It’s been a while since I last posted. On Wednesday, our sweet boy Rocky departed for the Rainbow Bridge. We’ve known with three senior kitties in our house that our time with them has been growing short, but his death has left us blindsided. Three weeks ago he stopped jumping on the couch and climbing the stairs. That was the only indication we had that something was wrong. Two weeks ago he was diagnosed with large cell gastrointestinal lymphoma. It was his time a week later.
Rocky was my sweet little boy. I always described him as a dog trapped in a cat’s body. He followed us everywhere. Wherever his humans were in the house was where he wanted to be. From the moment we brought Lil’ Man home from the hospital, Rocky was there by his side. Rocky would beg for food whenever we cooked and he always greeted us at the door when we came home. He would also get on his hind legs and put his front paws in the air to indicate he wanted me to pick him up. He only did that behavior for me. He was my first child.
Rocky adored Lil’ Man enough to put up with yearly matching costumes.
We had in our heads that our little Angel, who was diagnosed with large cell gastrointestinal lymphoma back in July of 2014, would be the first to leave us. We knew we would be devastated with her passing, but that we had been lucky that she had gone into full remission, living well beyond the average survival time. Our oncologist had told us she would have a year at most. She outlived her best buddy and is feeling his loss as much as we are. They were a bonded pair.
Angel and Rocky’s vet greeted me with a huge hug when I came into the clinic on Friday to discuss Angel’s behavior. (If you are looking for a cats only clinic in the NOVA area then I can tell you that Kingstowne Cat Clinic has been the best for my senior babies.) She confirmed my suspicions that Angel is grieving and mentioned that she would need time to heal just like Rocky’s human family members.
We’ve all been grieving in our own way, but I am hoping we are starting to turn around. Today is the first day Lil’ Man has woken up and hasn’t said to me, “I miss my meow meow.” While Angel’s appetite isn’t back to normal, she did ask for her canned food for the first time in three days.
What are Angel’s grieving behaviors?
If you have a bonded pair or multiple pets in the house, you will most likely have to help your surviving pet(s) cope with the loss of a friend. Here are the odd behaviors we have noticed in Angel since the day after Rocky’s passing.
- New Sleeping Place: The day after Rocky left us, Angel slept in his bed for the first time. I have found her in his bed every night since then. It is normal for her to sleep curled up next to me at night.
- Hiding Place: She has also taken to hiding under my son’s bed. It is normal for her to go and take an occasional nap under there, but when we try to coax her out she turns away and won’t look at us. Rocky liked to hide under there when it was time for his medication, and I imagine his lingering scent is comforting to her.
- Decrease in Affection: She is normally very aggressive when showing me affection, and I am often left with a scratch or two. The last few days, I have had to put her on my lap to cuddle. She is not interested in initiating our cuddle sessions right now.
- Decreased Appetite: Lastly, the lack of appetite is a big indicator. She receives a regular steroid injection which increases her hunger. She normally yells at me throughout the day for her canned food. Rocky used to sit patiently by her side while she ate and waited until she was done before having his turn.
How are we helping Angel cope?
- We haven’t washed any of Rocky’s bedding. The vet said his scent will fade over time, but that for now it is helping her cope.
- We are giving her plenty of affection. We are making sure to give her plenty of hugs and kisses.
- We are giving her space when she needs it. If she is in Rocky’s bed or hiding under my son’s bed, we let her stay there. I’ve been sleeping on his couch since he left us for the same reasons she is choosing to be in those two locations.
- I’ve cried a lot since he left us. I’m doing my best not to do this in front of her. Rocky always knew when we were sad. Whenever my son was crying, Rocky would rush to his side to comfort him. I have no doubt that Angel has been picking up on our sadness just like her brother once did.
Was your pet recently diagnosed with lymphoma?
I am so sorry if your answer to this question is yes. While our Rocky left us just a couple of weeks after his diagnosis, I would like to offer you some hope and words of wisdom from a pet parent who has now had two fur babies go through the disease in less than four years.
