Last week I had to say my final goodbye to my beloved 17-year-old kitty, Keiki. I have written about her previously, along with our 2 1/2- month battle with her pancreatic adenocarcinoma. She was a great kitty who brought me a lot of joy during our lives together. Amazingly, my 15-year-old, Shaka, who was treated for three years with chemotherapy for high-grade intestinal lymphoma, is outliving her.

We got Keiki from a Somali cat breeder in Hawaii – hence her name, which means “child” in Hawaiian. She was the first pet that my husband and I got together. Keiki was a very active and intelligent kitten. You could almost see the wheels turning in her brain when she was trying to figure something out. She was very playful but didn’t enjoy being held or cuddled until one day, at age 9, when she jumped in my lap and decided that snuggling was a pretty great thing. After that day, she became my shadow whenever I was home. My husband kept asking me what I did that finally made her love me so much, but my only explanation is that it took nine years for her to figure out how lucky she was. Earlier in her life, Keiki always enjoyed some good head butting as a way of showing her affection, but of course on her terms. She would jump up on my desk, head butt me, and then turn on her long-lasting purr. Often this occurred when I was writing this column.

Keiki had had exploratory surgery, biopsies, a feeding tube and a host of medications. I consulted with oncologists and other feline specialists around the country about her care. She had a great rally for about six weeks, while we were able to remove the feeding tube and she was eating well. My husband took her on walks outside, and she was doing all of the funny things we enjoyed watching her do when she was healthier. Although her life wasn’t as long as we had hoped, we feel fortunate that the end went as well as it could have. Prior to her diagnosis of cancer, Keiki had been an extremely healthy cat whose main problems were arthritic knees.

Keiki was a fighter to the end, but when she decided that she didn’t want to eat her treats and was struggling to get up to use her litter box, it was time to say goodbye. My husband and I knew we had to make the hard decision. We had worked hard to keep her comfortable and received a lot of support from my terrific clinic staff. My technician, Linda, had made Keiki’s care a personal priority.

Owners often struggle with how far they want to go to get a diagnosis with a sick geriatric cat, and then with how far they want to go with nursing care.

These are personal decisions that have to be made based on the individual cat and owners, finances and an assessment of the quality of life. I try to offer guidance based on my experience with each cat’s condition, but there is rarely a perfect solution.

I exhausted what I felt were all reasonable options for diagnosing and treating Keiki. I was luckily able to do whatever I could for her. Even though I deal with similar situations every day in my practice, dealing with your own baby is still difficult and emotional. I gave her a combination of several medications, and I felt that even though she didn’t like being treated, the treatments were overall not very stressful for her and were over quickly each day. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

I miss Keiki a lot. Each pet we have during our lifetimes gives us unique experiences and touches us in special ways. Often this is hard for outsiders, even people close to us, to understand. I have a great personal support network that understands the bond I had with Keiki, but sometimes owners are not that lucky and cannot adequately share their grief. In these situations I recommend pet bereavement counseling or utilizing one of the available pet grief hotlines.

Pets are wonderful friends to share our lives with, and although Keiki will never be replaced, I have a lot of love in my heart and know I will share it with Shaka and other kitties in the future.

Written by Dr. Wexler-Mitchell of The Cat Care Clinic in Orange, CA
Copyright © 2012 The Cat Care Clinic