Coping with a pet’s chronic illness

Last week, I shared about the first of three major challenges we experienced during our extended silence. Today, I am talking about the second. One of our cats was diagnosed with a chronic and degenerative health problem. Everyone has different ideas about how pets fit into their lives and finances. We acknowledge that our cats are a key priority for us. 

Shortly after we moved into our new house and renovations were largely completed, I noticed one of our cats seemed to be breathing heavily. He also seemed more lethargic than usual. Out of an abundance of caution, I took him to an emergency veterinary hospital. The emergency vet reported that he seemed fine, but recommended that he be seen by a cardiologist for a heart murmur. We knew about the existence of the heart murmur and decided it was worthwhile to have the veterinary cardiologist examine him. Our cat was diagnosed with grade c hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

The news was initially scary and sad, but his cardiologist was optimistic about treatment options. Our cat was prescribed several medications, which he required twice daily. The medications were not extraordinarily expensive. His regular visits with the veterinary cardiologist were much more pricey. We pay out of pocket for his care and do not have pet insurance. 

He responded well to the medication and his disease was very stable. Then, we took him in for a grooming appointment in late 2021, about six months after diagnosis. The groomer noticed a nasty tumor on his chest, near one of his front legs. We immediately scheduled appointments with his primary veterinarian and with a specialty surgeon. We found humor in counting the growing number of specialists for our darling kitty. Initial tests of the tumor were inconclusive, but we did receive some good news. For one, the tumor was not connected to any internal organs. The challenge was that his heart disease made him a poor candidate for anesthesia. The tumor needed to be removed; it was unsightly and clearly uncomfortable for our cat. We scheduled him with the specialty surgeon so he could have a check with his cardiologist prior to the operation. 

The tumor saga unfolded during the fall and winter holidays. Surgery was scheduled to occur shortly before Mr. Vine and I planned to depart for a vacation to Hawaii. This vacation was a long rescheduled trip–the backup plan to the backup plan to our travel intended for winter 2020. On the day of surgery, our cat failed his cardiology exam. We learned that he was in active heart failure, with fluid on his lungs. Medication was administered in the clinic, he came home with us and we adjusted his medications. We pushed back surgery one week, hoping that the medication adjustments would improve his condition. The new date was just a few days before our expected departure. 

When we returned, his heart failure was worse. Surgery was again not an option. The cardiologist wanted to recheck him in two weeks, after the first of the new year. Our kitty was on a strict medication regimen. Not only the tumor removal, but his life, depended on compliance with that medication schedule. It was impossible to entrust his care to anyone other than us. After calling a few boarding facilities, we learned that was not an option at this late date, over the Christmas holidays. He was stable enough to stay at home, which would be the least stressful environment for him. We canceled the trip and settled in at home for the holidays. I was so worried that these were our final days with this kitty. He was happy to soak up all of the attention Mr. Vine and I doted on him. 

On January 3, 2022, I brought him back for another recheck. My stomach was in knots while I waited for the cardiologist to call. Miraculously, his condition had improved significantly. He was cleared for surgery, which we scheduled for the following week. 

Although we didn’t know it yet, before our cat would go in for surgery, we would experience the third challenge. For now, I’ll set that aside and finish the story of our kitty. He came through the operation well. We brought him home and he was a temperamental patient. One of his recovery mandates was to spend nights in a cat “playpen” of sorts. This prevented him from moving and jumping, which could reopen his incision. He hated it. During the night, we would often hear him biting at the mesh, trying to tear it apart with his teeth. 

Following the two week period to allow his incision to heal, our kitty was fully recovered from the tumor. The pathology results were benign. He continues to see specialty veterinarians and now takes a veritable pharmacy of medications. But, his quality of life is good. We are glad that we have the resources to provide him with a gold standard of care. We are delighted that he is now approaching the two year anniversary of his diagnosis. 

Dealing with a pet health issue taught us about patience and acceptance. We began to learn lessons to remain present in each moment. The expense of additional pet care caused us to reexamine our finances. This experience tested our priorities and our commitment to our pets. Overall, we are grateful that our cat is doing well and that we could comfortably provide him with this kind of care.

How do you prioritize pet care? How do pets affect your finances? Do you have pet insurance? Have you handled a chronic health issue for your pet? Let us know in the comments.

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