Today marks the third anniversary of the day I had to let Amber go. She died after a sudden, brief illness, most likely a virulent strain of the calici virus, complicated by an underlying heart condition we weren’t aware of at the time.

It was the first time I had lost a cat so suddenly. The cats that went before her had long illnesses – Feebee had lymphoma, Buckley had heart disease – so I not only had time to prepare myself for their eventual passing, I also didn’t have to make medical decisions under pressure. Thankfully, my years of experience in veterinary medicine made the decision making process somewhat easier for me than it might have been for the average cat parent, but it was still incredibly challenging to separate out my emotions and my fear of losing Amber, and to make the best possible decisions for her care.

Caregiver Crisis Planning

If you have an older cat or a cat with special needs, you will probably be facing a health crisis at some point during her life. But even if you have a young, healthy cat, it can’t hurt to be prepared.

Certified thanatologist and founder of New England Pet Hospice, Heather Merrill, and bio-ethicist Viki Kind have developed a Caregiver Crisis Planning Guide to help pet parents navigate through difficult times.

The guide includes:

  • A worksheet to develop your own crisis action plan
  • Checklists for what you need to find out to make decisions
  • Checklists for what you may need to do in a crisis situation
  • An assesment of your crisis management style
  • A list of medical questions you may need to ask in a crisis

Click on the link below to download the free guide

Caregiver Crisis Planning Guide

I think if I had had this guide three years ago, I might have made my decisions for Amber’s care a little more gracefully, and with a little less desperation. I hope you’ll never need to use this guide, but I highly recommend that you read it when you’re not facing a crisis. You may also want to read Viki Kind’s book The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices for Those Who Can’t. Even though it’s written for humans, much of it will also apply to caring for feline patients, especially since the human hospice and palliative care field is much more developed than the veterinary equivalent.

For more information about New England Pet Hospice, please visit their website or Facebook page.

Related reading:

Making Medical Decisions For Your Cat 

Euthanasia: The Loneliest Decision

22 Comments on Making Health Care Decisions for Your Cat in a Crisis

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. You and Amber are in my thoughts. I lost my beloved cat Sam this past October to a sudden stroke. She was almost 11 years old and had been healthy. After the initial stroke she had some trouble seeing and walking but seemed to be improving. The neurologist said that it could go either way. After 2 days she took a turn for the worse and had another stroke. She could barely move after that. She dragged herself by her front paws to be near me. I looked into her eyes and held her close and told her it was ok to stop fighting and to just let go. I made the most difficult decision ever to let her go. I was glad my husband and I were with her when she passed on. I grieve for her everyday. I was not prepared and it all happened so fast. With in a week she was gone after 11 years of joy and happiness.

      • Thank you Ingrid. I fear my heart will never heal from this loss. I have two other cats who I adore. They are helping me to heal. My cat Chloe is 5 years old and she lived with Sam. I swear she grieved for her too. My husband adopted a kitten for me after Dam died. Her name is Lexi and she is a joy. Sam was my best friend and I will miss her everyday.

  2. Thank you for this very important post, and for sharing the guide with us. I’m going to download it and to read it carefully in a quiet moment where I feel warm and comfortable (this is a very scary subject for me, but I know that being conscious about hard decisions we might need to face is the best thing we can do for our babies).

    I am thinking of you on this day, and sending you my warmest ((((HUGS))))). Amber is a beautiful soul, and she was lucky to have found you.

  3. I’ve had to make the heartbreaking decision to send many of my very sick babies to heaven. It’s never get easier however when it is completely unexpected, it’s the MOST devasting of all. My Ashley was diabetic and being managed extremely well on insulin for almost a year. While home one Sunday, all of a sudden she could not walk and it seemed she was paralzyed. I rushed her to the vet and it was determined that she has a blood clot to her legs and she was not able to be saved. I was not prepared to make that decision. It still haunts me today. So even having a little time to prepare helps a great deal, in every way.

    • Karen, I just went through something very similar last month with my baby girl, Liadan. She was 11 and appeared perfectly healthy when she suddenly developed a saddle thrombus. She cried out in pain when I tried to pet her, and she couldn’t walk. Her hind legs were going as cold as her paws even as I rushed her to the vet. At first, when the vet kindly broke it to me that Lia likely wouldn’t survive the day, I begged her to please help me find a way to save her. Then when I looked into Lia’s eyes, I could see she was dying and I needed to let her go in peace. I only had a few precious minutes to say goodbye. My grief is still fresh and I’m crying as I type this.
      Kobi, the kitty I had before Lia (and her surviving two brothers and sister) had feline leukemia. Gems, my kitty before him, had diabetes. Both lived longer than anyone expected, but I knew that their illnesses would eventually take them from me. I was every bit as sad when they died as when Lia died, but with them I’d had much more time to prepare as their health declined. Lia’s death was such a shock that it seems to make the hurt more painful.
      I’m sorry for the loss of your Ashley, Karen, and for the loss of your Amber, Ingrid. How lucky we were that these wonderful kitties were in our lives!

      • Thank you, Jackie – and I’m so sorry about all of your losses. You’re right, we’re blessed to have shared our lives with these wonderful cats, but it’s so painful when they leave us.

    • I’m so sorry about Ashley, Karen. A sudden loss like yours is devastating, and I can understand that it still haunts you today.

  4. We often have the discussion (cat volunteers at our SPCA) whether its easier to lose a pet suddenly or be able to prepare yourself to say goodbye, but have the pet linger. I lost my Harri at age 10 to a sudden illness–3 weeks total and was blindsided after her death to find out she was FIV positive and could have exposed my entire household plus fosters to FIV. It’s never easy to think of our pets leaving us, but I agree you need to be prepared–especially if there is more than 1 caretaker.

  5. Losing a precious pet suddenly is heartbreaking. I just lost my sweet Flame Ragdoll to FIP, fast and swift he went down hill. It is still hard to think about. I will be downloading this information as of course I am leaving for a short trip and need to have things in place in case the others get sick. I too had only lost cats that I knew it would happen – this was my youngest kitten – just turned 1 on the day I had to let him leave his mortal coil.
    Thank you for your wonderful informative blog,

    • I also lost my PyPy to FIP… he was doing really good and took a very sudden turn for the worse… even though I knew it was inevitable he would leave me eventually, it happened so quickly! Wish I had had this info then. And condolences to you Rebecca for losing your Ragdoll.

  6. I am sorry for the loss of your kitty. I lost my beloved kitty last August. All of sudden got real sick and I had to make a decision. It sure is really hard to seperate emotions. Thank you for your post and the guide. I still have 2 senior cats that I am a caregiver for.

  7. I’m so sorry you lost your beautiful and beloved Amber.

    I think this worksheet is something all caregivers can use. Even though I had a very long time to prepare for losing Casey (4 years of CKD), I ultimately still was completely unprepared when the time did come for her to leave me. It was definitely a crisis situation, and I was unable to think clearly. Thanks for sharing the worksheet! I’m going to download it and keep it for future reference.

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