforting to know that some part of them, somewhere, lives on. Just because we can't see them, they're still connected with us on some level.

My family thinks it's crazy, and believe me, if I hadn't lived it, I would too, but I hope it brings some comfort to you.

As modernmama says, since Seamus was jumping off fridges and frolicking just the day before, at least he didn't have to endure being ill for very long. What his life lacked in longevity, I have to think that it made up in quality.

I hate that he's gone; you and your family are definitely in my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Your family inspired us to adopt our dog, Oliver, after we witmessed how a dog and two kittens could live together so happily. We are thinking about you guys.

Anonymous said...

Your family inspired us to adopt our dog, Oliver, after we witnessed how a dog and two kittens could live together so happily. We are thinking about you guys.

Joanne said...

Thanks. :-)

Anonymous said...

I was struck by your sentence that you should have somehow "known". I too had this thought when our beloved kitty had a genetic problem and went into kidney failure. Little Hannah was always a petite kitty with a lot of hair. By the time I noticed something was wrong, she had lost two pounds!! Even worse, I WORKED at a vet clinic at the time. God, the guilt was horrific. I was actually stunned when they weighed her as she too had been acting normal, but then things suddenly went very bad.

My vet doctors told me that cats are extremely adept at hiding symptoms when they are ill. It was heartbreaking and we ended up making the same decision as you and Ted. I cried for days on end as she was the sweetest thing in the world and oh so young.

That's the hard part of having animal friends, but our lives are so enriched by knowing them.


Joanne said...

Thanks, Sandy. It helps to hear other stories. Hannah sounds like a sweet girl.

Just the week before, we commented that Seamus was looking a tad bit on the skinny side, but he was also a lean cat with a ridiculous amount of fur, so it was hard to tell for sure. In fact, I had just trimmed his sides and belly because he had accumulated a few mats. Maybe that's why he looked skinny, I thought; less hair. And whenever he hit a growth spurt, he would get even leaner looking as he stretched out and bulked up again. Kind of like a gangly teenager. He was still a growing boy, and if anything, we thought he was hitting another growth spurt.

I had lost a cat to renal failure a few years ago; she was old, so it wasn't completely unexpected. But after that experience, I was convinced I knew what the signs of a sick cat looked like. A sick cat did not run all over the house.

That's the worst part, I think. The guilt and the second guessing. But you're right, they really enrich our lives. What would we do without them?

karen said...

As I am spending my day crying and doing research on Maine Coon, I came across your posting. I am sorry for your loss, I understand as I lost my 4 yr old Maine Coon last night. Ozzy appeared the normal and the next thing I knew he was having a seizure and gasping for air, he died in my arms. I am devastated and still in shock. The house is not the same without him. The Vet believes it could have been heart failure. My heart is broken and I miss him so. This breed is one of kind, they are wonderful animals.

Joanne said...

Karen, I am so sorry for your loss. It's been about four months since we lost our sweet Séamus and my heart still aches. Maine Coons are amazing, incredible cats--the smartest and funniest I've ever come across. Although we only had our little guy for two years, he left such a hole in our family when he died.

Hugs to you, Karen. I know how hard it is.

Karen said...

Thank you Joanne. I too am so sorry for your loss. My cats are my children. They love you unconditionally and warm are hearts. Losing them is never easy especially when they are so young. I am trying not to think of the night I lost my Ozzy, only of the times he has made me laugh. I used to tell him "OZ if only you were human, you would be the best Boyfriend!" and he would rub his head on me and chatter at me.
I know there are so many animals that need loving homes, and I plan on adopting another in Ozzy's honor.

Huggs to you my friend.

ellie said...

I am so sorry to read of your loss - what a terrible disease HCM is. I am a pet-owner of two Maine Coons, both of whom are heterozygotes for the recently discovered HCM1 genetic defect. As a researcher by profession (though not in medicine), I have begun researching HCM in various lines of Maine Coons in an effort to correlate DNA status with clinical disease. The purpose of my research is private: I am merely seeking to trace current Maine Coons who are positive for the MyBPC-3 defect back through lines that may or may not have presented HCM in the past. None of my data will be published or disseminated in any form.

I was wondering if you would be willing to give me the names of the parents & grandparents of Seamus? It is very helpful in studying HCM to have ancestral information on cats who might have had HCM - sometimes it is even possible to hazard a guess as to whether or not the cat might have been positive for the known defect (which was identified in 2005.)

Any information you can provide would certainly be appreciated. Again, I am so sorry for your loss. Breeders have better tools now to control HCM, but there is still much work to be done to eradicate this terrible disease. I am grateful that research continues on the genetic defects that can cause HCM in Maines. Hopefully, some day soon we will be able to screen genetically for HCM and thus sharply reduce the number of cases among Maine Coons (and other breeds including domestics as well.)

Best Wishes,

Ellie Kimmel
Charleston, SC

CherryV said...

Aww I was sad to read this, I came across it while researching Maine Coon's and had to read it all :(

I see it is 10 months now, how are you all feeling now? My 5 yr old cat died of this too, I had to have her euthanized a few weeks before Seamus, its heartbreaking isnt it.

I cried for 7 weeks solid, it felt like I'd literally cried a river, but our pets become our friends...since we spend so much time with them don't they. Part of the family. I can look at photo's of her and smile now..I hope you can too. Such a sad thing for us to do, but I truly believe and know in my heart that you and I, we did the best thing :)

Joanne said...

CherryV--Thanks for your note. I'm sorry to hear of your loss; it really is like losing a family member. I still get a bit sniffly when I think of Seamus; he was truly one of the most awesome cats I've ever had the pleasure of sharing a house with. I created a coffee mug with his photo on it, so he's still with me in my day to day routines. It helps having his siblings here. Nothing like watching the antics of Maine Coons to make you smile.

I had a houseful of people over for a party this week, and despite so many strangers milling around, the cats had to be in the center of it all, sprawling across tables, hopping from lap to lap. Everyone commented that they had never seen such friendly (or huge) cats.