When is it time to say goodbye?


This post is not about a horse, but it touches on a topic that we all face when part of our family includes pets. Let’s face it. They simply do not live long enough. And when they come to the end of their lives, it’s really, really hard to know when the right time is to help them over the rainbow bridge.

Pounce, the cat on my lap, has been part of our family for 18 years. That’s a pretty good lifespan for a cat and he’s had a few lucky escapes. He was found, as a kitten of about 5 weeks old, on the streets of Waltham. Alone. He’s lucky to have survived the experience. My daughter, who was then four, wante

Pounce and Steph
When my daughter was four she wanted a black kitten. She and Pounce bonded immediately.

d a black girl kitten. It turns out there were no female black kittens in a fifty mile radius, so I told the animal control officer in Waltham to lie. Which she did. It was several months before we explained that we’d made a mistake and Pounce was actually a boy. By then, it didn’t matter.


Because he was so tiny when we got him, or maybe because he was feral, Pounce bonded fiercely with his family. I guess he thinks we’re all cats or he’s human. He’s not allowed strangers near him until the last year or two, when he finally decided it was too much trouble to run away from everyone.

For many years, Pounce was an outside cat. That’s before the population of coyotes and fischer cats around us burgeoned. He was a good boy and always came when we whistled for him, but once or twice he came in looking wild eyed and skittish. We transitioned him to an only indoor cat after that. He complained for a few months and then decided to relax and rule the house.

Pounce's fountain
When cat’s have kidney disease, it’s important for them to drink plenty of water. Pounce appreciates the fountain we got him which is good. Our other two cats won’t come near it!

Two years ago, Pounce was diagnosed with kidney disease. He showed all the symptoms: excessive thirst, weight loss, and lethargy. Blood tests confirmed he was high stage 3 and my vet started to prepare us for a shorted lifespan. With the help of a friend, who is a vet who takes a broad view of treatments, we chose to put him on a raw food diet instead of prescription kidney food. While it might not work for all cats, Pounce rebounded. A year later he had regained all he weight he lost and his blood tests showed him at mid stage 2. My vet admitted she would not have recommended our approach but it had worked.

Pounce after his operation
Pounce came through his operation with flying colors. In fact, he seemed a lot more comfortable once the tumor (and his toe) were gone.

Right before Christmas this year, we discovered that one of his toes was inflammed. Thinking it was an infected nail, we took him to the vet. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so simple. It turned out he had a cancerous tumor on one of his toes. His chest x-ray looked clean (cancer in cats often start in the lungs and then metastisize to the toe). We had his toe amputated and he’s been recovering well.

But, it’s not that simple. It turned out that the cancer did originate in his lungs, so removing the digit fixed the short term problem, but did not eliminate the cancer. At 18+, with chronic kidney disease, he’s not a candidate for further surgery, especially as there’s not telling where else it is in his body. We’ve been told to keep him comfortable, give him lots of loving, and when he stops enjoying the things he loves most (sitting on my lap and eating) to help him along. The vets told us he might live only 2-4 more months, which is very hard to imagine as he’ll leave a huge hole in our hearts.

I don’t want to be selfish and prolong his life at his expense. But I’m not ready to give up yet, either. Today he’s still feeling good. Sure, he’s limping a bit from the amputation, but I’m not entirely sound, either. Since it won’t do any harm, and may actually help, our next step is to try a less traditional approach. Tomorrow Pounce will go see a vet who uses more holistic treatments, including CDB oil and mushroom compounds that have been shown to shrink cancerous tumors in cats and dogs. If we can keep him happy and comfortable, I want him to be part of our family for as long as possible Eighteen years is simply not enough.

Have you had pets that beat the odds? I’d like to hear some success stories!

8 thoughts on “When is it time to say goodbye?

