Pet Loss

Animal Sympathy Cards from Portraits of Animals

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“Each time I’ve lost a cat, I’ve gained something in my life—made decisions about my career, begun working in a new medium or style, found new friends. Perhaps the trauma of the loss caused me to see things from a new perspective, or it was a gift of gratitude from the cat I’d lost,” says animal artist and writer Bernadette E. Kazmarski.

She had determined years ago to design animal sympathy cards as most of the cards she’d received for her losses were not animal-specific, but wanted to make sure she had enough experience and perspective so she wouldn’t design something she’d later feel was incomplete or immature. One cat’s passing in 2009 gave her the space to follow through. As a fine artist as well as a commercial artist designing these cards was second nature. Continue Reading

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Review: Soul Comfort for Cat Lovers by Liz Eastwood

Soul_Comfort_for_Cat_Lovers

Even if our cats live into their late teens and sometimes early twenties, it’s just not long enough. The price we pay for sharing our lives with these wonderful companions is that all of us who considers our cats family members or best friends will sooner or later experience the pain of loss, and it can be as devastating as the loss of any loved one.

There are any number of books on pet loss on the market, but until now, there wasn’t a book that addresses the issue of pet loss specifically from a cat guardian’s perspective. In Soul Comfort for Cat Lovers: Coping Wisdom for Heart and Soul After the Loss of a Beloved Feline, Liz Eastwood provides a roadmap for the journey through grief.

Liz weaves her own experience with grief together with expert advice from grief counselors and stories from other cat lovers.Continue Reading

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Coping With the Pain of Pet Loss

copiing_with_the_pain_of_pet_loss

Even if our cats live into their late teens and sometimes early twenties, it’s just not long enough. The price we pay for sharing our lives with these wonderful companions is that all of us who considers our cats family members or best friends will sooner or later experience the pain of loss, and it can be as devastating as the loss of any loved one. Joelle Nielsen, a veterinary social worker at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says she often compares the loss of a pet to the loss of a child or a close family member. Nielsen says the big difference between losing a pet, compared to losing a human, is that “much of society is not aware of the strength of the human-animal bond, so pet loss is often seen as ‘disenfranchised loss,’ meaning it is not socially recognized.”

Another significant difference is the matter of euthanasia. Deciding to end a pet’s pain and suffering is one of the most difficult choices pet owners ever have to make, and it can engender massive feelings of guilt and regret after the fact.

While there are some commonalities, grieving the loss of a pet is a unique experience for each individual.  Factors that play into how the loss is handled Continue Reading

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Memorializing Your Cat

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Losing a beloved cat is devastating. While there are commonalities in how we mourn, grief is a very individual experience, and no two people will deal with pet loss in exactly the same way. But there are some things that can help ease the pain of loss. Finding ways to memorialize a cat who has passed on can be an important part of the healing process.

A photo tribute

This can take many different forms. One of the things I’ve always done after losing one of my cats is surround myself with photos. I would place them all over my house. In some small way, it made me feel like the lost cat was still with me in a somewhat tangible way. You can also create a physical collage suitable for framing, or an online photo album. Going through years of photos may bring tears, but hopefully, it will also bring smiles as you remember your time together.

Plant something

Plant a tree, a rosebush, or a flowering plant in your cat’s memory. Doing something life giving is a wonderful way to remember a cat, and you can visit with your memorial plant whenever you feel you need to be close to your cat.

Have a portrait painted Continue Reading

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A tribute to Steeler

Steeler

When a friend loses a cat, my heart aches for my friend. Today, the world lost a very special tortie named Steeler.

I never met Steeler. She belonged to my friend Bernie, but she also “belonged” to a group of friends who met via one of my blog posts about Tortitude: The Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats.  Bernie found the post when she did a  Google search after Steeler first arrived on her door step, because, as she said “I was curious to see what kind of a cat I had taken in. She just looked so exotic to me.”

Bernie found the abandoned tortoiseshell cat crying at her backdoor one night. She had never had a cat before, and knew nothing about cats. The little cat wanted in. Bernie did not want a cat. When it became colder, and no shelter would take her, Bernie decided that any cat that wanted a home that badly could stay.Continue Reading

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A tribute to Cookie

cookie-tortoiseshell-cat-close-up

When a friend’s cat passes away, my heart hurts for my friend. When I lose one of my feline Reiki clients, my heart hurts for the cat’s guardian, and for the lost connection. When I connect with an animal during a Reiki session, I connect with the essence of that animal, and even though I never get to meet many of my remote Reiki clients in person, I form a strong attachment to them over the time that I work with them.

