Until a couple of years ago, I had four cats. Two came to us as kitten sisters, one each for our two boys. The other two, brother and sister Siamese, were adopted from a friend when they were about a year old. For many years we had that lovely time when they were healthy and easy to care for, and gave us lots of pleasure and purrs. But as they aged, the health problems begand to pile up, along with the vet’s bills. Decisions seemed to multiply – to investigate or not? Which tests? Whether to treat, and how? Is this a further decline? Do we need to go back to the vet? Is it worth continuing, or kinder to stop? And – the elephant in the room – how much is all this going to cost, and can we really justify that amount of money?
Now we have just one cat left. He survived a near-fatal episode of kidney disease two years ago (at huge expense, needless to say), and is now kept going by twice-daily injections of fluids to keep flushing his kidneys, and oral medication. Mostly he seems very happy and active, but it’s a lot of work, and a constant worry that ‘this might be it’ every time he looks a bit off-colour. I’m lucky that I have a friend who will take him on whenever I go away somewhere. No cattery will have him any more.
Last month we were in America, and she looked after both him and our 18-year old tabby girl. The tabby had bounced back from a couple of strokes last summer and was on thyroid medication, but we never thought it would be her to go first. But about a week into our stay, we started getting worried messages from our friend, reporting first a drop in appetite, then a puffy face. After treating for both an infection and a possible allergy, the vet eventually found what looked like a cancerous patch at the back of her mouth. Within another day her face was badly swollen and she looked increasingly miserable; when my friend sent a video showing her lying quietly and not really responding, we agreed it was time to put her to sleep.
I felt bad for my friend left with the responsibility, and awful I couldn’t be there to say goodbye. But at least we were fortunate that the decision became obvious so quickly. There really was no question. I have had other pets where the moment has crept up on us more slowly during a long chronic illness, and been all the harder to take as a result.
Strangely enough, while all this has been going on I’ve been involved in discussions with a group of researchers (based in Nottingham and Oxford universities) about developing a new research project around people’s experiences of illness and pet ownership.We’re a mix of vets and social scientists, and we’re interested in what happens when either pet or owner (or both) becomes ill, and how this changes the relationship and the daily routine of living with a pet. We are pet owners ourselves, so we have lots of ideas about what we might research, but we’d really like input from other pet owners too. We want to produce something that will be useful for pet owners and vets, and help give vets some insight into what it is like for owners. We’d welcome any replies on this post, and particularly your thoughts about:
What has it been like caring for a sick pet?
How has it felt making decisions about their health and vet care?
If you yourself have been ill, how did this affect your relationship with your pet?
Did having a pet affect your recovery or how you managed your illness?
What happens if you have to go into hospital as a pet owner?
If you have any ideas to contribute to the research, we would love to hear from you via the comment section below. You may think of other questions it would be important to ask. Please let us know!
We will only use the comments you share to help us design the project and we will not quote your posts in any research. We will only start looking for people to take part in the research itself later, if we are successful in getting funding. We’ll add another blog post when we are recruiting with full details of how to contact us.