Peaches is pretty much back to being her sweet, demanding little self, but for a few days recently she was sleeping more and eating less, growing a little unsteady, a few other symptoms. We saw the veterinarian on Thursday and confirmed what I’d been suspecting for a while, that she’s been slipping into renal failure. A dose of fluids that day and each day since, and she’s feeling much better.
This is not a surprise, and not unanticipated. Peaches is “anecdotally” 19 years old, and kidneys get tired as the years go on, even in humans. Even with a good, balanced diet and continued good health, it’s wise to look for the symptoms of chronic kidney failure as a cat grows older. But I’ve nursed other elders through this, and I’m glad for the lessons learned.
So Eva, I think Peaches is out of the running as your assistant kitty for the moment, though having read your other candidates’ interviews she’s seriously considering at least being a virtual assistant!
I do know that Peaches is in her late teens, though not her exact age, because she’s been with me for only five years. A friend told me about a good friend of hers who had died unexpectedly, leaving two cats who belonged with no instructions for what do to with the girls.
After a cursory look for prospective homes, the woman’s out-of-town son had decided to take them to a veterinarian and likely have them euthanized rather than take them to a shelter where it was unlikely they’d be adopted, but apparently the vet convinced him to give them a little more time.
Back home in the empty house, my friend gave them food and water and visited while she helped get the woman’s belongings in order and the house ready for sale. I told her with seven cats and several seniors already, I didn’t want to take them in, but if they were in “dire straits” she should call, and so she did when the house was sold and the girls had to go somewhere.
I knew this meant that I stood a good chance of not only fostering but also owning two senior cats, but I’ve fostered and found good homes for plenty of cats, including older adults. Something told me to take the chance on these two.
Their records were lost in the shuffle so I had no idea of true age, health or inoculations. Peaches’ name was then Rosebud, and her calico sister was Angel, and while I usually keep the names adult fosters come in with if I know them, these names didn’t work for me. I used my everyday skills in marketing and promotion and renamed them Peaches and Cream, hoping the familiar phrase would help encourage someone to adopt the two.
Perhaps because of their age or the fact that they had been primarily alone for three months, they came in with some hydration issues; Cream, in fact, seemed to be suffering from chronic renal failure then, and Peaches had some serious elimination issues. A few weeks of fluids and a regular diet, confined in the spare cat room, and they were good as new. I was already treating Stanley for chronic renal failure and always had a bag of fluids hanging in the kitchen, and with the four senior cats on hand—Stanley had come to me as an adult and been with me 20 years already, Moses was 18, Sophie was 15, Cookie was 13—I had done my best to learn what to anticipate as they grew older.
Of course, though many people met the two friendly and social seniors, complimented their good looks and laughed at their names, no one wanted to risk adopting cats that old, and the most frequent comment was along the lines of “they’ll die soon, and I can’t handle that”. I could understand not wanting to walk into a potentially hurtful situation, but these two ladies had been the darlings of a widowed senior woman and needed a home where they got more attention than mine.
But the two adapted to my house better than I’d seen many other cats adapt to a dramatic change. Creamy thought I belonged to her and chased the other cats away when she was on my lap, not a good idea, so I had to keep her confined for certain periods of time during the day to avoid the other seniors getting upset. Still, she was so sweet and pretty that I regularly took her for visits to the personal care home where my mother lived so she could happily sit on the laps of ladies who had had to give up their kitties.
One day Peaches walked out of the Spare Kitty Room leaving Cream and never went back in. I had the feeling that Cream, much bigger and bolder, had always dominated tiny submissive Peaches, but it seemed Peaches felt she had a new life here.
I did lose Cream 10 months after she came to live with me; she was one of the four seniors I lost in a 12-month period, finally losing the battle with chronic renal failure. I felt she was desperately waiting to see her person again and had a hard time letting go, and I thought of the individuals who wouldn’t adopt her because of the age and loss issue, but I had known what I was headed for, and I also knew that my pain at her loss was far outweighed by the final happy months she had.
Peaches goes on
Peaches immediately became a part of my household, her health continued to improve and she turned out to be very friendly, even greeting people (after Namir was done with them), and everyone remarked on what a pretty little kitty she was, and apparently very different from what she had been in her former home.
She came in with some variation on Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), my veterinarian telling me she had horribly ropy and lumpy intestines, and this was likely the cause of Peaches’ elimination problems. As a senior, she gets high-quality canned food with supplements to help her digest and metabolize her food, plus raw meat or a raw meal now and then as she will eat it, especially once we learned about the condition of her intestines. While she occasionally became constipated, she gained weight—from 5.5 lbs to 6.1 lbs at the most—and vitality.
And she’s more than held her own with the arrival of the Big Four. I was concerned what four lively growing kittens could do to a frail tiny cat like Peaches, but she ignores their silly games and they love her, cuddling with her and treating her gently.
Her new career
Despite her attempt to become a feline photographer, Peaches was meant to be an artist’s model. I can’t imagine what my portfolio of writing, feline paintings, sketches and photographs would be like without her. Her little self-possessed habits, her delicate, petite appearance and her clear peach and gray and creamy white markings make her a constant inspiration to me as a feline artist, and a favorite subject for those who view my artwork.
Among other things, she appears on two of my animal sympathy cards—two of the most popular so far.
And she is the subject of one of my favorite works, “Peaches and Peonies”, which shows the moment I understood how important Peaches had become in my life. It was then that I realized how often I looked at her, how much I loved both her sweet self-centeredness and her natural curiosity and affection for me, how I studied her features, and how much this scene was what I felt was the essence of Peaches. I have dedicated a portion of the sales of prints of this piece to support adoption programs for senior pets through my “Senior Pet Adoption Program“.