Cookie was both: a friend’s cat, and a Reiki client. She was also a tortie. Cookie belonged to animal artist Bernadette Kazmarski. Early this morning, at the ripe old age of 19 years, Cookie passed away after a long and steady, but gentle decline. As Bernadette writes in her beautiful tribute My Little Sunflower, “her green eyes looked directly into mine; we held each others’ gaze for a minute or more as she lifted her petite paw and laid it on the back of my hand, comforting me, saying goodbye. Then she shifted her position and her gaze and drifted from consciousness.”Continue Reading

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Love, grief and letting your heart off the leash

Circe Abyssynian cat

Written by Circe (as told to her human, T. J. Banks)

Phoebe was going to write this guest post. But she knew that I had a story to tell, so she said I could take her turn. She’s a good friend. And it’s a good story, too…one with happy parts…sad parts…and the kind of ending I’ve heard humans call “bittersweet.”

I came from a cattery way up north. The woman there was good to me, but the other Abys weren’t. They shunned me because I was little and sickly. Even my own mother took no notice of me. So I just sat there, wistfully watching the other kittens tumble and wrestle with each other and wondering what it would be like to really feel like I belonged somewhere.

Then I came here. Phoenix, a handsome Ruddy Aby, greeted me right away and started showing me around the house. He told me that I was beautiful – he was a very friendly up-front sort of cat – and that I should forget all about what the Abys back at the cattery had said. I was his girl now, and he’d take care of me. Continue Reading

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Euthanasia: The Loneliest Decision (A Personal Experience)

Making a decision about whether or when the time is right for euthanasia is one of the hardest things someone loving a pet will ever go through. Unlike human medicine, veterinary medicine is fortunate to be able to legally offer the option of gently ending suffering when there seems to be no hope for recovery. Making this decision for a beloved pet can be agonizing to the point of being nearly impossible for some pet guardians.

And even though there are some guidelines that can help with the decision process, ultimately, nobody else can make this decision for you. It’s between you, and your pet.

My personal experience with having to make the euthanasia decision:

I’ve had to make this decision three times. In April of 2000, Feebee lost his battle with lymphoma. After tolerating chemotherapy well for almost seven months, he declined rapidly, and instead of choosing more aggressive chemotherapy and blood transfusions, which might have given him some more time, I choose to let him go. And Feebee, in one final act of unconditional love, took the decision out of my hands: he died in my arms while my vet was on her way to my house.

Those of you who read Buckley’s Story already know how difficult my decision was to let Buckley go in November of 2008, when her severe heart disease was compounded by multiple other problems. I probably held on a little too long with her, but I’m now at peace with my decision. She, too, died in my arms, with my vet’s gentle assistance.

My most difficult decision was the one I had to make last May, when Amber came down with a sudden, severe illness. She was in intensive care for four days, and her prognosis was so poor that I decided against pursuing more aggressive treatment and took her home. I spent the afternoon with her before my vet came to the house. Amber laid on my chest, and looked right into my eyes as she took her final, peaceful breath with my vet’s help. I’m still not entirely at peace with this decision, a part of me will always wonder whether I gave up too soon.

How do you decide when it’s time?

There are some markers that can be used as guides. Pain is one of them. No pet parent wants to see a beloved pet suffer. Animals, especially cats, are masters at masking pain, so this can be difficult to detect. Another marker is appetite. For most pet guardians, the first indication that something is wrong is usually when a pet stops eating. A third important marker is dignity. Is the pet still able to relieve herself on her own, or does she need assistance with urination and defecation?

Dr. Alice Villalobos, founder of Pawspice, a hospice program for pets, has developed a Feline Quality of Life Scale that can help care givers determine quality of life based on criteria such as pain, appetite, hygiene, and whether the number of good days outweighs the bad.

Each relationship is unique

But decision points aren’t the only part of the equation. Each pet and each relationship between human and animal is unique.  There is no one right answer. And that’s why making this decision can make you feel like you’re all alone with this awful responsibility.

The emotional aspects of making the euthanasia decision can be incredibly complex. In addition to the love for the pet, and the fear of losing him and not being able to imagine life without him, a care giver’s prior experience with illness and death, be it of a pet or a human, will influence the decision. Religious beliefs may also impact the decision.

