My beloved 11-year-old cat, Roman, is dying. Two days ago, the vet diagnosed him as suffering from Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). This is caused by a mutation of the Feline Coronavirus (FeCoV). It is incurable, it is fatal, and there is not a non-controversial vaccine available to prevent this disease. Roman has the effusive (wet) form of FIP – meaning his abdomen fills with fluid due to his immune system creating antibodies to fight the virus. Roman’s antibodies are supposed to protect him but the virus is infecting his white blood cells which is then spreading throughout his entire body causing intense inflammation. Roman’s immune system’s response to the virus is killing him.
I still can’t accept that Roman is dying. I can’t believe that when his final time has come that I won’t be able to look upon his sweet face or have him lay with us at night while he purrs himself to sleep. Roman is such a sweet, gentle soul. I have five cats but Roman has always held a special place in my heart. Up until he fell ill, he was a happy-go-lucky kitty. Nothing seemed to bring him down. He got along with the other cats and he was especially close to his litter mate, Savannah. Even in his illness, Roman remains gentle, kind, and loving. He isn’t complaining, he is just enduring his disease. The vet gave Roman antibiotics and a Cortisone shot to reduce the inflammation and to help ease his discomfort but it’s a matter of time when we will have to help him leave this world before he endures too much suffering. The vet advised us to call him Friday on whether the shots improved Roman’s condition or not. If it’s not improved, we will have to set a time to have him put to sleep. His belly is swollen and this disease progresses so rapidly. When we took him to the vet, we thought he was constipated or was suffering from megacolon. I had never even heard of FIP until a few days ago when I was researching on what may be wrong with Roman. I saw FIP listed as a possibility but so was megacolon and roundworms. The megacolon issue seemed to fit since Roman had a previously fractured pelvis from a car injury in 2009 and I thought this was causing his constipation and perhaps the swollen tummy. When I saw the vet’s face shrouded in concern when he used his stethoscope on Roman’s abdomen, I lost it. I couldn’t stop crying. I just knew that it wasn’t something that drugs or even surgery could fix. And then the vet said the dreaded words “FIP virus”. Based on my research before the appointment, I knew it was fatal. I sat there sobbing not really hearing what the doctor was saying. I am so thankful my dear husband was there with me and could ask the questions that needed to be asked. All I could do was sit there and look at my baby laying on the table and cry. Roman was such a trooper letting the doctor and the assistant pet him while they checked different things. The last recorded stool Roman had was Thursday and it wasn’t much and he strained to do that little bit. I prayed for Roman last night until I fell asleep crying. I knew that God has a plan for all of us but all I asked was for Roman to not be in pain and to help let us know when we should say our last goodbyes. This morning I awoke to find that Roman had finally had a successful stool and I had a day of relief in almost a week of worry. It’s one of those small miracles where you can breathe a little bit to face the next round of heartache you know is inevitable.
I am grappling with whether it’s easier to deal with death if it’s sudden and unexpected, or to watch someone you love slowly pass. If it’s sudden, you’ve had no chance to say goodbye, or pet him one last time and tell him how much you love him, or take that one last photograph or video before you’ll never have the chance again. If you know death is coming for your loved one, you spend each day in agony knowing what you know and trying to make up for all the times you didn’t pay attention or spend more time with him. You pack in as much love and attention as you can until you and your loved one can’t take it anymore. And you wait, you wait as he lies dying. How awful this latter seems because that is what is happening to us as we watch our family member decline from his special self to a tired, less responsive being. I know deep down that if it was unexpected, it would be equally painful. Because the end result is the same, the final goodbye is just that – final in every way. I can’t accept that soon I won’t be calling his name for a treat. “Roman, treat-treat, treat-treat. Come on Roman.” His calico sister, Savannah has been his faithful friend and sibling for 11 years. What will she do when Roman is not here anymore? Will she be extremely lonely or will she feel comfort with the other 3 cats we took in a year ago? Will she draw closer to them or be even more distant? I am concerned for her. She seems to know something is going on with her brother, Roman. She has been avoiding him since he fell ill. She won’t stay in the same room with him anymore. When he had his accident in 2009, she did the same thing. When he was confined to an area of the house while he recovered, she would run through quickly as if she was afraid. As soon as he was back to walking again, she was back to her normal self and laid with him again and cleaned his face as they used to do when they were little. I think the 3 younger cats know something is wrong too. Roman is confined to our master bedroom and bathroom area. The younger cats go and visit him. Shelby, the male, likes to stay close to him and Sable and Isabelle are curious and lay nearby too. I think Roman knows something is wrong too. He can feel he is not his usual self. He is sick and he has no energy. He mainly lies on his cat bed with his little blankets under him and tries to get sleep in any position he can find that’s comfortable. He still has an appetite and he is still drinking water. He had a stool today for the first time in five days which is a relief and he never had a problem urinating. He still likes to lay on the back deck in the morning while it’s not hot and then I bring him back inside to rest on his bed. I lay with him on the floor and pet him until he drifts off to sleep. I dangle his stringed cat toy and he will play with it for a little bit until he just wants to rest. We are trying to make him as comfortable as possible. Even though he is so swollen, he still likes to lay between us at night. He likes to knead my arm as if he has resorted back to being a kitten nursing. He is seeking comfort and security. And as I write this crying, I wonder if he’s scared. I don’t want my baby to be scared. And for this reason, I think I need to be with him when it’s time for him to be put to sleep . I have never witnessed any animal being put to sleep, but I can’t bear the thought of Roman not seeing my face at the end. I don’t want him to feel that he’s all alone. He has been with me since he was weaned as a kitten. I have shared my heart, my life with him for 11 years. He has given me unconditional love and companionship. He was with me before my marriage when I was single living in an apartment. He and Savannah were my little family as I was making it on my own. They kept me from being lonely, and I want to give that to him when he needs it the most. I know it’s going to be hard… I am afraid of how I will handle it. But I don’t want to regret not being with him so I will find a way to be strong for him. Bless his heart, he is too good to be ridden with this horrible disease. I still can’t believe this is happening.