Life changed radically for my 10-year-old tabby Lolita and me on June 2, 2019. That was the first time I had to rush her to the pet ER in the middle of the night for a relentless gastrointestinal attack. It was the first of what became many trips to vets and animal hospitals over the subsequent four weeks, and it was the start of a drawn-out emotional assault. As a perennial bachelorette with a solitary lifestyle and no kids, I’ve come to regard my cat as my family. So, the pain of seeing her panicking and crying as her body was wrenched by a ravaging illness cut into me deeply.

After a month of blood tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, injections and trial runs with medications, all signs pointed toward a grim diagnosis for her: intestinal cancer. When the doctor at the animal hospital alerted me to this, the news knocked the wind out of me. I had lost my mom to cancer, so I knew what gruesome fate awaited my little girl if this was true. I lost myself in the terror of imagining her suffering like that. Watching someone you love die from cancer tears you apart inside in ways that can’t be imagined, let alone described. I was practically paralyzed as I processed the prospect of this.

They attempted to console me with a softly spoken explanation of treatment options for feline intestinal cancer. Chemo was “only” $400 a month for “just” two years, they said – $400 a month for what was transparently a miserable way to prolong being eaten alive by malign cells. Behind their words, they promised not hope but pain, as I understood it. I had been there. I had seen it.

There was still the prospect, according to them, that this wasn’t intestinal cancer but inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). (In cats, IBD is often a precursor to intestinal cancer anyhow though.) To my misfortune, however, the test (a biopsy) with the highest probability of determining which ailment she had would cost an additional $2,400. And I was already in an unmanageable amount of debt from all the other hospital bills, so that wasn’t a real option for me. So, I did what others in my situation do and opted to treat her for IBD without a conclusive diagnosis – “empirical treatment,” in the parlance of that field.

Treatment for feline IBD is essentially a combination of symptom control and comfort care, which is as much of a morbid waiting game as chemo and radiation are, in my opinion. But it was a plan I could afford, and it was better than doing nothing. To contain the gastrointestinal flare-ups (in large part anyhow), the doctors prescribed a steroid and antiemetic and anti-diarrheal medications. But I was on my own for managing her pain. They refused to do anything about that until further testing, i.e., the monstrously expensive diagnostic, produced a firm diagnosis. She was wailing in pain like an air-raid siren in the background while I was on the phone pleading with them to prescribe something, but they were adamant in refusing to do so. We were alone from this point forward.

I had heard from someone at work that cannabidiol (CBD) oil helped her dog while the dog was in the throes of congestive heart failure. I couldn’t get a doctor to sign off on my treating Lolita’s pain with CBD oil because she hadn’t officially been diagnosed, but I figured I could at least look into it. And by researching studies conducted by respectable experts, I discovered that CBD oil is actually a go-to over-the-counter medication for treating feline IBD in particular. So, I picked up a bottle of Pet Releaf hemp oil at my local pet store.

I held off on giving Lolita the oil until she was doing what I call her “pain meow.” (I’ve learned what the different pitches and lengths of her cries indicate.) Once she started up, I followed the instructions and gave her 0.5 mL, administered orally with a dropper attached to the bottle’s lid. Then, I waited.

Within roughly 10 minutes, she had stopped meowing and was lying peacefully on the floor. I was amazed! The doctors weren’t intent on helping me, but I had found a way to manage her pain nonetheless. I was so relieved, and so grateful. What’s more, it was only $65 for what has proven to be at least a six-month supply. So, it’s not only effective but also affordable.

I was admittedly skeptical initially, thinking that it might have been only a coincidental cessation of crying, perhaps because the pain had peaked and subsided on its own. But that same “coincidence” played out multiple consecutive times, confirming – in my mind – the oil’s direct cause-and-effect relationship in dulling the pain. So, even though I know Lolita’s little body is still under attack, I’m relieved that she won’t be living out whatever is left of her life in devastating agony. And that means I won’t have to have my heart broken every day as I see a repeat of my mom’s passing.

Knowing that the CBD oil worked for pain, I decided to try it to treat another serious health problem she developed: breathing difficulty brought on by an enlarged heart. Five months after that first night in the ER (and countless trips in between), I was back at the pet hospital, this time for rapid, shallow breathing. Lolita had experienced bouts of irregular breathing for months, with periods of abnormally fast inhale-exhale cycles, but this was noticeably more severe. The average resting respiratory rate for cats is roughly 30 breaths per minute. Her rate was 50 per minute. So, there we were. Again.

After performing a physical exam, drawing blood, and x-raying Lolita’s chest, the doctor informed me of my kitty’s enlarged heart, a congenital condition. In that moment, I was actually still in shock from how much I had just added to my credit card for that day’s visit. This additional awful news added pity to my fear. “Poor Lolita,” I murmured, “being torn to shreds.” She deserved so much better.

I was told to see a pet cardiologist and get a full cardiac workup. After calling the specialist for a price quote though, I realized that I didn’t have enough available credit on my card to cover the workup. I was in a tough spot. I could either start filling up another credit card, or I could postpone the workup until I had freed up some space on the first card – if Lolita could wait that long. Rather than resigning myself to choosing the lesser of two evils, however, I tried CBD oil. I began giving it to her every night, not just when I heard the pain meow. And after three days, her breathing actually normalized! So, I’ve kept that up. To me, that oil is nothing short of a miracle.

I love my angelic fur-baby, and I suffer when she does. Any pet parents out there know what that’s like. To those who are in my situation (or a comparable one), I recommend talking to your vet about treating your pet’s pain with CBD oil. I can’t promise the same results for every pet, of course, but I’ve added a success story to a rather large collection of those in this field. And maybe you can too.