Ashleigh (aka “Ashie”, or “Punky”) was our second cat, adopted in 1988.  She was an all grey kitty with a round face and body, big bright green eyes and legs so stubby that to jump on anything she needed a running start.  She had a sweet disposition and was an extremely vocal little girl, always happiest hanging out with her mom and dad, Nancy and Brian.

ashleighIn the spring of 2003 she was acting lethargic with occasional vomiting, so we took her to the vet where she was diagnosed with Chronic Renal Failure (CRF).  She was 15 years old, the same age that we lost her older “sister”, Ceniza, five years earlier, so we were heartbroken.  The vet was not sure if the onset of CRF was rapid, or more of a “slow, smoldering” disease.  We understood the expectation of maybe another year and a half with her, but that was worth the effort.

We were determined that we were going to do the best we could, do our research, and work closely with our wonderful Vet staff.  We began with regular home applications of subcutaneous Ringer’s Lactate fluid under her pelt.  According to the vet, this worked like dialysis, removing toxins and lightening the load on the kidneys.  Ashie accepted the treatments like the good kitty she was, tolerating the needle under her pelt without resisting. 

punky_on_the_patioThe cost of the Ringer’s Lactate from the vet was about fifteen US dollars per bag, rather high, particularly since we were in it for the long term.  We soon learned that we could purchase a case of 12 bags from the web for about $60 with a prescription.  The vet was very good about giving us a prescription to order it elsewhere and told us that even they could not buy it that cheap!

We also gave her a quarter pill of Pepcid morning and night to reduce her stomach acid, limiting vomiting, and increasing her overall comfort.  Because CRF makes food taste bad, giving it a metallic taste, we basically gave her anything she would eat trying to provide high quality protein that was lower in phosphorus. 

Human baby food was her favorite:  straight chicken or turkey mostly, but sometimes beef, lamb or ham for variety, always with a “Punky pinch” of the amino acid L-Taurine (this is important because baby food lacks this critical amino acid) and a drop of fish oil from a capsule.  Ashie also loved what we called her “Milk Sippies”, a vacuum packed kitty milk treat.  We needed to be careful not to give her too much because it was rather high in sodium, so we diluted it with water.

We also gave her fresh water 2-3 times daily and always mixed it about 50-50 with distilled water to lighten the mineral concentration.  We did not use 100% distilled for fear that minerals would leach from her bones putting an extra load on her kidneys.

We set up litter boxes on all floors, with her main one being the new box in the downstairs bathroom.  She used it regularly as she was vomiting about every other morning as the acids built up in her stomach.  Like the good kitty she was, she almost always threw up either on the linoleum in the bathroom or kitchen -- seldom the carpet.  She was still eating and by all outward signs was a healthy looking cat, but we still wanted her quality of life to improve.

We were about a year and a half into the regimen when Brian was surfing the web and accidently bumped into an article about the drug Calcitriol for cats with CRF.  He asked the Vet about it and after blood tests were performed we began giving her the drug.  Calcitriol turned out to be a wonder drug for Punky.  Her appetite improved and she could now go a couple of weeks without throwing up. 

While Calcitriol is a great medicine for improving a cat’s quality of life, it is not a cure.  It is difficult for a layman to explain scientifically, but our understanding is that Calcitriol works by “short circuiting” the chemical chain reaction where other bodily systems and organs are negatively impacted by the CRF.

We ordered Calcitriol from a compounding pharmacy that had the tools to prepare it in the proper ratio, which was measured in nanograms (one nanogram is one billionth of a gram!).  The cost of the drug was only about 40 US dollars for a two month supply. 

Calcitriol administration requires periodic blood tests to ensure that calcium levels, which can be hard on the kidneys, are not too high.  Later, tests revealed Ashie needed to reduce her dosage, but the lower dosage remained effective.

Overall, the first five years involved no more complications than occasional vomiting, and a couple of ulcer and bladder infection bouts that were treated effectively with other medicines.  However, in June 2008, Ashie took a turn for the worse.  One side of her body was not functional and the Vet determined that she had suffered a stroke.  (Adding to our stress was coincidental flood damage to our house and furnishings that occurred on the same day).

Both we and the vet wondered if it was time to let her go.  But you could not tell that to Ashleigh who pulled out of her funk and regained about 80% of her lost functionality, her health remaining steady for the next four months when a rapid decline ensued.  This time the classic renal end stage was all too obvious.

Finally, while the decision was painful, it was now clear what had to be done.  She was at peace in late November at age 20 ½.  While that was 98 in cat years, it is always too soon to lose a special animal companion.

She held a unique place in our hearts because she was the only feline who “knew” all of our five other cats, providing a link to the past, and our dearly departed kitties Ceniza and Hannah.  Sophie and Frannie were her litter mates at the time of the diagnosis.  It was wonderful that she lived long enough to accept Emmy into the family in the Summer of 2007, a tiny kitten found by Nancy while riding her bike.

Caring for Ashie was a very personally satisfying experience.  Despite all the extra work and occasional hassles we would do it all over again.  We highly recommend Calcitriol as an option under your vet’s supervision.  Ashie was the first cat from our Vet to be administered Calcitriol for feline CRF and she is now the “model patient” that the vet references in CRF cases.  Brian and Nancy both like to imagine that the Animal Clinic and staff refer to their long-lived patient, our Ashleigh, as “The Legend”.

Brian (US) 

A Cats Prayer

Lead me down all the right paths,
Keep me from fleas, bees, and baths.
Let me in should it storm,
Keep me safe, fed, and warm.


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