Coping With The Loss Of A Much Loved Pet – Our Beautiful Kitten, Rosie
Coping With The Loss Of A Much Loved Pet - Our Beautiful Kitten Rosie.
Coping with the loss of a much loved pet is something many people experience, and we’ve found ourselves going through the pain since we lost our beautiful kitten Rosie last January, at the tender age of just 6 months. If it’s happened to you, then hopefully this blog post will give you some comfort in knowing that your pain is shared and understood.
Rosie passed away on January 25th, having contracted a disease called Feline Infectious Peritinitis, for which there is no cure and which is always fatal. FIP, as it is called for short, comes in two forms – Effusive (wet) and Non-Effusive (dry) – and Rosie had the dry strain.
FIP normally only affects kittens and juvenile cats up to the age of 2 years. It is very rare, but not unheard of, for a cat to contract the disease beyond that period. There is a documented case of a female cat who contracted FIP surviving for just over 2 years after diagnosis, but death normally occurs within a much shorter timescale of less than 10 months.
CAUSES OF FELINE INFECTIOUS PERITINITIS
FIP occurs when kittens are infected with the Feline Corona Virus (FCoV), which is actually common the World over and is typically shed in the faeces of healthy cats. It is spread when cats come into contact with the faeces and urine of other cats and is therefore far less common in the wild where cats are solitary, than in domestic environments where there may be more than one cat using a common litter tray, eating from the same bowls and grooming each other.
It is also more common among pedigree cats than ‘moggies’.
FCoV has two forms – the Feline Enteric Corona Virus (FECV) and Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus (FIPV). FECV infects the mature gastrointestinal epithelial cells and while some cats are resistant to it, some of those infected may heal temporarily and others carry the virus permanently once infected. It is insignificant until mutations cause FECV to be transformed into FIPV.
OUR STORY WITH ROSIE
Before I go into how we dealt with Rosie’s illness and sad, early passing, I want to tell you about her short life, because it brings a smile to my face and helps with the pain of the loss. None of you reading this want to end up depressed after reading an entirely sad blog post anyway, so hopefully the next few paragraphs will put a smile on your faces too!
The loss of Rosie felt to us especially like a kick in the teeth, because her coming into our family and our home seemed like it had actually been meant to be due to the circumstances in which it happened, as I’ll relate.
My Wife, Raquel, got her first cat when she was a little girl and was fortunate enough to have her until she passed away from natural causes at the grand old age of 18 years. Raquel is a died-in-the-wool cat lover and it was inevitable that we would get a family cat when the time was right. Last year, when we got settled in our new, permanent home after re-locating and living in rented accommodation for a couple of years, and when we felt that the Boys were old enough (at ages 8 and 10), we decided that the time was right and we told the Boys we would get a kitten probably around September, which they were both very excited about!
Raquel very much wanted a black female and we decided that we would start looking around rescue centres for one to give a permanent, loving home to, when around mid-May, one of her colleagues at work announced that her cat, Evie, was expecting kittens. This was unplanned as they were going get her spayed that same week in order to avoid that very situation, but she managed to escape from the house whilst in heat when the front door was left open for a fraction of a second too long! As Queen’s in heat do, she had an amorous encounter with a local randy Tom, and returned home pregnant!
Raquel was delighted, as the kittens were due to be born in July which meant that they would be ready for re-homing in early September, exactly the time were looking to get one. Evie and her ‘Casanova’ were both black and white, so this, we assumed, would mean that we would not actually get a black kitten. But we decided that was fine. We knew this about ‘Dad’ because Evie’s owners went looking for her with the intention of preventing any kitten-making shenanigans but were too late as they caught them both in the act!
So, just imagine our utter delight when the 5 kittens were born on 11th July, and one of them was a black female! Just what we wanted at exactly the right time for us and in the circumstances we least expected. That’s why it felt to us like it was always destined to happen and why it absolutely ripped our hearts out when our beautiful little Rosie was so cruelly taken from us so soon afterwards.
We went to see the kittens when they were a few days old and we decided on the way home in the car that we’d actually like to have 2. There was one of Rosie’s siblings that’d we’d taken a particular shine to, an adorable little black and white male, whom we subsequently named Louie.
We went back to see the kittens when they were 2 weeks old, then again and 4 and 6 weeks before Raquel bought them home on 7thSeptember when they were 8 weeks old. During those visits we marvelled and wondered at the different stages of their development. Kittens double in size every 2 weeks until they are 8 weeks old, when the growth rate slows, and the changes in them every time we saw them were amazing!