Denial can play a significant role in the process. When faced with difficult situations, denial is a natural defense mechanism that initially saves the person from anxiety or pain. However, getting stuck in denial can become paralyzing. When it comes to dealing with a terminally ill pet, love and denial can be intricately linked, and it can sometimes be difficult to separate one from the other.

A lonely decision

Making the euthanasia decision is a lonely decision. While others may provide support and advice, ultimately, nobody other than the pet’s caregiver can make this decision. And that’s where things get challenging. I’m currently dealing with a situation where a client’s cat has been ill for a long time, but the client is not ready to make a decision. She’s gone far past the stage where I would have made the decision, if the cat was mine. But at the same time, I can’t fault this client for not being able to make a decision: her cat, while medically in very bad shape, still responds to her, still purrs for her, and still eats well.

Sometimes, it can be hard for a caregiver to really see how far an animal may have declined. Watching a pet deteriorate a little more every day is hard, but seeing the decline happen a little bit at a time can feed the natural amount of denial most people have that the pet just isn’t that sick. Sometimes, it takes a visit from someone who hasn’t seen the pet in a while to make the pet’s guardian realize just how much the pet has declined.

One aspect to making the decision that is not often talked about was recently addressed in a beautiful post by Robin Olson of Covered in Cat Hair. Robin’s 14-year-old cat Bob has lymphoma, and has recently stopped responding to chemotherapy. He’s also dealing with multiple other problems. Robin writes:  “Try to watch out for the urge to just get it over with because YOU are suffering watching this natural process occur. This is very very difficult, but we owe it to our animals to give them every option and every day we can.” I couldn’t agree more. We don’t want our animals to suffer, that’s a given. But the euthanasia decision should never be based on our own discomfort with the dying process. I encourage you to read Robin’s entire post about Bob’s battle with cancer, and her struggle to do the right thing for him.

Will you “just know?”

It is often said that we will “just know” when the time is right. And I believe that when we do connect with the essence of our animals and manage to set aside worry and fear for even just a few moments at a time, we will know.  It takes courage to set aside our fears, and to tune in to the animal and really “hear”  them.

Ultimately, the only way any of us can make this decision is by listening to our animal friends with our hearts, not with our heads. It becomes a decision of love, not something to be reasoned out on an analytical and intellectual level.

The sad reality of making the euthanasia decision is that there is probably no way to ever be completely at peace with it. And that, too, makes it the loneliest decision.

Have you had to make the euthanasia decision for a beloved cat? What helped you during the decision process?

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Quality of Life: What Does It Mean for You and Your Cat?

Buckley's Story

Last updated June 2019

Making a decision about whether or when the time is right for euthanasia is one of the hardest things someone loving a pet will ever go through. Unlike human medicine, veterinary medicine is fortunate to be able to legally offer the option of gently ending suffering when there seems to be no hope for recovery. It is a difficult decision to make at best, and it can be nearly impossible for some pet owners. There are so many factors that play into it.

What is quality of life?

The term that is used the most in this context is “quality of life.” But what does that really mean? Are there hard and fast rules as to what constitutes good quality of life? Of course not. Quality of life means something different for every person, and for every animal.

There are some fairly obvious markers. Pain is one of them. No pet owner wants to see a beloved pet suffer. Animals, especially cats, are masters at masking pain, so this can be difficult to detect. Another marker is appetite. For most pet owners, the first indication that something is wrong is usually when a pet stops eating. A third important marker is dignity: Is the pet still able to relieve herself on her own, or does she need assistance with urination and defecation?

But even these three markers are not always helpful when trying to make a decision. Pain can be managed with medication. Some pets stop eating or eat very little but are still happy and are enjoying life. And who is to say that the dog that needs assistance with being carried outside to urinate or the cat who needs help to get into the litter box and needs to be cleaned off afterwards does not appreciate this level of care from his loving human and is otherwise happy and content?

A final gift of love

It is often said that making the decision to euthanize a pet is the final gift of love we can give our animals. I wholeheartedly believe that, but it still does not make the decision process any easier. Love and denial can be intricately linked, and it can sometimes be difficult to separate one from the other.

I’ve had to make this decision with three of my cats: with Feebee in April of 2000, when he was losing his seven-month battle with lymphoma, with Buckley in November of 2008, when her heart disease was complicated by multiple other issues, and much too soon again with Amber in May of 2010 , after she came down to a sudden, unexpected illness, which was, most likely, virulent systemic calici virus.

All three of the decisions were agonizing for me, but I also know that each time, I made the right decision – for my cat, and for me. That’s not to say that it would have been the right decision for someone else, or for someone else’s cat.

