Nugget, my ten-year-old cat just died. He was not only a huge cat physically, he also had a huge personality.
Loss is difficult. Any loss. The loss of a pet, especially one in the prime of life, is hard, and some losses are more difficult to bear than others. When an old dog or cat dies, it’s sad but expected. But Nugget was not old; in fact, he was much younger than my oldest cat, Sally.
Few visitors to my house ever saw Nugget. Twelve years ago, he was a feral kitten who was already wild by the time I trapped his brother and him. At four months old, after being neutered and vaccinated, they cowered in their large crate and hissed and scratched when approached.
But when returned to the outside, they quickly learned to come when being fed canned food twice a day. As cold weather approached, they began eating in the garage, and one night, the garage door was closed. After two weeks with dried liver treats, the two feral kittens became formerly feral. They had acclimated enough that they could be stroked. Not held, but stroked quickly on their backs.
Even as a scared feral kitten, Nugget especially loved to be touched. The only way to touch him was to sit in a chair and have him walk under my legs so that as he passed under to get the treat, he couldn’t see that my hands were gently stroking his back. The minute that my hands touched his back, he arched his body with pleasure. He loved being touched!
The brothers lived in our house but stayed hidden a lot. Slowly they became more comfortable and would come out when family was home, but would disappear whenever friends were over. After six years, Nugget’s brother, Blacky, would come on our bed almost every night, perch on my chest, and pat my face gently with his paws. Blacky became very demanding, pushing down newspapers we were reading at the kitchen table, lying on our laptop computers when we were working, and generally being a sweet bother.
Nugget didn’t do that. But in the last year, he changed. He spent the last year coming into our bedroom and lying on our bed. And in the past few months, he would even get in our laps occasionally as we lay in bed reading.
That was special.
Nugget was a special guy. He was huge at eighteen pounds and unlike his sleek black brother, he looked like a Maine Coon with big ears and lots and lots of fluffy fur. He was also quite a chatty cat — he constantly meowed and talked to us. If we asked him how he was, he responded. He filled our house with the sound of cats — purrs, meows, and kitty cries.
When Nugget began to drink more water, I suspected that he might be getting diabetic. Iknew he’d have to go to the vet to be checked and planned on taking him in the next week or so. And lately, I had noticed a strange, pungent smell in my bathroom, but didn’t know what was causing it. I also noticed that Nugget was vocalizing more and not just his “talking” meowing but making loud cries. Saturday, I decided that he needed to go to the vet this week – no more waiting. It became obvious that he had lost weight, too. Because he was such a big cat, it took a lot to notice that.
His final morning he went to his water dish in my bathroom, made his usual pawing motion with his paw, but then didn’t drink any water. He did the same thing in the kitchen. And then, he didn’t eat any of his canned food. I called the emergency clinic. When I got his crate out and he let me pick him up and carry him to the crate, I knew he was not himself. The healthy Nugget barely allowed me to pick him up. I could put him in my arms and cuddle him for maybe a minute before he’d start struggling to get free. He just didn’t feel comfortable with that level of restriction. But this Nugget lay limp in my arms, not struggling at all. I realized that something was really wrong.
I called the emergency clinic to let them know I was coming, and when I arrived at 10:00 with Nugget in his carrying cage, they immediately took him into the back to get some vitals. Within a short time, the veterinarian met with me and told me that they were going to run tests to see what was going on. I went home to wait for their call. By 1:00 that afternoon, I hadn’t heard anything, so I called the clinic. The veterinarian got on the phone, saying that she was just about to call me with the results. It wasn’t good. She said that Nugget was in kidney failure, and his condition was serious. I told her I would be right in, and my husband Jack and I rushed there.
We met in one of the small waiting rooms, not an examining room. Nugget’s examination was past, and now it was time to hear about what the future would bring. The veterinarian was blonde and young. She was clearly upset to be sharing such horrible news with us.
She explained that the blood work showed a creatinine level so high it couldn’t be measured. “It’s above 10,” she explained. “Above 2 means beginning kidney failure. Over 5 is really bad. Nugget’s is the highest I’ve seen; it’s off the charts.” They had also done an ultrasound of his kidneys while extracting urine. She shared that one kidney was bloated and the other was tiny, which meant that one was not functioning and the other was swollen and not working. With tears in her eyes, she said that Nugget did not have long to live. He had lost five of his eighteen pounds, and his coat reflected that he had not been grooming himself for a while.
Nugget was suffering. Letting him go was the kindest thing we could do for him. Because of all the animals we have fostered, adopted and cared for, the process is not an unfamiliar one. Nugget died peacefully in my arms on a blanket from our house. I brought the blanket home so that the other cats would be able to smell Nugget and perhaps know what happened.
Later, talking about Nugget, Jack said it was amazing how much he changed through the years since we rescued him. “At first, if I even looked at him, he’d disappear. But as time passed, if we were at an equal height, he’d wait for me to pet him. It was amazing.”
And his vocalizing was really special. He never got aggressive with people or other cats – he never bit anyone. Our two black cats will gently bite occasionally. Like little love bites. But Nugget never did that; he’d just arch his back and purr when getting petted. He was really laid back. A true gentle giant.
We got used to seeing all three big male cats lying on our bed at night. In fact, Nugget used to lie on Jack’s side of the bed. Then, when Jack was ready to get into bed, Nugget would reluctantly move to the end of the bed and lie next to one of the black cats, either his brother or Natty, the other black cat.
His clumsiness made us laugh. Countless times he’d try to jump on the counter and miss. Or try to jump from the kitchen table to the counter and fall. His size may have been part of the problem — at over 18 pounds, he was larger than any of the other cats, and over twice the size of tiny Sally who is barely 9 pounds.
Our house is quieter now. Nugget used to roam through the rooms meowing and calling to us. He’d run into the bathroom with me in the morning and stretch out next to one of the dogs. Often he’d rub against them affectionately and even lick their fur. He loved his brother, and every night the two would lie on our bed side by side, usually licking each other, then resting, their heads or backs touching.
Reading in bed without hearing his loud meow in the hall, and without feeling his warm body as he drapes his front legs on my lap is sad. Our house is a bit lonelier, a bit sadder, a bit emptier.
Our biggest cat with the largest presence is gone, and he’s taken a bit of our hearts with him.
Note: Thanks to a very special 5th grade class for helping edit this article and making suggestions that improved it!