First, they were these tiny, helpless little things that could fit into the palm of your hand, with their eyes tightly closed, looking like they had no ears and who could just fumble around their den to find Evie and start suckling. Evie, at just 10 months old, was still very much a kitten herself. Despite her young age, she was the most wonderful, attentive and loving Mum that any little kittens could possibly have. Her maternal instincts were 100% and just to watch her nursing her 5 little fluff balls was one of the most tender and ‘Awwww!’ invoking things we’d ever seen.
Next visit, their eyes were starting to open but their ears were still tucked in and they were managing to stand up and take a few fumbling steps.
At 4 weeks old, their ears were up and their eyes were fully open, a beautiful blue, wide with curiosity as they explored the room defying all Evie’s attempts to keep them close to the den, and they were starting to eat solid food. They say cats have a 6th sense and Rosie and Louie must have instinctively known they were being re-homed together, as they seemed to gravitate towards each other and started to form a very close bond. Rosie had come next after Louie in the litter, with 12 minutes between them.
At 6 weeks, they were like young cats, very alert, very active and with the pigmentation in the eyes giving them their natural colour, replacing the blue, and they were now fully trained by Evie in using the litter tray.
At 8 weeks, Raquel brought them home. We let them out of the travel box into the kitchen and closed the door so they could just get used to one room initially and not be overwhelmed by the new surroundings. We stayed there with them until bed time, remaining very much ‘hands off’ and letting them explore and get used to their new environment and to us. As to be expected, they were shy and hesitant but still very inquisitive and when they needed to use the litter tray which was the first thing Raquel had shown them, off they went without any bidding from us.
Day 2 was open house, and for the next couple of months, it was like having 2 miniature tornadoes blowing through the house as they chased each other from room to room, up and down the stairs and over the furniture, stalking and pouncing on each other, wrestling with each other and their toys and gradually getting bigger.
It’s impossible to know just how wonderfully entertaining it is to watch all this unless you’ve actually seen it for yourself. They would have us in fits of laughter with their crazy antics! They managed to find lots of little hidey holes in the house and could we find them if they didn’t want us to? No way! They’d often be ‘missing’ for a good couple of hours and we’d eventually find them cuddled up somewhere you’d think it was impossible for them to get into! Otherwise, we’d have to leave a ‘trail’ of dry food to tempt them out from wherever they were hiding!
Despite the close bond between them and the fact that they were brother and sister, they were as different as chalk and cheese in their own individual characters. Both were wonderfully affectionate, and loved having cuddle time with us, purring like a couple of idling Harley Davidsons as we stroked them. Rosie was very elegant and dainty with a real dignified cat-walk type poise. The Vet who ended up seeing so much of her commented that ‘…she’s a little Lady.’ And so she was, in every sense of the word. Louie was – and is – very much what you might call a ‘typical boy’ - brash, mischievous, boisterous and sometimes not knowing his own strength, getting occasional growls and even the odd hiss from his little Sister during rough and tumble sessions when he seemed to forget they were only playing.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF FIP
After a couple of months, Rosie started to slow down and become less active. We thought at first this was just down to ‘growing up’, but then her left eye became swollen and milky, like she had a cataract.
We took her to the Vet and she was referred to an eye specialist who initially diagnosed Uveitis. Whilst this is a condition in its’ own right which can be treated with eye drops, it is also a secondary infection as a result of FIP, caused by a deteriorating immune system. After a couple of weeks of taking drops the Uveitis hadn’t cleared up as expected, so Rosie was given a more thorough examination where it was confirmed she had a fever and her blood tested positive for FECV which we were told may clear up, but could also mutate into FIP. So we had to prepare ourselves emotionally for the worst, whilst hoping that it wouldn’t happen.
Time went on and Rosie’s growth rate started to slow to the extent that she was about 25% smaller than Louie. Although she was a lot quieter, she seemed otherwise to be continuing to lead a normal life. She kept eating her food, she would still explore, play and show affection, she slept normally, she continued to groom both herself and Louie, and her toilet routine remained exactly the same. The Vet told us that the only way to 100 guarantee that a cat has (or had) Dry FIP is through Post Mortem and that although she considered FIP extremely likely (90% certain, she told us), there was a possibility it might just be FECV and that it could clear. Wet FIP is far easier to diagnose as the cat’s body will swell up due to excess internal fluid build-up. As Rosie had dry FIP, there were no obvious outward symptoms.
