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.|
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
- difficulty breathing
- increased respiratory rate
- reluctance to move around
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.
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.