Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gustav - 1992-2006

Back in 2006 we lost 'Gustav', our beloved cat of 14 years to squamous cell, an aggressive form of oral cancer. We were devastated as Gustav had been healthy (or so we thought), for so long.

Initially we had taken Gustav to our local vet for a checkup and to have his teeth cleaned. We had noticed that his breath had taken on an unusual odor and he was drooling at times after eating. During the teeth cleaning procedure, the technician noticed a lump under Gustav's tongue. The vet called us and asked if he could biopsy the lump. We agreed and later learned that it was malignant. We tried to seek a second opinion, and to find out about some treatment to save him. We also inquired into whether the lump could be removed but were told that it was positioned in such a way that a portion of the tongue would also be removed, which would make eating very difficult for Gustav.

The nearest clinic was an hour or so away and Gustav was becoming weaker. We talked about the pros and cons with our vet. We knew he would not tolerate the trip well as he does not like going in the car under normal conditions. We also wondered whether the treatment might make him even sicker than he was. We were so torn. It was after speaking with some women at our local animal shelter about their experiences with cancer in cats, that it finally occurred to me that maybe we shouldn't try and pursue treatment. Gustav was really not well at that point and to intervene with strong treatment, might even have killed him. We decided then that we would do everything we could to make him comfortable. We purchased special, soft food and were given some pain medication. For the next week or so, Gustav would eat off and on and sleep most of the day. He had gone from a healthy weight to very skinny and weak. We had hoped that his condition would at least stabilize, but instead it got worse.

At one point Gustav was biting into his tongue when he attempted to eat as the lump under his tongue was getting in the way. After some discussion with the vets and John, I accepted with much regret that perhaps it was time to have him euthanized. I called our vet clinic and they sent Dr. Gus to our house to give the injection. Cradling Gustav in my arms, the vet moved in and gave him the shot. Gustav immediately moved out of my arms and was standing still after this. The vet was astonished as he had never seen a cat so tough. Oh my god I thought. Are we doing the right thing? I wanted to stop it but the vet said that it would be best for Gustav to continue. I said okay, and the vet then moved in again. This time Gustav's body gave way under him and he quietly closed his eyes. It was over. The vet gave us a few minutes alone.

Like a lot of aggressive cancers, squamous cell doesn't present many symptoms with which to detect that something is wrong. The tip off for us was the drooling, lack of energy and bad breath. We were hard-pressed to understand how this could happen, but were told that stress, age and environmental factors can be contributors.

We learned a lot through this experience with Gustav. Today I am that much more vigilant when it comes to our 2 present cats. Food has to be natural, free of fillers, fresh water and regular vet checks. Anything that doesn't look right to me, off to the vet we go. Pets are like family with us and receive the same consideration and care when it comes to their wellbeing.

To our beloved Gustav. We miss you buddy. You are forever in our hearts. RIP.

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