Meanwhile, Rosie Continued Leading
A Relatively Normal Life
Life went on for a couple of months and the time came for us to get both kittens neutered. Kittens can become sexually mature as early as 4 months, but normally it’s 6. When Queen’s come into heat can depend on what part of the World they live in and here in the UK the first season is normally March but it can be January, at which point Rosie was at that critical 6 months of age.
Cats don’t conform to the same moral code as we humans, and it is far from uncommon for litter mates to interbreed. Louie was already starting to show a sexual interest in his little Sister, going through the motions of trying to mount her, although Rosie seemed uninterested. Luckily, the Vet decided that Louie was now big enough to have his operation after having been rejected about a month before for being too small, so in he went.
Rosie’s relatively normal behaviour throughout those 2 months allowed us to hold on to the hope - that 10% chance the Vet had given us - that she did not have FIP and would go on to make a full recovery. We’d just started introducing the kittens to the World outside the house by that time, just letting them out into the back garden and staying there to keep a close watch. Rosie had been in her element there and had been showing, what looked like to us, a new lease of life. We took video of her, and everyone who saw it said that you’d never know that she was a poorly cat.
Around the 20th January, less than a week before she passed away, her behaviour started to change. Tragically, the change was to give us false hope. Far from looking like she was deteriorating, she started showing signs of behaviour that Queen cats show when in heat - January, 6 months old, perfect timing. She had started to roll and rub herself against whatever surface she was lying on and make distinctive ‘yowling’ sounds. Not so long back, I’d pulled up a YouTube video of a female cat in heat doing just that, so as to have a little tease with Louie, but it was actually Rosie who had come to investigate!
We had assumed that Rosie would not go into heat if she was so ill with FIP. We had not had her spayed just in case she didn’t have the strength to get through the operation. We’d simply kept a very close eye on her so that she would not do what her Mum had done. We knew that baring kittens of her own would likely be the death both of her and them, but we wanted to ensure that if her life was to be short, it would be as full and as happy as possible so we didn’t want to confine her in the house completely.
Sadly, the new sounds she was making were sounds of pain, and the rubbing was an attempt at pain relief. We knew that things had taken a turn for the worse when we checked the litter tray and saw that her urine had stained the litter a bright yellow, showing that her kidneys had failed. This was day 3 since she had started exhibiting the changes in behaviour. That date was now Thursday 24th January. It was at that point we had the awful realization that Rosie was dying and that the end was near.
We’d already agreed that the moment it became apparent that there was no hope of that 10% chance of recovery we’d make the necessary arrangement with the Vet to end her suffering. We called the Vet and arranged to bring her in to be euthanized on Monday.
Friday morning came and Rosie’s condition had deteriorated over night. We’d also decided that we’d be completely upfront with the Boys as they had the right to know the facts and not have the wool pulled over their eyes. We explained everything in as straight forward but tender a way as we could with a 10 and an 8 year old, but they were in floods of tears when I took them into school that morning as Raquel went off to work.
We managed to re-schedule with the Vet for 4PM that day. Raquel had said that she wanted to be the one to take Rosie in so that she could hold her as she passed away, but that she wanted me to be with her when it happened.
That day, I literally watched Rosie slowly dying in front of my eyes and the awfulness of it is something that will never leave me. Her suffering became so bad and so awful to watch that I phoned Raquel and told her that we had to bring things forward if we could, because she might not even last until 4PM.
Raquel called the Vet and the best they could do was 3PM, the time when the Boys were to finish school. So in desperation, I starting phoning around other local vets, as we didn’t want the Boys to see Rosie die, but none of them could help as they were fully booked.
So, Raquel came home from work at 2.30 and I took drove us to the Vets with Rosie and sadly had to leave her to go and collect the boys, who were unaware of the sudden, tragic turn of events. At about quarter to 3, I said my last goodbye to Rosie before heading off to the school. Knowing that this was the last time I would see her alive was heart breaking, as was leaving Raquel alone to do what had to be done.
I got to the school just before 3 and sat in the car for a few minutes before going to collect the Boys at 5 past when they came out of their class rooms. At 1 minute past 3 just as I was getting out of the car, I received a text message from Raquel saying simply ‘Rosie has passed away peacefully.’
In the 15 minutes she was in the Vets before having her suffering ended, the Vet had commented on how much she’d deteriorated in that very short time. We know that Rosie would not have survived that day, or even probably the next hour. Even if we saved her just that amount of small time of pain and suffering then we did the right thing.