  1. My neighbor has a 15 year old cat named Roady. He was named that because he’d been dumped (I think he was about 6 months old)on the road near our houses. My neighbor, Gina, was driving when he jumped out in front of her…and hit him. She picked him up, rushed him to the vet with a broken jaw. He survived, and throve, although he’s missing several teeth on one side and has a perpetual sneer, like Elvis,now. About three years ago he began to show the same symptoms of kidney failure as Pounce. Gina was told the same thing, that he wouldn’t live long. Well, she began to do a saline solution infusion twice a week. He takes the needle like a trooper, although there’s times when the tail begins to slap the tabletop. I’ve helped hold him several times when her husband is out of town. I wish she’d tried the raw food diet…I can tell you other success stories about the BARF diet for dogs (Bones And Raw Food) as well as for cats.

    I’ve had to have beloved pets and horses put down. We had to have Raven put down in August due to a twisted intestine. At 25, he was not a candidate for intestinal surgery. My arab, Jordan, who had Cushings, told me it was Time. He was 26.
    I had to put my beloved Wren, the best cat ever, down at 12 with something that extensive lab work and testing was never able to pin down. I honestly think she had schistosomiasis from drinking the water from our ornamental pond, but…

    In all three cases, …and I’m not being woo woo here, afterwards, my animals ‘came back’ to me shortly after being put down, and they all said the same thing: “Thank you.” It was a clear and convincing a feeling as I’ve ever known.

    At this moment, I have a brother…Matt, who is 61, dying slowly from glioblastoma stage 4. This hideous brain cancer usually kills within a year of diagnosis. Matt has gone on for almost four years. He is now helpless, cannot walk, sleeps a lot, has lost any semblance of short term memory two years ago. He didn’t recognize our youngest brother when he visited yesterday, has hallucinations, and the other day, tried to eat a napkin, no longer understanding that a napkin is inedible.
    Quite honestly, my brother is gone. What remains is a husk, his body not understanding that it can let go, now. This relentless monster of a cancer has destroyed his brain, the medical bills have destroyed what money they had saved, and my sister in law is so exhausted from the emotional toll it’s taken that I wonder how long she will live.

    How is it that we can put our animals down, because we don’t want them to suffer…and yet we cannot do the same for the people we love?

    1. I’m so sorry about your brother. It is truly criminal that our medical system is so focused on life at all costs rather than quality of life. And yes, the costs are astronomical. My father has Lewey Body Dementia, which comes with its share of hallucinations and delusions. It breaks my heart when he calls me and tells me he’s being held hostage somewhere . . . what he believes is so real to him that you cannot convince him otherwise. Physically, he’s quite healthy, so I worry that as the bad days start to outnumber the good ones (not there yet), we will be in a terrible dilemma.

      As for Pounce, he’s had a very good life and we will make sure that he is safe and happy until he tells us it’s time to go. We’ve had a couple of pets where I worry that we waited too long. Cats, especially, are good at hiding their pain. Better a week too early than a week too late.

  2. Could you share a little more about your raw food diet for your kitty? Do you make it yourself ? Or do you buy it frozen? My dogs have been on a raw food diet for about 13 years. I buy it locally already ground & frozen but haven’t transitioned my cats over because i think it might be too coarse for them. Plus I don’t think it’s really formulated for cats. Any info is welcome. TYIA

    1. I tried “real” raw food that I made myself with one of the products that balances out the nutrition. NOne of my three cats would touch it! Ewww they said. That food is RAW!. I ended up trying the freeze-dried raw, where you add water. The one that all three cats will eat is Stella & Chewy Chick, Chick, Chicken. Conveniently, it also has the lowest phosphorous in that line because that’s the problem that cats with kidney disease run into. It’s not the protein that’s the problem, it’s the phosphorous. I will say that the food is wickedly expensive, but after starting them all on that, my CKD cat gained back all the weight he’d lost, his coat got better and his blood levels improved. I also give him an herbal supplement (Kidney Gold). I figure that giving even the healthy cats high quality protein is good for them and I hope it keeps them healthy for a long time. Here’s a list of some the supplements that are recommended to adding to the raw food. https://www.thesprucepets.com/top-raw-food-diet-supplements-555079

