Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Decline of Catboy

My male cat is now almost fifteen years old. Despite his geriatric state, he is sleek, active and animated most of the time. His glossy, black and white fur feels like satin, and his green eyes still shine. He is busy much of the time, watching the birds through the window pane, nibbling on my houseplants or dodging Rigby the dog, as she makes clumsy attempts to play with him.

He has always had a ravenous appetite, but last year he became insatiable, crying and begging for food immediately after eating his meals. He started following me around from room to room, wailing and reaching out to me with his giant, polydactyl paws, stroking the side of my face to direct my attention. Clearly, something had changed.

A trip to the vet revealed something that neither I, nor the doctor expected; Catboy has diabetes. The vet spent some time showing me how to inject him with insulin, which I must do twice a day, right after he eats his breakfast and dinner.
We bought him a special food for diabetic felines, which he ate with gusto at first. It was a case of large cans, but before the last ten cans were consumed, he'd rejected it completely. Back to the tiny, expensive cans that he had come to favor early in his life with us. A discerning gourmet of a feline he is, his birth in a dumpster aside.

His appearance has changed drastically in the past few months. The flesh has disappeared from his huge, multi-toed paws, leaving them thin and skeletal looking. His face is gaunt and thinner than that of a siamese. His spine protrudes from his back, the bones now prominent as he continues to lose weight.

Catboy’s life is approaching it’s natural end now- I know this. I have reached the mature age when romantic, overly sentimental notions of life and death have long since fallen by the wayside. I look upon the death of the body in old age as necessary and not something to be dreaded or staved off. All things must pass…It is the natural turn of events, but as it draws closer for him, I have been thinking lately about Catboy’s life.

If I had not intervened and left him to live his life as a feral cat, his life would have been much shorter. I have seen statistics that claim that a cat living outside has an average life expectancy of about three years. Feline Immune Deficiency Syndrome-the cat version of HIV/AIDS apparently rages through the feral population, and those cats whose owners let them roam out of doors are frequently exposed to it. Coyotes and fishers roam the backyards and vacant lots of suburbia, hunting small pets for food. Throw in speeding cars, ticks and fleas and the diseases they cause, and the outer world seems like a deathtrap for domestic cats. That’s why I have kept Catboy and Ceecee inside for their entire lives with me: for their own well-being.

But, what about the quality of that life? Would they have been happier outside? Chasing chickadees and bumble bees, rather than watching them from a window ledge, through a screen? Seeking out a sunny spot to sleep on the grass, rather than on my living room carpet? Climbing trees instead of bureaus? Would a shorter life outside have meant a more satisfying life for the cats, even with the risk of an early and perhaps violent end? Do I have the right to make this decision for them? These are the questions that nip at the edges of my mind now as I watch his decline. I think about these things, as I run my hand down his back and feel the vertebrae, now prominent, as the muscles and fat melt away from his bony frame.

I wanted him to be safe and sound, and that was the life I created for him, but he had no say in any of it. I wonder whether he resents me for keeping him a prisoner inside, even though my intentions were good. I believe I made the right decision. He has enjoyed a long life. I wonder whether he would say he has had a good life.
I sure hope so.


  1. So sorry to hear about Catboy. My cat Bert was diagnosed with diabetes ages ago but lived for 8 years after the diagnosis. He went from over twenty pounds of cat to about 4 at the end but he did hang on for a long time. I hope Catboy can too. Violet is 16 and is in the early stages of kidney disease. I still think of her as a kitten so I don't think I'll ever reconcile the idea that this might be our last year together. Pets are such a part of you and who you are, you know? I wouldn't second guess yourself about the quality of life Catboy had and has with you. It's probably normal to do that though. My cat has the option of being outdoors or indoors but she prefers to stay indoors. And when she's outdoors, she prefers to have me out there with her. I think things were good with Catboy because he had his life to share with someone who cared for him. You can't ask for more than that.

  2. Deedee I'm sorry to hear about Catboy. As you said on my blog, the worst thing about having pets is losing them. But you rescued Catboy as a kitten and I'm sure he spent many happy years with you being loved and cared for, rather than the short turbulent life he would have had as a feral cat.

    As Maria has said, it's normal to question our actions at a time like this... whether we could have or should have done things differently. Rest assured that you did (and still are) your very best for Catboy and I know that he will feel comforted and secure by your loving presence.

  3. Well, started to reply and realized i was writing my own blog post. I think I'll go home and do so. Thanks for the inspiration and give catboy a scratch behind the ears for me.

  4. I have had the same ponderings about our cat. He has always been an inside cat, but he is a real scardey-cat, so I guess I don't worry about what he's missing of the outside. It would all just terrify him. He has missed out on outdoorsy experiences, but the neighborhood birds are happy he's an insider. So.. all in all, I think it has been a good life for him. You have a sensible attitude about the end of life. I hope your cat is comfortable 'til the end,.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. You many need to put comments moderation on, or perhaps you read--what is that--Chinese?

  7. Hi Deedee,
    Great post. I think about this now that we have been adopted by a cat ouselves. Ashes is so uncontent to be in the house and I am sure it is because he was outside all his young life. I have taken many precautions for him, so that he may continue his life both inside and out. I sure hope I am making the right choice for him.
    I just enjoy your posts so much. They always make me think.

  8. So sorry to read about your cat's ill health, Deedee. I'm sure he's had a better life with you than he would have as a feral cat. It seems a loved animal's decline always has us thinking that way. I've had the same thoughts about my old dog although I know he's happy. I tell myself my fear is for myself, how I will feel without him. Our pets add so much to our lives, don't they?

  9. I'm not a pet person. Leastways I always think that. But when my (inherited and very much loved) cat, BP, came to the end of his long life it was mercifully quick. I also used to think that cats belonged outside as well as inside but that's easy to say in the cat safety of Lewis. I have, since then, known quite a few house cats and they all seem(ed) very content. The clincher is that he never knew the alternative so I think if I were you I'd have a clear conscience knowing that you've done your best.