Claire came into our lives 17 years ago when we lived in Corpus Christi, TX. I was walking home from a friend’s house and out of no-where, up walks this crème torbi, sweet, and chatty, rubbing up against my legs, circling my ankles. I was sure another feline was not in our future as Kittle and Tex certainly would not welcome a new friend into their home. She followed me all the way home, talking the entire time.
When I reached down to offer her my hand to smell and to pet her, I found she was skinny beyond good health and her ears were infected with mites. She was in rough shape despite her demeanor. I knew I had to help her.
Her personality was soft, sweet, cuddly and she never met a stranger she didn’t like. She was different than any cat Rob and I had ever known. She was beautiful beyond compare with hazel eyes that beamed with purity, wisdom and love and a coat that was soft as silk. She was a lap cat, seeking out the warmest available or cuddling tight, snuggling throughout the night or during a nap.
As friends and family got to know her, her personality stood out amongst our other cats… she was an extravert in every sense, always making new friends. Claire was gregarious, personable, kind, and sweet, although demanding if fish showed up at the house. We suspect while she was a stray, she hung out at the fish docks near our home as fishermen brought in their catch and cleaned the fish. Her love of fish never waned.
Although Claire was an indoor cat, we’d go on long walks together around the house, where she’d take in her surroundings, even coming nose to nose with a deer a few times. She had a patch of tall grass she loved to chew on from time to time. She’d hang on out on the front porch with us, basking in the sunshine, telling us how she’d love to catch that bird over there in the Douglas Fir. She loved her guided outside time.
Claire was a night owl. She was an expert at waking us up if her food supply was low or she just wanted a chin scratch or two. Blind banging was just one of her preferred methods of making us crazy. She’d do this until we threw socks or yelled. If that method didn’t get us out of bed, she’d meow and carry on, wondering from one side of the bed to the other. The water bottle didn’t deter her either. Instead of leaving the room upon being sprayed, she got on up in the bed, with her wet fur to cuddle, which made us crazy, but it also made us laugh.
She finally wised up and would set further than the water bottle sprayer could reach, chatting and carrying on. Her tactics changed several times and I finally decided all of this was not worth the effort and started getting up for her when she first demanded it. It was worth it, because generally, she’d let us sleep after refilling her food bowl, although I gave her the boot a few nights and locked her out of the bedroom. Now I wish I hadn’t.
Every spring and throughout summer she’d wake us up as the sun came up, asking for the back door to be opened. This was one of her favorite places to bask as the sunlight streamed in. We’d put her sleeping pad in the doorway and she’d snooze there most of the morning, lanky legs sprawled out, tail swaying, sleeping and occasionally raising her head up to see what was going on around her.
Perhaps the most profound part of her life was when she was diagnosed with kidney disease. This is when we discovered the depth of love we had for her and her for us. It was October 2012; Claire’s appetite was waning, then, she stopped eating altogether. We rushed her to our vet’s office where a simple blood test determined she was in kidney failure. Not knowing anything about this, we were devastated and scared, thinking the worst. We were told she’d need to spend at least three days in the intensive care unit at the vet hospital where she’d receive intravenous fluids. We admitted her. I’m sure it was a scary time for her, but she did incredibly well, began to recover, and started eating again.
While she was in the hospital, I researched everything I could about kidney failure, in order to help our sweet girl. I joined an online support group for helping me better understand and manage this diagnosis. I couldn’t have managed without them. In retrospect, I wish our vet had called kidney failure, kidney disease. Failure is scary and sounds like death is near. Disease tells me it’s something that can be managed. To our relief we learned kidney disease can be managed and extend life for many years post diagnosis.
What did this mean, managing kidney disease? One of the most important things we needed to do for Claire was to keep her hydrated because kidney disease dehydrates. We were told we needed to give her subcutaneous fluids at least 3x per week. This meant we were to insert a 1” needle into her skin, subcutaneously, and give her 100 mL of lactated ringers. It looks like the IV bags you see at the hospital. The vet told us this would take about 5 minutes per session. Our vet showed us how to do it… she made it look easy.
Administering fluids proved challenging at first. We weren’t sure if it would ever work. But with patience, practice, support and diligence, we succeeded. We’d set her up on an ironing board so that Rob and I could stand on either side of her. After warming her fluids in a heating pad, we hung the fluid bag from the ceiling fan. Rob would insert the needle and monitor the fluids while I finger fed her baby food, which included her other medications. Her favorite baby food was ham; it was the stinkiest.
After about a year of this, Claire started coming to us for her fluids. We figured she knew it made her feel better. At first, she’d jump on the adjacent table and wait to be lifted to the top of the ironing board. After about two years, she started jumping up on the ironing board at her routine time and waited for us to arrive with her warmed fluids and baby food. We never had to carry her to the ironing board again. It was about this time we had to increase her fluids, giving them to her every day.
The disease was a bit roller coaster, but we managed, through therapy and medicines to keep her feeling good and stable up until the last few months of her life. For the duration of her therapy, Rob and I were committed to our best friend. We decided home vet care would be best for her to minimize stress. We switched her food from canned wet and dry to a strictly raw diet, as long as she would accept it, and made sure there was water in multiple places in the house for easy access. She even had a glass on my bed side table. Kidney cats lose their appetite easily, so we often had to bribe her with a little garnish on her food in the form of bonito flakes. There were several times where we’d tweak her medicines or have to increase her fluids due to low hydration levels. Nursing care was a daily activity.
Over the last several months of her life, we started noticing a steep decline in her energy and interest in food. She was losing weight, becoming weaker and weaker, unable to get comfortable, and losing interest in her favorite things. We knew the time was drawing near where we’d have to say goodbye. We agonized over this for several months, but just by watching her and as difficult as it was, we knew it was time.
Claire ate raw salmon, one of her favorite things on her last day of life, and was in her favorite sunny doorway that Sunday, April 12, 2015, morning. She died there, in her home, surrounded by her forever family, her caring veterinarian, love and gratitude. We buried her next to her sister, Kittle, under the fir trees in our back yard. We surrounded her grave in flowers. Her loss was one of the most difficult things Rob and I have ever endured. It was agonizing.
We miss her terribly. The bond from caretaking alone was stronger than we’d ever imagined. From her little grunts, calls, meows, cuddles, waking us up in the middle of the night, to her soft fur, tail swaying while she slept, always running to the door and greeting us upon our return home and her forever reminder to slow down and be still.
I write this in hopes that those who are reading will get their cat’s senior panel done at least once per year starting at the age of 7 years old, to keep an eye on your feline’s kidney values and other essential health markers. Know if you find your cat is in renal failure, much can be done to help your friend. Do not give up hope. If your vet knows little regarding kidney disease, get a second opinion. You are your cat’s only advocate. Veterinary medicine has advanced in this area of feline health and much is known regarding this disease. Therapy is effective and can save your best friends life. Claire lived a beautiful three and a half years post diagnosis; she was 18 when she passed. We are forever grateful to the support and care she received, as we continued to receive her gifts far longer than we, at first, ever imagined. She was worth every ounce of effort.
Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Feline Chronic Kidney Disease is an online support group for pet parents navigating their way through Feline Kidney Disease. It helped us manage Claire through hers and I believe added quality years to her beautiful life.
…love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation ~K Gibran