First of all, we made the decision to euthanize Rocky after the internal medicine vet found fluid throughout his abdomen and that two rounds of chemo had not shrunk his tumor. While the fluid may have been from his tumor, the vet thought it was more likely that the prednisilone that he had been taking for almost a year to treat his IBD was causing heart failure. Either way, my sweet little boy wasn’t going to make it.
Angel, on the other hand, has done better than anyone could have expected. When she was initially diagnosed at age ten, we had the room in our budget to try the Madison-Wisconsin protocol. This was not cheap ($200-$300 an injection), but we wanted to give her the best chance since she was only ten-years-old.
Angel responded to treatment right away. By her ultrasound six weeks later, her tumor had vanished. She has been sick a few time since her initial remission, but at this point I believe she developed IBD. Without putting her through an endoscopy, there is no way to say for sure. When she started to lose weight in June of 2017, her primary vet put her on chlorambucil (4mg every two weeks).
I was told by her original oncologist that treating lymphoma in cats was a “crapshoot.” There was a chance she wouldn’t respond, and even if she did respond, it might only be a partial remission. If she did fully respond, we were told we would get a year at most, maybe more. Our little girl has beaten the odds at 3 1/2 years.
Is chemotherapy the right thing for your pet?
There is no right or wrong answer here. You have to decide what is best for you and your pet as well as whether or not it is within your budget. While the injectable chemotherapies will cost you thousands of dollars, having the chlorambucil compounded and administered at home is rather affordable. After paying for the medication and overnight shipping from Arizona to Virginia, Angel’s six month supply is a little under $70 whereas her Madison-Wisconsin protocol cost us at least $6000 over six months.
Rocky was just a month shy of his 14th birthday when he passed. I opted not to put him through the stressful vet visits that are required for the Wisconsin-Madison protocol. While it saved Angel’s life, she now gets so nervous at the vet’s office that she will sometimes wet herself. At his age, I didn’t want put my baby boy through that.
I also had to think about the cost. We had already spent a couple thousand dollars on testing to find out what had caused his sudden change in behavior. When we treated Angel, we lived just outside of Pittsburgh where our house payment was just a third of what we pay in rent here in NOVA. Factor in that vet care is more expensive in areas with a higher cost of living, and investing in the “Cadillac of pet chemotherapies” just wasn’t the most realistic option. I still have two other senior cats to provide for.
When making the decision for Angel and Rocky, I factored in their age, quality of life, and our budget. Had Angel not improved in the first six weeks of the Madison-Wisconsin protocol, I would have ended it and let her live out what few days she had left in the comfort of her home. That said, if the vet could have guaranteed us that Rocky would have lived a wonderful life for several more years, then we would have found a way to budget for the Wisonsin-Madison protocol. He meant that much to us.
Whatever you decide when it comes to treating your own pet, know that there is no wrong or right answer. If you do decide to go the chemotherapy route, I urge you to be cautiously optimistic. It may or may not work, but I hope that your fur baby will be as lucky as my Angel. If you have a dog, the chances of remission are better than a cat’s. Our Angel may join her brother on the Rainbow Bridge sooner rather than later, but I know the extra time we have had with her has been worth every penny.
As I think back on my time with Rocky, I think of the pet rescue bumper sticker that reads, “Who rescued who?” I may have given a home to a little stray kitten almost 14 years ago, but the answer to that question is he rescued me. He got me through college, two of my husband’s overseas deployments, loved and protected my son, and was there for me during my many health struggles. He was my therapy kitty. He was my sunshine.
If you have any questions about our experiences treating Angel and Rocky, please leave them in the comments below. In the end, it helped me to read about other people’s experiences, and maybe Rocky and Angel’s stories can help you too. Rocky is featured in many of my blog posts and several of our YouTube videos. I hope in some small way his presence on the Internet will allow him to live on.