Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lucy's Story

I've been hibernating because there hasn't been alot to say lately, and I haven't felt like saying what there is to say until today.

I want to tell you the story of our Lucy.

Lucy came into our lives in 1994 as a wee kitten just after Nate and I started dating.  Her name started out as Lucifer because she used to attack our feet in the dead of night.  It would scare the bejeezus out of us.  While she mellowed over the years, she always retained her devilish nature.   

She tolerated Nate, but I was always her first choice.  She always greeted me when I got home, and she would often sit on the buffet by the dining room window watching and listening for my car.  She hated any visitor who took my attention away from her, and she could give them some vicious dirty looks.  Only she was allowed to sit in my lap, and usurpers of her throne (primarily my other cat, Onyx) were not tolerated and were dealt with severely.  She had a vicious punch and anyone who felt like they could just walk up and pet her were quickly put in their place.  We often called her Juicy Lucy because she was so flexible and flowing.  You could bend and twist her in anyway and she just contorted like a yoga master.  We also called her The Turkey Fiend because she took every opportunity to steal food and she didn't apologize for it.  Whatever punishment doled out was worth the prize.  Nate found her one day chewing away on his turkey sandwich and they literally had a tug of war with it.  As you can see from the photo, she loved high places, and whenever I lived in a place with cabinets that had a space above them, she found a way to get there. 

In December 2008, at the age of 14, she was diagnosed with Chronic Renal Failure.  The vet prescribed the typical low protein renal food.  This was around the same time I was learning more about the food industry and we were starting to change the way we ate at home and being more conscious of our food purchases.  I had never had a pet this old, so I had never dealt with any serious animal health issues.  I got online and started researching CRF in cats, and the more I read, the more I knew the prescribed renal food was not right for Lucy.  Animal by-products were the first ingredient, and my research indicated that it's not some much the protein quantity (low protein vs. high protein) as the quality.  While, the goal of this post is not the share my research and say my way should be your way, I will say "The Natural Cat" by Anitra Frazier is a great resource.  After 14 years with Lucy, I knew her better than anyone else, and the decisions I made at that time were as educated as I could make though they were a complete 180 from traditional veterinary medicine. 

After I did a bit of research, I called my vet with questions about his approach vs. what I had read online.  I told him I did not want to feed Lucy the low protein food for many reasons and that I had been reading about a more holistic approach to treating CRF.  He got angry and told me he was the vet, not me, and he didn't believe in that holistic poo poo (Yes, those are the words he used, holistic poo poo.), He also told me that if I chose to follow a holistic approach with Lucy then I was killing my cat.  He said the prescribed cat food was formulated with alot of research behind it, and I was a fool not to follow his advice.  Well, needless to say, after I had been insulted I never took her to him again.  I just thought, "What an ass!"

After that phone conversation, I decided to start with some suggested manufactured foods that were considered CRF friendly that were high quality protein based.  At the same time, I made up a batch of cat food based on a CRF recipe I found online.  Lucy wouldn't have anything to do with the canned cat food, but she did like my homemade food, so homemade cat food it was.  I also supplemented the food with a vitamin and a few herbal blends formulated for CRF cats.   

We bumped along for about a year and a half, and then she had a major crash from dehydration.  In nature, cats get the majority of their moisture from the food they eat, and they really do not rely on water to meet their hydration needs.  Domesticated cats are no different.  (Okay, this is me on my soap box.  Cats should not eat dry cat food as their only source of food.  In my opinion, they should never eat dry cat food period.  It does not have nearly the moisture it should for a healthy hydrated cat.)  CRF cats already have compromised and damaged kidneys, so they have a hard time maintaining their hydration from the moisture in their food.  They drink alot more water than a typical cat because they are trying to flush out the toxins that build up in their damaged kidneys.  As a result, the body is not receiving the hydration it needs resulting in dehydration.

At this point, Lucy was about 15 1/2 years old.  We decided to put her on sub-q fluids at home.  I learned how to monitor her hydration and to manage the fluids we gave her.  Many people thought we were crazy to spend so much money on a cat.  Our motto was if she still had a good quality of life, after 15 1/2 years of companionship and devotion, why wouldn't we?  Should we just desert her now that she's costing us a little more money and time?  I had already spent a year and a half making homemade cat food so what was adding another aspect to her care? 

Since her CRF diagnosis, Lucy would have a hard time transitioning to winter.  She seemed to have a slight decline in health, but she always bounced back.  She turned 18 this year, and I dreaded the approach of cold weather.  I knew she couldn't live forever, and after 4 years of managing her CRF, I knew she had already exceeded the average time a CRF cat lives.  Mid-October, I came home from work one day to find her face swollen.  This had never happened to her, so this was a new development that deep in my heart I knew wasn't good.  Fluid retention was the most likely cause, which can contribute to fluid in or around the lungs and/or congestive heart failure.  She was back to normal the next day and seemed like her old self though I noticed she was sleeping more than normal. 

At the end of October, I woke one night in a pool of urine.  Lucy had wet the bed, which was also new to us.  We got up, did what we could to soak up the urine, put towels down, remade the bed and I put her on top of the covers instead of under them with me.  When I got up to get ready for work, I noticed she had once again urinated while we were sleeping.  I really started to worry then.  I put a towel down and put her next to Nate while I took a shower.  When I came back into the room and checked on her, I noticed there was a pool of blood next to her.  We immediately took her to the emergency vet.  I suspected a urinary tract infection, which is common with CRF cats.  She was diagnosed with a UTI, and her bloodwork came back with high kidney values, neither of which surprised me.  Being an emergency vet, he had never seen Lucy before that day, and he said for a CRF cat, he was surprised she had lasted as long as she day and that we must be doing something right.  The vet gave her a dose of antibiotics and instructed us to increase her fluids to help flush out the infection and to give her kidneys a good flush. 

While I was worried, I had high hopes the antibx would kick in and she would once again bounce back.  We made a bed for her in front of the fire at home but I soon realized she could barely stand up.  She would just urinate where she was.  That night, we left her by the fire, which was the first time in years she did not sleep with us.  I got up throughout the night to check on her, but about 5:00 the next morning a thump woke me up.  I bolted out of bed and realized she had dragged herself into the doorway of our bedroom to get in the bed with us.  She would take two wobbly steps and fall over.  She had done this all the way to our bedroom.  To me, that was one of the most heart wrenching moments of my life.

The vet said it would take about 3 days for the antibx to really kick in, but it quickly became evident that the increased fluids were causing difficulty of breathing for her.  Without the fluids, she would dehydrate and die, but with fluids, she was most likely retaining fluid causing fluid to accumulate in or around her lungs and/or congestive heart failure.  She was not eating either, and I tried all of her favorite treats.  We couldn't watch her suffer, and it was evident she was not going to recover.  We made the decision that was best for her. 

18 years, 4 months and 2 days was not enough time. 

With Thanksgiving being tomorrow, I want to say how thankful I am to have had such a loving, mischevious, stubborn, opinionated, loyal, beautiful companion in my life.  Nate often says that Lucy and I are just alike, and I consider that the ultimate compliment.  I learned so much from her.   

We love you Lucy, and we miss you terribly.  There is a huge hole in my heart now that will never be filled.