  3. Thank you for your concern. I also know about Lewy Body Dementia…my ex father in law had it and you are right,it’s far worse than Alzheimer’s. At least, with Alzheimers, you get it and it doesn’t get better. With LBS, you get the hallucinations but NOT all the time…so one day he’s in his head interspersed with days where he’s out of it. In my FIL’s case, he knew something was badly wrong. And, as you note, they are still totally capable of moving around, physically they’re ‘normal’. My ex FIL was in a memory care home, and one day my MIL got a phone call saying, do you have your husband with you? Noooooooooooooo.. Someone from the surrounding neighborhood called the home and said, there’s a blue man on my doorstep, is he from your facility? He’d climbed over the fence and was wandering about, no jacket in the depths of a Minnesota winter. It’s hard to find a facility that will one, take them and care for them correctly.
    My heart goes out to you, Liz.

    As for the raw food for cats, I had the same problems until I found a brand of freeze dried rabbit that the cats adore. Can’t remember the name but I will try to remember the next time I go to the feed store.

    For dogs? Well, my friend Steffie…who is a member of Heart of Texas Lab Rescue, has rescued hundreds of Labs, rehabilitated them and fostered them out. She takes the hard ones…the ones who seize, or have hot spots on their skin or puke…and almost invariably it’s due to the …excuse me, but shitty dog food so available these days, made of corn.
    Don’t start me on that rant!
    What she does is transition them from shitty dog food to raw food with raw chicken or turkey. She’ll buy turkey drum sticks in bulk, or half chickens, and once a day, that’s what the dog gets. Yes, raw, bones and all. Within weeks the dog turns around, stops siezing, stops itching, stops puking, all due to the change in diet.
    Of course…once they go to a new home, I’m betting the new owners put the dog right back onto shitty dog food.

    Finally…I am fortunate (and voted for) to live in a state that allows physician assisted suicide. Am I suicidal? No. But three members of my mother’s side of the family had or have Glioblastoma Stage 4. THREE. Her sister, her son (my cousin) and my brother. All with the same brain cancer. Add to that on my father’s side of the family, every single female has had breast cancer. I had it years ago, had a double mastectomy and have been cancer free since then. But should I have an MRI for a headache someday and am diagnosed with a brain tumor, I will take the easy way out. I won’t put up with it like my brother has. Sorry. call me coward, I’ll own it.

  4. My last of many cats, Stripes, was really my mom’s. I inherited him after she died. We really don’t know how old he is, as his previous owners were a young scattered brained couple, friends of my nephew, who gave him to mom “temporarily” while they were divorcing. They had adopted him as an adult cat, but didn’t know his age. We guess he’s at least 16 or 17 by now. Two years ago he was diagnosed with stage 3 kidney disease quickly followed by a cancer diagnosis. He had a slow growing tumor the size a grapefruit on his spleen. Surgery followed by chemo was the treatment, however, the surgery could kill him. I couldn’t afford chemo. So, I made the decision to let him live out his life peacefully. He was given a year tops. A year later he was still going strong.
    I was moving to a new house with 1 cat and 3 dogs. One elderly dog had to be put down due to Cushing’s complications prior to the move. The other 2 started fighting aggressively after the move needing to be separated. My new, old house turned into a money pit disaster with problem after problem. My brother came to my rescue by taking on my old guy. He’s now two years plus past the diagnosis and living like a prince. I think you just have to give them the best care you can. Cats are remarkably strong willed. Maybe that’s where the 9 lives come from.

    1. 9 lives! I like that idea. I hope he as a couple left. In the meantime, the vet told us to build his strength by giving him some of our beef stew and to share our fish with him. He’s already given her the thumbs up.

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