It was the first week of December when my five- year-old Cat named Fighter suddenly felt weak and won’t eat. Once at the vet and as soon as the blood test results came, I was immediately thrown into pure despair and heartbreak. Fighter was showing signs of chronic kidney disease (CKD) and needed blood transfusion. I found myself crying and fearing the worst. Would he survive?

Fighter on the left, CC on the right as my assistant caregiver. She provides warmth to her siblings and gives me her joyful presence all the time.

BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS

By sheer luck, a friend recommended another veterinary clinic with a kind- hearted doctor who can do the transfusion the next day and possibly recommend the best treatment moving forward.

Fighter had to be stabilized and put in an ICU incubator while testing and prepping for blood transfusion. We geared up for battle and I was armed with tissues for when I would randomly burst into tears.

Fortunately, his biological mother was healthy and ready to act as a donor. There was still a chance that his body would reject the blood, and the rejection could take two weeks to show. Would it work?

Fighter, being my most mild-mannered Cat of the three, made it easy for me to transition into being a caregiver, despite my fear of needles.

THE FEELS

I couldn’t think of anything at all, other than worrying about a lot
of things. Most obvious was his survival. Also weighing quite heavily on my mind was if I could afford the avalanche of bills coming my way.

Another overwhelming thing was all the information I was taking in. Prior to this experience, my senior Cats who had CKD were not able to survive — there had been no need to memorize

anything medical. And now, every medical term and generic medicine name I had to familiarize myself with seemed alien to me.

Even if I felt unprepared, I wholeheartedly accepted the role of
a Cat caregiver. Our vet said that if Fighter survived the transfusion, I would be doing injections and infusing subcutaneous fluids for Fighter at home. Would I be able to do it myself?

Hiro as a healthy and happy Cat years ago. It is another challenge to accept this new reality of living with the disease.

LEFT AND RIGHT

For someone scared of needles, I was able to do the injections and infuse the subcutaneous fluids. Poking myself at times and using too many needles due to mistakes along the way were part of how my days went.

I was able to do it because I had no choice. It also helped that Fighter is really one of the sweetest and fuss-free Cats I have ever met.

For our follow-up vet consult the next week, I brought along Orange. You see, with all the information I gathered and from reading up on this new challenge in our lives, I knew Orange could have the same disease.

Indeed, I was right. While there were very slight improvements to Fighter’s lab results, Orange had to be put in almost the same treatment plan.

Upon diagnosis, we had to come back week after week to monitor the changes in their test results. And in the third week, I just knew my senior Cat Hiro had to join. It was always the three of them who had periodontal disease and had on-and-off appetite. Alas, with a few variations in treatment, Hiro officially joined the club.

Seriously, I could put up a kidney institute with the amount of kidney patients I had. Would it ever end?

Fighter, my youngest boy, remains to be very sweet and communicates with his eyes as he always does.

Our stocks include several bags of intravenous fluids and an assortment of food. I have long since sobered up from panicking whenever they don’t eat. I only stock up on renal food these days to make sure I’m giving them what we were prescribed by our vet.

Adjusting our routine according to their medications was not very easy, but it had to be done.

GOD’S MENU

I have a lot of clean bowls always stacked and ready for changing their water frequently. Cats with CKD suffer from dehydration, so they drink and pee a lot.

Christmas and New Year rolled around — appeared like lightning was more like it — as time passed quickly while we were busy with medications and treatments. I was grateful to have spent the holidays with my patients.

Feeding time was a game of chance. Suddenly, the prescribed renal food that seemed like magic, they would suddenly snub. Some days, the bland chicken breast I proudly cooked for them, they wouldn’t finish.

There were days they all heartily ate everything in one go. Those days were so precious that I would be too happy to announce to the world with thunderous applause — but before I knew it, their appetite would shift again.

It also doesn’t help that their appetite stimulant medication is their most hated medicine. I feel like a bad person giving it.

Some days were spent just shopping around for renal food that I hoped against hope they would like.

One of the most agonizing moments in this journey was whenever they refused to eat, because I was aware of how I tried my best to provide what I could. I most certainly felt like a mother nagging her children about how others didn’t even have access to food.

Fighter, Orange and Hiro lost a lot of weight already because of this disease. CKD also makes them nauseous at times, causing them to vomit. It could be that they’re in pain as well. So, yes, I cannot blame them for having no appetite at all.

Still, it is frustrating, to say the least. Did I tell you that prescription food is expensive and not that easy to find?

THERE WERE DAYS I FELT SO SURE WE WERE CONQUERING THE DISEASE, AND THERE WERE DAYS RIDDLED WITH FEAR WHEN THEY WOULD LOOK TERRIBLY ILL AND WOULD BARELY EAT. I HAVE SINCE LEARNED THAT INAPPETENCE IS A SYMPTOM OF CKD.

SAVAGE

It makes me emotional looking back at this time when Fighter finally ate after many days of not having any appetite.

While I have learned firsthand that CKD is not always a quick death sentence, it requires lifelong treatment. Kidney failure is irreversible and the goal is to slow down its progress.

Chronic kidney disease is terribly draining and overwhelming, which is why emotional support is paramount for one to face it with sanity.

I’m grateful we found a compassionate and skillful healthcare team that gives me hope and courage. Our new vet happily and calmly answers my endless questions and encourages healthy discussions. I have also joined a support group on Facebook called Feline Chronic Kidney Disease to connect with Cat parents all over the world who are experiencing the same.

It could be very isolating to face stressful days — at least I know that I’m not the only person with a very elaborate homecare routine whose rollercoaster of emotions is constantly triggered. We have also been so blessed to be surrounded by so much love from family, friends, and even strangers who offered to support us in this journey.

I realized that it takes a village to care for one distressed Cat mama, and it takes grace to humbly accept help when needed.

Aside from all of these, I find solace in breathing exercises, taking care of myself, and listening to K-pop songs that somehow quiet down all the worries. While battling physical and mental exhaustion, music can feel like a healing balm.

My Cats would look at me funny whenever I sang along to songs and did a little dance as I savored moments of inner peace. If there was a rain dance, could there be a healing dance I can do?

When they sleep comfortably despite the sickness, I can also sleep well.

AS IF IT’S YOUR LAST

Orange when he was still a bit of a chonk, although he has Feline Immunodeficiency Virus prior to being diagnosed with CKD.

I don’t regret adopting Fighter, Orange, and Hiro because caring for them is a privilege and a serious commitment. Of course, I would really like to have things be easy, but I know that love flourishes in pure devotion.

Our vet, bless her soul, joked that Fighter only had one worm that didn’t sign to approve his death, because he really looked like he didn’t have much time left on the first day she met him.

I don’t make silly wishes, such as hoping that my Cats would stay until their birthdays or some other special holiday, because it is unfair for their frail bodies. I know what they are going through.

Our days are highly unpredictable: Sometimes good, oftentimes bad. There are days when I tearfully ask them if they are tired, and I whisper that they can let go if they are. What will tomorrow bring?

If you have made it to the end of my rant and have recognized the little titles are actually famous K-pop songs from BTS, Twice, Seventeen, Stray Kids, Aespa, and Blackpink, I salute you. Albert Schweitzer once said, “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and Cats.”

Gia Lara is an experienced pet photographer, graphic artist, and content creator. She is widely interested in telling stories and expressing herself through visual art and the written word. More bite-size stories and photos of cute felines can be found on her Instagram @petograpiya.