Raquel said that literally within seconds of the injection going into her leg, she was gone. She’d looked up at Raquel with that loving look we’d come to absolutely adore over the previous 4 months, as if to say ‘Thank you’ for her release and had closed her eyes as her head fell softly down into the palm of Raquel’s hand. Raquel told me that the Vet had said at that moment ‘It’s all over. She’s at peace now.’
I tried to maintain the ‘stiff upper lip’ as I collected the Boys, so as not to give anything away until they were in the car away from all their friends. At that point the Mum of one of their friends asked if we could give them a lift into town, which I agreed to as it was on the way to the Vets. The Boys were a bit confused as I normally collect them on foot as Raquel always takes the car to work. When they asked why I had the car and where Mum was, all I could say without giving the game away was ‘She’s come home early to be with Rosie.’
When I dropped their friend and his Mum at the traffic lights in town, I turned to the boys and said the words I’d been rehearsing in the car before I picked them up: ‘I’ve got some very sad news, Boys, I’m afraid. Rosie’s gone. She got much worse today, very quickly, and Mum had to come home to take her to the Vet. There was nothing we could do. She was in a lot of pain and we couldn’t let her keep suffering’.
The traffic lights turned green and I had to pull away and keep driving as the Boys broke down in tears. I couldn’t do anything but take the odd glance at them in the rear view mirror as we made the journey to the Vets which was less than 5 minutes but seemed so much longer.
When we got there, Raquel was waiting for us, her eyes red and puffy, carrying the travel box with Rosie inside, wrapped up in a blanket for us to take home and lay to rest in the back garden.
We got home and carefully took Rosie out of her blanket. The Boys said they wanted to see her when we asked. We felt it important for them to fully understand but we gave them the choice and they were very brave and grown up. We all had a final cuddle with our baby girl before I dug a little grave for her just under the hedge that runs along the side of our garden, next to the farmer’s field. We’d already chosen the spot, where there’s a lovely wild rambling rose bush growing through the hedge.
We said a little prayer for her and I covered her with the soil, as gently and with as much dignity for her as I could. Raquel then planted a shrub rose on her grave which we’d had in a pot on the patio for some time. She also planted some primrose and hellebore (Christmas Rose) bulbs, so that there would be a different kind of rose in flower throughout most of the year on the grave.
On a family day out soon after, we found a nice rock to use as a grave stone. I put it in the rucksack we had the picnic in and lugged it all the way back to the car which took me about 20 minutes, while Raquel and the Boys waited for me to return! It had a flat face where we could mount a little plaque, which we ordered from Amazon and attached into place with some Builder’s Adhesive. On the far side of the garden we have a stone statue of St Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals. This was my Wedding present to Raquel seventeen years ago, and it is now positioned so that he is directly watching over Rosie in her eternal rest.
I have shed tears while writing this post, but by God I’ve smiled as well. Rosie brought us a lifetime of joy in the 4 short months she was with us. We are so glad of our spontaneous decision to get Louie as well, as he is our direct connection to her and he lights up our lives in his own many special ways too.
If you have experienced what I’ve written about here, I hope this post has brought you some comfort in knowing you’re not alone. We felt a huge range of emotions that we had to come to terms with over questions we’d asked ourselves about the way we’d handled Rosie’s illness.
Should we have ended it sooner? Did we put her through unnecessary suffering by not doing so? Was this selfish of us? We were thinking of ourselves more than her?
We have been through this with each other openly and honestly, and we have come to the conclusion that without the benefit of hindsight we were right to hang on, since we were told that it was not 100% certain that Rosie had FIP and therefore could make a full recovery. The treatment she was receiving, although only palliative and symptomatic as it turned out, gave her considerable relief from what pain she would otherwise have been in and allowed her to live something very close to a normal life until the hitherto invisible damage being done inside her little body started to show. When this happened, we acted quickly to end her suffering as we’d already made decision to do so if faced with that situation.
What we could not have foreseen is how quick the deterioration would be. She went from being a happy young cat that nobody would have realized was ill if they hadn’t already known, to literally dying in front of our eyes in the space of just 4 days.
The Vet said there was no way that could have been forseen.
People have asked us if we’d get another cat to replace Rosie. Our answer to that is quite simply that we can’t replace Rosie. A new cat would not be Rosie. We would have done so at some point in the future were it not for us still having Louie, but a new cat is a new cat, not a replacement for something that can’t be replaced. As such, he or she would deserve to be loved in his or her own right, not as a substitute to fill a gap in our hearts. And we would wait until the healing process was under way in order to make sure that’s how it was.
God bless and sleep peacefully, Rosie darling. You are in our hearts forever. We love you, baby girl.
Thank you for reading.