Palliative Pet Care Using Cannabis

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It was gearing up to be a very busy work week for me with my eager anticipation of reaching forty hours.  On day two of five I came home to find that my old kitty India had soiled herself yet was sleeping soundly.

I wasn’t terribly surprised – at nineteen years that body was tired and worn out.  She had various dishes of sardines, red sockeye salmon, and cat milk that went untouched.  I knew that she hadn’t eaten all day, other than her daily medicine that I squirt inside her mouth ever so quickly and delicately.

IndiaSnuggleThis medicine is in oil form, so it has a good deal of calories.  It keeps her pain and stiffness away and is a big reason why my girl lived to be nineteen years young.

It was clear to me that India’s end of life was near so I decided to take the rest of the week off to be with my last pack member while she passed over.  We’ve been together for the last half of my life.  I adopted her from a neighboring farmer when I moved away from home.

Every adult memory I have includes this orange kitty, each one seared in my memory and they bubble up more and more as these last days have passed.  So many good and funny memories.  So many lessons learned … yes, lessons from a cat!

Yesterday I felt obligated to make the decision to take India in to a veterinarian and have her put to sleep.  She didn’t really have a doctor, nor has she had one for the last ten years.  It’s my opinion that my girl lived this long because her little body wasn’t ravaged by toxic chemicals on a yearly basis.  But that’s a whole other blog.

The temperature outside was below freezing, as would the cold metal table feel if I had taken her in to be euthanized.  I was torn, to say the least.  So my honey must have sensed this and said, “I think you should keep her here with you as long as you can.  She’s happiest with you.”

The weight of the world was suddenly lifted from my shoulders.  And so the decision was made.  We were going to treat my dying kitty to palliative care using cannabis at home, free to roam and finally pass over wherever and whenever she desired.

India hadn’t eaten in almost five days other than her regular medicine, a light tasting olive oil infused with dried cannabis of various strains.  She’d been on the herbal for almost two years now, and it not only made a world of difference in her mobility, but it definitely gave her the munchies, and she would go from the knee-less robot walk to walking with a slight limp.

Cannabinoid therapy lasts in the body for a very long time, so at first she only required a squirt of 1 to 2 ml’s depending on strength, every few days.  It was only in the past four months or so that she’d been getting it every day.  At first it was a fight and a challenge, but I swear she eventually allowed me to squirt it in, knowing it would bring relief.

I have quite a lot of experience with pet deaths and pet euthanization.  The first was at age sixteen with my first love Rusty, a stunning mixed breed pony.  Suffice it to say that between childhood family pets, and my own pets and their offspring, I know when it’s time to take drastic measures.

In an aged animal, the death process begins the first day they quit eating.   Day one, two, three saw, India sit and stare at the water bowl, occasionally bowing her head, but never actually drinking.  I periodically squirted broth, cat milk, and water in her mouth, but she just shook her head and moped away.

Lo and behold, it seems that the portal to the afterlife was the bath tub.  A frantic early morning search ended with us finding India in the tub with the curtain closed.   It was in here that we had our moment on day three where I held her chest firmly in my hand and rubbed the back of her head, kissing it over and over.  She always loved that sound.  No energy to eat, and yet energy to purr.  Faintly in her chest I felt it.  A sign that I was doing the right thing by letting her choose.

Every eight hours I squirted her canna-medicine into her mouth.  We hot-boxed the shower twice that night … both of us sitting in it with candles lit.   It wasn’t until later that night that I remembered the little capsule of black stuff I had made months ago from the crystallized trichomes trapped in our grinder:  Rick Simpson Oil … of one form or another. I was saving this for someone.  Now I knew who.

I began dissolving this in the oil and the relief was evident very soon.   She was completely sedated, yet when I sponge bathed her mouth and face with warm water she woke right up and clearly enjoyed it.

