Two weeks ago, we had a healthy, happy cat. Our nine-year-old Little Cat loved chasing crane flies, looking out the screen door, snuggling with my husband, and snoozing in cozy spots around the house. Her health, we thought, had never been better. Several years ago she had dealt with obesity and food allergies, but after we got her on a special diet she lost the excess weight and was in great health. Such good health, in fact, that I didn’t think to take her to the vet for her annual visit. Such good health that I forgot about the heart murmur that was diagnosed several years ago.
And then, she abruptly died.
My husband and I were about to tuck into a night of watching season four of Lost. Little Cat walked over, sat in front of us, and started a rasping heave. Something seemed weird — we knew it wasn’t a normal cat barf; we knew we needed to get to a vet, or do CPR or something. We were panicking, and we didn’t know what to do.
I sincerely hope that you never find yourself in the situation we ended up in: listening (and watching, and smelling) your pet die of heart failure while you are stuck in traffic on the way to a vet’s office. But, the fact is, emergencies happen and it sucks no matter what, but being a little more prepared would have helped us feel slightly less out-of-control. So, go pet your furry buddy, hold her close, and then read some things I wish we had done.
1. Print the contact information and directions to your closest (and second closest) Emergency 24-Hour Vet Clinic, and pin or tape them to the outside of your pet’s carrier. I cannot stress this enough. Our cat’s “regular” vet is across the city from our current apartment. We never bothered finding a closer vet, because we only took her maybe once a year. We had to scramble around, trying to remember where we saw an Emergency Clinic. We remembered that there was one about 1.5 miles away and had to Google the address and phone number. It was close by, but because of rush hour + draw bridge + construction traffic it took about 20 minutes to get there. An alternative route to a different clinic also would have been helpful.
And, if you can, call when you are on your way to make sure that someone is there to receive you and your fur-kid.
2. Keep a towel or old blanket in the carrier, because your pet might “lose their bowels.” We had a soft-sided carrier, and thank goodness it had a towel and old chenille scarf in the bottom because when living creatures are in their last moments, they sometimes are not able to hold in their bodily functions. It will make their last moments a little better if at least there’s something absorptive in the bottom of their crate. Also, you don’t want your final memories of your cat or dog to be the lingering smell of their final poop on your car seats. You just don’t.
3. Have a serious talk with your human partner about heroic measures. Emergency pet care ain’t cheap, y’all. Our sweet kitty was dead on arrival, so we didn’t have to pay for anything except cremation, but resuscitation, intubation, and all sorts of other care is expensive. Talk with your partner about what lengths and costs you would go to save a pet’s life.
This is particularly important because it is possible that only one of you will be home at the moment that your pet is in crisis. Have this conversation before you need to, when you are able to think rationally about the various options and ramifications for those options. Maybe put it into writing, if you are those kinds of people.
4. Learn Pet CPR. I’m not kidding, pet CPR exists. It probably would not have made a difference in our case, since our cat was most likely dying of cardiac arrest, but if (heaven forbid), your pet is choking or drowning, it could save a life.
Here’s a video that shows you how it’s done. Obviously, don’t practice it on your pet, but if you’ve got a large stuffed animal around, go to town.
Remember, just like with human people, if you revive an animal friend, you still need to get to the emergency vet immediately.
5. Come to terms with the fact that you will most likely outlive your pet. This one isn’t easy, but you have to do it. Even if you don’t have an emergency, your pet will most likely pass away sometime in your lifetime. If your pet has a health condition (like, say, a heart murmur that the vet says is “common” and “no big deal”), learn the risks. Know the average life span of your particular breed. Know the warning signs of health decline; take it seriously if your pet’s disposition changes suddenly. Don’t get all crazy and freak yourself out, but be aware of reality. Feeling proactive and able to comfort your pet in her final days, weeks, or minutes is better for you and your pet.
6. And finally, hug and snuzzle every single day.