Newest Review: ... as we'd just started a huge bag of the original diet food. Something to bear in mind for the future, though. We booked an appointment fo... more
Warning: Beware of Flies
Member Name: Verbena
Advantages: Knowing she wasn't suffering any more
Disadvantages: Shock, guilt and devastating grief, slowly remitting.
===To Write or Not - Long Review Alert===
I've thought long and hard about whether or not to write this review. If you're an animal lover you may be critical. If you're not you may be dismissive and feel I'm being sentimental. I won't be offended if you don't read it.
Some reasons are: I've had real computer problems for a few weeks, which have meant I couldn't write reviews, and this has given me an opportunity to get back into it. A deeper reason is that I really hope that writing it will bring me some closure, as I'm still struggling to come to terms with what happened. Most important, though, is the hope that it might help someone who reads to avoid the same sad outcome.
We haven't had a huge number of pets in our household. I've never owned a dog. Apart from cats, we've only had guinea pigs and a few hamsters. The cats we've owned before our last one were all from the farm of my husband's late parents, semi-feral and not terribly healthy. For various reasons they didn't live to great ages. Our last one was different. She came into our lives in 1999. My daughter, who was about to sit her 'A' levels at the time, came home from school to inform us that a friend had a cat who'd just had 5 kittens, and please could we have one, etc etc. It had been several years since we last had one and we weren't particularly looking to take on a cat, but somehow that's what we ended up doing. The first day I held her she fitted into the palm of my hand - her eyes only just opened - and licked me. She was the smallest and possibly the only female, with distinct tortoiseshell colouring. It was obvious she was going to be 'ours' and eventually she came home.
Unfortunately she started to put on weight quite seriously not long after she'd been neutered. We tried diet food, persuading her to exercise more etc but it was a problem all of her life. Also in temperament she was pretty laid back, even lazy, and this certainly didn't help. It seemed that every time we changed something in the home it affected her activity levels, especially when we had double glazing installed as she seemed unable or unwilling to jump into the new window sills and was getting too fat to get through the cat flap. I have to admit feeling disillusioned with the lack of advice and support from the vets we were registered with and we moved to new vets in February this year.
===2013: New Start===
I was impressed by the new vet's approach. I'd felt guilt about the cat's size for years, but this vet said it was worth trying a diet regime again as she looked generally pretty healthy for a 14 year old. He wanted her to lose weight slowly, and suggested we had a trial period of a couple of months or so, and took her back just after the first May Bank Holiday for a weigh-in which the vet nurse would do. They would measure her as well, because just as in humans sometimes the change in shape is as significant as the weight loss.
The May check-up brought the good news that she had lost well over a kilo. She seemed so much brighter and more energetic, too, once again doing things she hadn't done for some time. We were delighted. We took home a weight chart with her weight loss clear for all to see. I was slightly puzzled that no measurements were taken but no problem; she'd done well to lose weight like that.
The next appointment was a month later with a different nurse who didn't know her history. There had been no weight loss at all, which surprised us as she hadn't seemed so bothered about eating the full amount. There was a lot of talk about how important it was to keep her moving and getting her to exercise more burn off the calories, and discussion about a new diet food which might suit her metabolism better. We were reluctant to try this yet as we'd just started a huge bag of the original diet food. Something to bear in mind for the future, though. We booked an appointment for another month's time so that we could have her checked over before our holiday in July.
I became really concerned because her appetite seemed really poor and she was eating less and less. I knew that there was a serious, potentially fatal condition called fatty liver - I forget the medical term, possibly hepatic lipidosis. Here when weight loss happens too quickly the liver starts to self destruct, as I understand it. I called the surgery and spoke to the nurse. We decided to bring forward the appointment, in fact to that week, and try her on the new food as she was maybe simply fed up of the old one, having had it for several years. There was an alarm bell ringing in my brain saying 'this cat has never been faddy' but there was an advantage in that we could take in the old one & have credit towards the new. Also there was a wet food option if she needed a treat, so we gave it a try and it seemed to work. Unfortunately the progress was short lived and when I phoned to say she'd only eaten 14g one day as opposed to the 63 prescribed we decided the vet needed to see her to run some tests.
