Shere Khan was everything you’d expect from a tabby with that name.  He had huge hazel green eyes, the M ‘mark of Mohammed’ on his forehead, loooong whiskers and an addiction to sitting on laundry.  However small the pile of washing was, or the box, he’d make it his bed.  My husband once found him curled up in a tiny ball on a single pair of underpants on the bed.  You can imagine, therefore, how the news of kidney failure jolted us.  Shere Khan was only 14 and already we were told to expect him to be in palliative care soon. The vet told me there was nothing she could do other than to offer pain relief when he needed it – but there had to be something I could do…

Tabby cat in a very small box

There was!  Homeopathy and nutrition saved Khan from a premature end, using my knowledge as a qualified homeopath and with routine appointments at my conventional veterinary surgery, we witnessed a total turn around with Khan’s kidney test results.  Two years later, aged 16, my vet declared that Khan’s liver and kidneys were working well and the test results were around what he would expect for a cat of his age.

Time marched on and in his 18th year, you could see his days as an ally cat bruiser were catching up on him.  He clearly ached and he spent most of his time lying in the sun in the garden or on my lap.  He enjoyed sessions of Reiki from friends and my own version of healing seemed to help him too.  I gained helpful insights during these times as he began to teach me what he needed now he was starting to fade. Being “a warrior cat” in my vet’s words, he wasn’t going to give up easily and making the decision to have him put to sleep took a while, before I sensed that he knew it was time to go.

Those days of waiting for this old warrior to give in were really tough.  I’d think that today was the day to call the vet, I’d offer Khan a few shrimps in melted butter and another homeopathic pain remedy, and he’d suddenly pick up again.  His teeth were troubling him, but he was too old to operate on, so homeopathic Silica, Gunpowder, Nit Ac and Hepar Sulph became our friends.  Fitting the remedies to his symptoms, we took a day at a time.  Some days he could be seen clearly enjoying life in his garden, other days he would sit with his head low and I could see he was in pain.  I gave him pain relief from the vet regularly, but it would stop him from eating, so there was a balance being constantly tweaked between enough pain relief to help but not make him sick, and a few doses of homeopathy to ease discomfort.  We’d get to the end of the day and he would seem brighter and we would decide to see what tomorrow brought – tomorrow would come and he’d march out into the front garden and take up his post watching the pigeons.  No vet today then.

Feeding was a balancing game too.  The pain relief clearly made him feel nauseous and his insides were probably slowing down making digestion difficult.  He became so thin and the vet advised keeping his diet high in calories using fat and carbohydrates.  Menu winners were porridge oats or rice cooked in homemade chicken bone broth with a little bit of butter or cream stirred in.  I then picked the chicken off the broth bones and mashed it into the broth, offering that to him a teaspoon at a time. Bone broth would be put down for him to boost his liquid intake too.  Shrimps were his favourite with melted butter, mashed up to make it easy for him with so few teeth.  Tinned sardines, perhaps in olive oil, but especially tomato sauce, were his favourite too.  He liked a little chopped up egg mashed with some cream to help it slip down.  I swear Shere Khan had a better diet than we did.

The key to feeding him was a teaspoon of something nice put onto a tiny saucer and carried out to him in the garden.  He would look up and I’d pop the dish near him and sit on the floor keeping him company.  Most times he would accept it and sometimes it was clear that he’d like more but I never put more than a teaspoon on the saucer at a time.  He seemed to be overwhelmed if he saw too much food on a plate – a tip I learned from my Mum at the same stage in life. He had the same spots in the garden he would visit and at each spot I left a small dish of water so he could always drink when he needed.  His normal feeding spot, pre old-age, was on a counter top away from the dog.  If he ever asked to be fed, we would lift him up to eat in his usual place, wait till he’d finished then see if he needed help coming down via a usefully placed stool.

If I was using homeopathy, whichever remedy seemed appropriate that day would be dissolved into liquid and sprinkled on his food or broth.  If he rejected the food with the remedy on, I would offer it with the remedy off.  This was how he taught me which remedies he needed and which he didn’t. Sometimes he’d refuse chicken with Hepar Sulph but wolf down the next teaspoon of chicken with Nit Ac!

Tabby cat helps his 'Mum' choose a remedy from her materia medica
Shere Khan helping to choose remedies from the materia medica

One day, he asked to come onto my lap and he lay there quietly, his energy sinking, I knew it was time.  The next day, the vet put him to sleep quietly in the front garden where he was at his happiest, with his family around him, aged almost 19 years.  The time was right.  He was a warrior and he was my teacher.  I learned patience, remedy pictures, sick nursing and more patience. He taught me to constantly ‘check in’ with myself about making the ‘put to sleep decision’.  Was I putting that decision off because I couldn’t say goodbye or was it because he wasn’t ready yet? Each day, he made me ask is this about Khan or is it about me? Making this decision is the final act of love and it has to be based on your furry friend’s needs and not about your own frailties and inability to let go.

Looking back, I wish I’d known more about herbs for him.  I now know that some herbs would have helped resolve the nausea and reduce the inflammation which would have helped with pain relief.  I wish I’d known about Zoopharmacognosy and the animal’s free will to choose a particular herb, essence or food. I was so nearly there, but at the time I didn’t know that Zoopharma was even a thing!  I also wish that I’d known how useful acupuncture would have been for him.  It wasn’t till later that I met our local acupuncture vet and have often reflected that she would have done so much to ease his mobility, resolve nausea and offer pain relief. He would have enjoyed her attention too.

My best advice for caring for an elderly cat is to be patient, offer tiny portions of food often, keep liquid nearby. If I had one regret, it is that I did not know that there was information on nutrition and raw feeding elderly cats, such as this one from Purrform and that the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society could advise me. I feel that I missed an opportunity there. However, I do recommend that you explore homeopathy, herbs and acupuncture. Most of all, clear your mind when you are with your elderly cat, spend time with him; let him guide you.  What your pet teaches you will be their final lasting gift, take time to receive and be open to it.

Tabby cat watches daffodil
Khan was happiest in his garden

Sara Kernohan

Sara is a Co-Founder of CAM4animals. She has an equine background with a Dip in Equine Business Management and BHSII. Her work with horses introduced her to holistic healthcare which she later pursued in humans becoming an aromatherapist, homeopath and counsellor. She has used homeopathy, essential oils, herbs and essences for over 30 years with her family which included countless horses, cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits, oh, and a husband and two children. She is a mentor for Homeopathy At Wellie Level supporting farmers in their choice to use homeopathy for farm livestock.

Tabby cat peeping through wrought iron work
Shere Khan – the perfect model for a BTEC photography project

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The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website