Getting older, and the risk of renal failure
I’ve given her a few doses of fluids here and there in the years she’s been with me, partly to help with her bowel condition, and kept an eye on her appetite, elimination, physical appearance and her breath. In addition to elimination problems, she was also the one who vomited at least once a day, for no apparent reason. When she vomited more than once, I was concerned and took a closer look, and usually, with a little special food, maybe some fluids, a little something to settle her stomach, she was fine.
Beginning Monday, I saw the same symptoms. She seemed to be clearing up, but by Wednesday night just wasn’t eating right, still vomiting and was very sleepy with that characteristically strong uremic breath. Thursday morning I called our veterinarian, who has a house call business and was coincidentally just a few streets away from me.
This woman has been my primary veterinarian for 15 or more years, and I think at this point she can read something in my voice. She trusts my interpretation and descriptions, and while she’ll often just return my call with advice, when it’s been most important she’s decided to make the time in her schedule and stop by. Thursday was such a day.
While she weighed and examined Peaches and we gave her fluids, I described Peaches’ recent activities, including quite an animated discussion of how “good” the condition of her stool had been for the past few months since I found a new supplement. Cat owners will understand these intense conversations about cat poop, and the various descriptions of size, shape and consistency, and my vet and I had a good laugh at it.
My veterinarian also remembers my shock when I lost my Nikka to acute renal failure in 2003. Nikka was 15 and had also had some elimination issues, and I had only thought she was constipated and perhaps vomiting at breakfast was caused by that. But with no stool the next morning we did a quick appointment; Nikka’s body temperature was dropping, she was apparently suffering some neurological effects in her hind quarters, and the next morning I had to have her put to sleep at an emergency clinic in the middle of a snowstorm because her kidneys had simply quit. I saw no symptoms of anything, so I don’t know if Nikka dealt with it as cats do, or if it really was classic acute renal failure where even getting her to the clinic earlier would have helped.
My veterinarian gave me the details of how feline kidneys function and how they fail, and what to look for with renal failure. I have never forgotten the lessons, all of them, from the loss to the learning. A year later, Stanley had been showing some early symptoms and suddenly dropped of the scale, completely lethargic and losing body temperature one morning, but fluid therapy brought him around and eventually he recovered to the point where he only needed fluids now and then for his last three years.
The day we’d dosed Peaches with fluids, I had to leave in the late afternoon. She was sleeping on my chair when I left, but when I came back she had her paws curled under like a little dilute calico meatloaf on the papers on my desk, awake and waiting for me to return. Some sights are so welcome they bring tears to your eyes even though they are hardly noteworthy without knowing the details.
Today, two days after her diagnosis, Peaches is almost back to her usual activity level and appetite, still a little sleepy and unsteady, but she’s responded well to the fluids alone and that’s a good sign. She’s gone from baby food to her favorite canned food with some raw interspersed, and a few tablespoons of skim milk for extra fluid and because she likes it. I can usually find someone to help me give Peaches her fluids—for all her seeming frailty, Peaches puts up a heck of a fight, and in part it’s her tiny body that’s the problem because she’s impossible to find when I wrap her in a towel.
I’ve got a bag of fluids hanging in my kitchen, the joke between me and my veterinarian is that I always do because it wards off the evil spirits. In the three-year period when I had senior and critically ill cats and lost a total of six cats, I always had a fluid bag in the kitchen. Whenever it seemed I didn’t need it anymore and took it down, suddenly someone developed a condition and needed the fluids again, so I’ve left a bag hanging there even though it’s usually been outdated and unusable. Doesn’t everyone have a bag of fluids hanging in their kitchen?
Peaches eats on a counter/island I have in the middle of my kitchen, and even at her age she jumps up onto the backless stool I use and from there to the countertop, usually racing me into the kitchen and trying to convince me it’s time to eat—every 42 minutes. Partly because I need to sit in a chair instead of on a backless stool and Peaches didn’t always make it up onto the stool, I added a table with regular chairs.
Peaches was a little confused at the change, but she is very independent and I knew that any attempt by me to show her how to get up on the new table would be summarily rejected. I let her circle the table and her natural curiosity led her to investigate each of the chairs, choose one and jump up and easily walk to the counter as if nothing was different.
I know two things: we are not out of the woods yet, and we probably never will be again. The reality is that Peaches is a very old cat and her days are fewer than I’d like to think about, but I need to think about it. I’ve lost 12 cats from my household, dozens of others I’ve fostered or come to know through friends and customers whose portraits I’ve painted. My days of losing cats are far from over. I’d be a fool to deny that losing Peaches isn’t part of the reality of loving Peaches, in fact, it’s an integral part of loving Peaches, and being honest and aware is especially important right now, both for Peaches’ care and my own emotional health.
We’re not ready to walk down that last stretch together, but we’re considering the journey. Losing a loved one is never easy and nothing can make it hurt less, but I’m guided by what I’ve learned from each of my losses and I have them to thank for the awareness that comforts me.
Thanks to Bootsie for my awakening, and to Kublai for looking into my eyes and teaching me what to listen for when an animal wants to communicate. To Sally for the knowledge that passing over really is a joyful event, to Stanley and Moses for teaching me to understand and trust their physical and emotional strength. And to Namir for teaching me to trust him to know when this time was the last time, and he was ready for the journey.
So Peaches and I are going to eat now, then she’ll get today’s fluids, then I’m heading outside to restore my soul. Keep Peaches in your thoughts.
This thou perceivs’t, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ‘ere long.