===The Final Week===
That Thursday evening was really tense. She was taken into a back room for blood tests and we heard her protesting loudly. There was a wait of 30 minutes or so for the results, during which time the vet came out and told us that her veins were really tiny and they'd had serious problems getting a viable sample. They'd tried both front paws and her jugular vein. That was presumably why she'd screamed so much. The tiny veins were connected to whatever was wrong.
When we did get the results it was a case of 'it's easier to tell you what's not wrong than what is'. Her liver and kidney functions were OK and she wasn't diabetic but her bilirubin was high and they hadn't had enough blood to run some tests, including red and white cell counts. He decided to treat her as though she had pancreatitis. This involved pain relief, a multi-vitamin shot and valium as an appetite stimulant. Some special high-calorie food was prescribed but really it was a case of get her eating anything. We had some pain relief to give at home & an appointment to come back next morning.
When we got home she leapt out of her carrier, purring loudly. I offered her some of the special food as directed and was delighted when she ate it with relish. She also accepted a little tinned tuna, and kept going. I was so relieved and she seemed so much better. I was able to give the vet a good report the next morning; he checked her over and was satisfied that she was getting better, although he would have liked to have run more blood tests her decided to leave it for the time being. We left with more food and more pain relief with instructions to ring with a progresss report first thing on Monday morning or earlier if concerned. She did well over the weekend so I made the Monday call. We discussed moving her back gradually on to her diet food, and preferably the dry rather than the wet as it was better for her teeth and better overall. I ordered some extra cans of the wet food because our holiday was getting closer and I didn't want my daughter to be in difficulties if problems recurred in our absence. I picked it up on the Tuesday morning and I remember the nurse asking how she was and me responding that she'd got her bright eyed look, back, and seemed to love being outside in the sunshine to the point where I couldn't easily get her in. Also I was a bit puzzled that I'd seen her lying on her side in her litter tray when she had a bowel movement, but maybe this was just 'old lady' behaviour as we'd had a bit of that. What I haven't said is that she had a dense coat for a short-haired cat, and that, her size and limited movement meant it was impossible for her to clean herself properly if there was any faecal matter in her fur, so I cleaned her. If only our conversation had gone a bit further, if only she had warned me.
On Wednesday the cat was basking outside in the sunshine when my neighbour came round. She has some major personal issues going on & visits run into the hours rather than minutes sometimes, so I checked on my cat before we started. We sat in the conservatory with the door open so the cat could come in if she wanted but she stayed on the patio within sight.
===Last 24 Hours===
That night something wasn't right. She missed her tray, and then started straining to have bowel movements anywhere and everywhere, sometimes on her side. I followed her around cleaning up & wiping her. I noticed that her bottom looked sore so I bathed it with tepid water and cotton wool, which she seemed to appreciate. We confined her to one room overnight. I checked her early next morning - she had an appetite and seemed fairly comfortable. There was a bit more mess but to be honest I put it down to the several changes in diet she'd had recently, as it had had a similar effect before. We were due at the weight clinic that evening but I asked my husband to phone and ask whether she needed to see a vet as her bottom, although looking a little less sore, might need some treatment. It was the one day that week I had to be at work, and before the vet opened, but I knew he would be home at lunchtime so I wasn't too concerned.
I couldn't have been more wrong. What I found when I got home, just after 3.15, will haunt me for a long time. I went to stroke her and, to my horror, found a clump of maggots just above where her tail started. In revulsion and panic I started pulling them off, but the more I pulled out the more there seemed to be. I offered her some food, thinking in my panic that if they'd been taking her blood she might have a better chance if she fed. She did eat quite well, but then made it clear she wanted to go outside. I followed her, taking my I pad which I'd had at work. I googled what I'd seen and immediately realised it was unlikely that she could be saved, as she was expelling maggots when she strained to pass a motion - there was nothing else coming out now. I promised her aloud that one way or another we'd stop her pain. A text to my husband, a call to the surgery, and we were on our way. It wasn't long before a vet and a nurse were looking at her. Soon we had confirmation of what I already knew - she had fly strike, the maggots were coming from within her anus. The vet, who hadn't seen her before, commented that she was clearly a seriously unwell cat anyway - she should have put up some resistance to the things they were doing to her, but she just lay there passively. It was agreed that the kindest thing was to end her life. We signed the consent form, decided upon an individual rather than group cremation, she was brought in wrapped in her blanket with eyes that were wide - with fear or pain, I don't know. The canula was already in place to ease her discomfort, I suppose. She was placed on the table, we stroked her, and very soon she was gone. The vet tactfully left us alone with her to say our goodbyes and we left not much later.
