Bernie the cat died today. I'm very, very sad.
About a week ago, we noticed that he was beginning to act a little puley. He wasn't moving as much and he seemed off his feed. Nothing too bad, really, but he clearly wasn't a happy boy.
As the days wore on, though, he wasn't getting better. He was losing weight and looking really peaked. His membranes were up slightly, so I figured it was a bad case of parasites, even though we'd dosed him with a vermifuge recently. Time to take him in to the vet. The Babe volunteered to take him in Thursday morning (they didn't have anything Wed afternoon) because she didn't have cases until the afternoon.
It wasn't parasites. The vet said that he was an extremely sick cat, far sicker than we'd realized. He was very jaundiced: the insides of his ears were bright yellow. They weren't sure what was causing it, but all the possibilities were really bad. They ran a bunch of tests and came up with a probable answer: FIP, feline infectious peritonitis, a disease that tends to attack kittens of precisely his age. Worse, this was the "wet" kind, which generates a lot of fluids.
The disease is a really nasty virus that attacks whatever the hell it feels like. It's different from cat to cat, so in one cat it might attack the heart, in another the lungs, and so on. In Bernie's case, it got to his kidneys and they were badly swollen, over twice their normal size (which is about the size of a marble) and surrounded by fluid. They had gotten so large that they were pressing into his intestines and causing enough discomfort that he didn't feel like eating or drinking.
FIP is hard to diagnose: you can say with certainty when it's not a factor, but the corona virus that's the root of the problem can appear without mutating into FIP (which is part of the evil). Even worse, there's no effective vaccine: the one that's on the market is of dubious effectiveness and it has to be given to kittens around 4 weeks. But the worst part is that there's no cure for it. There's minor symptomatic relief, but a cat with wet FIP has at best 2 months to live.
The vet rehydrated Bernie so he'd feel better, but she held out very little hope for him. She said if his appetite returned, he might last as much as 2 more weeks, but if it didn't--and this was far more likely--then it wouldn't be much longer at all. She made it very clear that I should bring him home to say goodbye.
We kept a close eye on Bernie that evening. He was fairly droopy, but the rehydration made him livelier than he'd been for a while. But by Friday afternoon, he was fading fast. He spent all his time curled up in one place or another. I noticed that his abdomen was getting distended from fluid build-up, which must've been very uncomfortable. In fact, several times I saw him curled up with one paw under him to lift up his tummy slightly so it didn't press on anything.
I figured if he made it through Friday night, it was Time, and I was going to bring him in to the vet to have him put down Saturday. He was still alive, but clearly in much worse shape, on Saturday morning, so made an appt. for the afternoon.
Bernie was so sick when I got ready to pack him up for the ride that he didn't even run away when I set the cat carrier next to him. He just looked at it and made this pitiful mewing sound. I scooped him up as gently as I could so I didn't press his abdomen and put him in the carrier and drove him to the vet.
I was about to ask about paying the bill in advance because I didn't want to stick around afterwards, but the person behind the desk knew what I was there for and said that they could mail me the bill and I could pay it when I felt ready to do so. That was incredibly thoughtful of them and very gracious as well: it's normally a pay-as-you-go deal.
One of the vet techs got me in the room and helped me get Bernie out the carrier. He was pretty pathetic at this point. I asked about his abdomen and she palpated and then said "Oh, yeah, feel this." I put my fingers where hers were and she said "Those are his kidneys." From something the size of marbles, his kidneys had swollen to the size of small hen's eggs. Bernie must've been miserable. It was good to feel that, because I knew I was doing the right thing.
She left me there and I talked to Bernie and cried for a while. He managed to move around some and snuggle. He even walked up on my shoulders and sat down for a while and would occasionally purr. His breath was really bad, which I attributed (correctly) to toxicity.
The vet came in and we got set up. Bernie still had a catheter port in his arm from his IVs on Thursday, so they didn't have to poke him for the shots. I was pleased. The vet first gave him a tranquilizer, which just relaxed him. (He looked far more relaxed than I'd seen him in the last few days, in fact.) Then she asked if I was ready for her to proceed. I said yes. She then gave Bernie an anesthetic that completely knocked him out so that he wouldn't be conscious for any of the rest of it. Bernie was draped over my forearm and he sorta drooped to one side. She waited a moment, but when it was clear that he was unconscious, she gave him the overdose of barbiturates. She checked his heart with the stethoscope and said "He's gone."
I cried through most of this. The vet (who was also very sniffly) asked if I wanted time alone with him. No, I'd done all that I needed to before she came in and he was gone now. I had found a couple of the paper balls that I'd through to Bernie and he'd play fetch with yesterday under the couch in my office, and I asked her to make sure that these went with him when he was cremated. (I had decided not to bury him at the house.)
I know I did the right thing for him, because my little guy was in a lot of pain, but damnit, I really hate it when my cats get sick and die. :(