This stuff is medicine.  Because of this plant, I was able to ease my last pack member into the afterlife painlessly and at her own speed.  This doesn’t occur with pharmaceutical pet meds.  Cats are highly sensitive to dosing that oftentimes wreaks havoc on other organs.  Metac*m, for example, is very damaging to the kidneys.  My girl played a short but brisk game of floor hockey about a week before she passed, so we know the herbal wasn’t damaging her fragile little body.

The author with India's bestie

The author with India’s bestie

On the night of day four we forgot to keep the bedroom door closed and she made her way under our bed.  It was her spot.  She slept there with my honey and I and her bestie, our Boston Terrier, sleeping above her on the bed.  Eight hours later she had managed to turn her old body around and roll over. I carefully carried her out to one of the many pillows and blanket piles on the floor so she could soak in some sun, carefully lying her on the other side.

Lying still makes the body sore, so after about every hour or two of sleep, I rolled her over and gave her a body rub.  Such a good kitty.  It would soon be time for more medicine.  This time once again, I mixed it with the RSO for an extra boost of sedation and pain killing.

I now know what my mother meant when she told me so long ago that it was a blessing when her own mother finally passed.  My girl slept with her eyes open.  And when I closed them, they’d slowly open again.  She wasn’t in pain, but she wasn’t really there anymore either.  She smelled of infection.  The death-smell.  I noticed that she was swallowing a bit, so I thought it would be a good time for more cannabis oil.  Her little jaw was almost seized at this point, but I managed to squirt it in through a gap in her teeth.  She very quickly swallowed this down, now knowing very well what it did.

A little over an hour later she suddenly jerked and squirmed a bit.  Up until then, she was sleeping peacefully on a big pillow covered with a fuzzy blanket.  Something inside me knew.  I went over and just enveloped her with my arms.  She hated being picked up so I left her lying on the pillow — respect means nothing if not given in death.  She sort of stretched a few times and gasped.  I cooed to her and told her she was such a good kitty.

How many times did I kiss her head trying to sear it into my memory?  Her fur still smelled like her kitty-ness mixed with the herbal cannabis smell, and it was still as soft as ever.  She gasped quietly two more times and then she lay still.  I kept feeling for a heartbeat but if it was there, I couldn’t feel it.

I lit a candle and sat down in front of her little body to pray that the Goddess take her home.  I whispered the names of her favorite pack members — there truly were just far too many to mention all of them from the past nineteen years.  I smudged around and over her with a bundle of sage then one last time, I kissed and smelled her head, telling her she was such a good kitty.

RIP India“All ends, new beginnings” is a verse from a popular pop song;  I feel this so strongly now.  My furry sister’s ashes will return to me in a cedar box inscribed with her name on top:  India.  Cedar seemed right and fitting for a barn cat turned city, orange Tigress.  But her energy is now returned to its source where she’ll see all of our pack- even the ones she loathed, like that dang lab Magic.

I know I am lucky to have been able to spend my kitty’s last days with her.  Not everyone can.  But as long as pain can be controlled then I believe that death in its own time is a beautiful thing.  I feel blessed to have witnessed her passing.

I expect judgement from some regarding this decision.  Some will say that I was a complacent pet owner or that I have no right taking the position of doctor when it concerns another living thing.  There are still those out there who will think I’m a complete loon to use an untested plant instead of a proven sterile pre-packaged and commercialized drug from the vet.

To those of you, I tell you this:  the natural breakdown and inevitable death of my kitty’s body is the exact same process we allow our fellow humans to go through when dying.  Dare you say this was the inhumane way to let her die?  Ironic at best.  We sedate our fellow humans and we kill their pain, as I have done with Cannabis infused olive oil, and we wait until death takes them.

Think about that.  And let your heart direct you.  In Canada, the Government is opening up debate once again to legalize “medically-assisted suicide.”  Imagine being able to say goodbye while they’re still coherent.  Death on their own terms … because respect is nothing if not in death.

RIP India … you’re such a good kitty.

Feature Image: “John B. Moisant and Mademoiselle Fifi” by Unknown/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b16490

All other images courtesy of the author Dianna Donnelly