I thought I was prepared to lose her. I'd said to myself 'You saw your aunt just a few hours before she died of cancer; you nursed your mother-in-law through some of the final stages of cancer; you can cope with losing the cat.' Well I suppose I have coped, but initially it was devastating, partly because of the guilt I felt and still feel. If only I hadn't left her outdoors; if only I'd managed her weight loss more successfully when she was younger; why didn't I phone the vet when I noticed the sore bottom? Etc etc. My husband went out for a meeting that night which was probably as well as I needed to be alone. To be honest I think I was slightly in shock. The next day - Friday - we were both walking around like zombies. By Monday I felt up to phoning the vet and asking about settling our bill, collecting her ashes etc. We agreed that if I take in all of her leftover food they will find a good use for it, either via RSPCA or Cats Protection. They sent me a card this week, which was a kind touch. Slowly I/we are getting there. On Wednesday I ordered a plant with her name, that I may plant where we scatter her ashes. I think 'bringing her home' will bring a fresh period of grief. I hope it will all be over before we go to Scotland on 19th. We had no idea when we booked it that she would be gone by then. It doesn't seem real and I still expect to see her cheeky face when I come downstairs and so on. At least some happier memories are returning, rather than the awful ones of a week last Thursday.
===Some Final Thoughts===
As I come to terms with what happened I realise that in a strange way it may have been a blessing in disguise. If she really was so ill maybe it was her time anyway - the fly strike just made the decision a no-brainer. We might have tried to keep her going for longer, much longer, and looking back I can see that her life quality wasn't great, although she seemed happy enough until that last day.
People keep asking if we will take on another cat. It's far too soon, but right now I don't think so. Her last few months have brought home to me the enormous responsibility we take on when we bring a pet into our lives. It's not just the cost, either, though that must be a serious consideration if the economic situation doesn't improve. Can we afford the treatment of an elderly cat when we are in our seventies? I know insurance would help, but there are lots of other aspects too - like who cares for them when you go on holiday? We'd never had a cat live to this age before, and 14 isn't all that old for a cat these days, so I hadn't really thought it through when we got her. Maybe one day in the future we'll decide that the companionship and other benefits outweigh the cons but I can't say right now. I still miss her too much.
Above all, don't take on a pet unless you're committed to providing the best for them, and that's expensive in time and emotions as well as finance. The level and expense of available veterinary care has increased in the 14 years.
Realise that losing a pet can be devastating. It seems worse because communication, if there is any, is limited at best. You can tell them how you feel, you may be able to tell how they feel, but it's not guaranteed.
Allow yourself to grieve and don't listen to anyone who says 'it was only a cat/dog/ hamster/rabbit etc. If love was involved then so will be mourning. It may take longer than you think, maybe because our house pets are 'always there'.
I wasn't aware of the dangers of fly strike - I don't know why. I feel I should have. Any animal that's sick, wounded, frail etc may be vulnerable and it can happen within 24 hours, as it did with my cat and also a friend's rabbit, as I found out yesterday. Please be very careful about it, especially in the current hot weather when the flies have suddenly proliferated. I don't want anyone to have to go through that. If my review only raises someone's awareness it was worth writing and may even have saved a life.
A special thank you if you've taken the time to read through this. I will probably post on other sites, if only to raise awareness.
ŠVerbena July 2013
Summary: Fly strike is devastating - beware, especially in this heat!