Ultimately, the only way any of us can make this decision is by listening to our animal friends with our hearts, not with our heads.

Ultimately, the only way any of us can make this decision is by listening to our animal friends with our hearts, not with our heads. It becomes a decision of love, not something to be reasoned out on an analytical and intellectual level.

No easy answer

I think it’s impossible to ever be completely comfortable with the decision to end the life of someone we love so much. We do not want our pets to suffer, and when we are really in tune with our animals, we know when they are ready to make their transition. Any remaining doubt is usually caused by our sadness and grief at the thought of having to go on without their physical presence in our lives. I also believe that sometimes, our animals also love us so much that they often stick around longer than they might want to because they know how much we will miss them when they’re gone.

There is no easy answer for the question of what quality of life means. It’s going to mean something different for each person, and for each cat. And as your cat’s guardian, you’re the only one who can answer it.

Have you had to make this decision for your cat? What does quality of life mean for you and your cat?

Portions of this post are adapted from Buckley’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher.

Related reading:

How to cope with losing a pet

The final farewell: options after your pet dies

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Providing Hospice Care for Cats

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As veterinary care for cats is becoming more and more sophisticated and as more cat guardians understand the importance of  a lifetime of preventive care, cats live longer lives.  But despite all of that, cats still get sick, and when they do, there are often numerous treatment options.   However, some illnesses are considered terminal, and in the past, euthanasia was often the only option pet guardians would consider at that stage.  An alternative to premature euthanasia that is garnering more attention in the world of pet care is hospice care.

Hospice care is about providing good quality of life

The definition of a terminal illness is an illness for which there is no cure.  It is an active, progressive, irreversible illness with a fatal prognosis.  Hospice care provides a loving alternative to prolonged suffering and is designed to give supportive care to cats in the final phase of a terminal illness.  The goal is to keep the cat comfortable and free of pain, with a focus on quality of life and living each day as fully as possible.

The decision to stop treatment and begin hospice care can be made at any point in the progression of a terminal illness.   Decisions may range from choosing to forego aggressive surgery after receiving a cancer diagnosis because of a poor prognosis, discontinuing chemotherapy or radiation because the cat is either not responding or is dealing with side-effects that are rapidly diminishing his quality of life, or discontinuing medications because medicating the cat is difficult or impossible for the cat owner.  Rather than opting for euthanasia, cat owners may choose to provide hospice care for their cat.

Hospice care is not about giving up

Hospice care is not a last resort, and is not about giving up, or about dying.  It’s about finding ways to live with a terminal illness, and it may actually involve providing more care and not less.  The decision to provide hospice care should be made in conjunction with your veterinarian, who will become an integral partner in the process.

What does hospice care involve?

Hospice care involves the following:

  • Comfort:  Provide clean, soft bedding with easy access to food, litter boxes, favorite sleeping spots and interaction with family members.  Handle cats gently because many terminal medical conditions create discomfort and pain.
  • Nutrition and Hydration:  Provide easy access to food and water.  You may need to experiment with special foods to tempt ill cats.  In addition to feeding a high quality, grain-free canned or raw (if you cat is immunocompromised, raw food is not recommended) diet, you may need to offer foods such as meat-based baby food (make sure that there is no onion powder in the brand you buy), tuna juice or flakes of tuna spread on top of the cat’s regular food, and slightly warming the food to increase palatability. Make sure the cat always has fresh water available.
  • Cleanliness:  Sick cats may not be able to groom themselves.  Assist your cat with this by gently brushing, and keeping eyes, ears, the area around the mouth and around the rectum and genetalia clean if she can’t do it by herself anymore.
  • Pain Management:  Cats are good at hiding pain.  Watch your cat for signs of pain – subtle signs may involve hiding, avoiding contact with family members, or changes in sleeping positions.  Rarely will cats vocalize when they’re in pain.  Work with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate pain control program for your cat.
  • Holistic Therapies:  There are many non-invasive, gentle holistic therapies that can provide relief to terminally ill cats.  Energy therapies such as Reiki, Healing Touch, Tellington Touch and others are particularly effective.

A time of peace for cat and human

Despite the logistic and emotional challenges hospice care presents for cats and their humans, it can also be a time of great peace and increased bonding with your beloved feline companion.  It also allows for a gentle preparation  for the impending loss for both cat and human.   Diagnosis of a terminal illness does not have to be the end – it can be the beginning of a deepening, peaceful, final phase of life for both cat and human.

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