Sunday, May 8, 2016

What to Expect: Illnesses in Senior Cats

At times it seems like my 10 year old cat, Zoe, is an extension of my arm. Whenever I am sitting at the desk and working on the computer, she comes over to me, nudges my chin with her head, and plops down somewhat beside and somewhat on top of the keyboard, and rests her head on my arm. And any time that I even think about changing positions, or move my wrists just the slightest bit, she opens one eye, glares at me, and shuts it again as if to say “Don’t even think about it”. The funny thing is that I actually try to oblige her and feel guilty if I move too much while typing and forget to use my left hand to activate the mouse instead of my right. I mean, after all, I am right handed, but even that is no excuse.

Another example of how well she has me trained is that whenever she grants my husband and me the pleasure of her company, and chooses to sleep in our bed, she picks out her spot and is not to be disturbed for the profound impact that it could have on her sleep. 99.9% of the time she chooses to sleep right next to me curled up in my arms, and I am very careful to give her enough space so that she doesn’t fall off the edge of the bed. On these occasions it is my husband who has to adjust and sleep close to the edge on his side, simply because he chooses to come to bed later than Zoe and me. The simple rule is “first come first served”. But in all fairness, if I manage to wake up when he enters the room, I am sure to remind him that Zoe’s sleeping so he doesn’t make too much noise or ruffle the covers too much when he’s trying to get situated and comfortable.

I could continue on with more examples of how I habitually put our cat’s comfort above that of my own and often times even that of my husband, but I think the first two should give you a pretty good idea of how much she means to me. That being said, when she got sick last month and I wasn’t sure if she was going to make it, you can imagine the pain and agony I felt with the prospect that she might die and that all the discomforts that we regularly endure would become our fondest memories.  

Zoe weights 6.9 kg (approx. 15 lbs) and is no stranger to eating. In fact, it is her favorite past time, next to sleeping. We’ve tried everything to increase her activity level including toys, walks, yard time, and laser lights, but nothing has worked. She is committed to eating and there are no exceptions. So one night, about a few hours after dinner, when she regurgitated her food, we thought it odd but not too serious. It was only the next morning when she started repeatedly vomiting up bile that we knew something had to be seriously wrong.

It was 6 am Wednesday: our only option was to take her to the emergency hospital. The vet's initial steps were to perform a physical examination, take an x-ray to see if anything was lodged in the stomach, take the temperature, administer a Cerenia injection to stop the vomiting, and start re-hydrating her with IV fluids. She remained in the hospital all day and was released that evening as the vomiting had ceased and she had started to regain her appetite. The hospital gave me some medication to assist with digestion, but after she got home it seemed as if things were getting back to normal.

The next day her appetite level went back down. She was no longer my hungry kitty, and instead wasn’t interested in eating at all. This time we headed to a second veterinary hospital in order to have an ultrasound of her abdomen and additional blood work done to try and determine the extent of the problem.

During the ultrasound the doctors noticed that her pancreas seemed inflamed, so the initial thought was that she could have pancreatitis. To be sure of the diagnosis, the vets took additional blood work to review her enzyme levels, but as it turned out her levels were considered normal. They then administered additional IV fluids to increase her hydration, and waited overnight to watch and see if her appetite returned before releasing her to come home. When I picked her up from the vet hospital the next day they explained that Zoe had an inflammation of the stomach lining otherwise known as gastritis and sent me home with pain and an anti-acid medication to give her for the next 2 weeks.

Zoe’s apatite steadily increased, however, the following Thursday, just 6 days after leaving the second veterinary hospital, the refusal to eat returned. I immediately took her back to the first veterinary hospital that performed the initial examination, and they repeated the ultrasound and another full blood work analysis to see if the previous diagnosis had worsened. The good news was that the pancreas and stomach lining were back to normal, but the stomach motility had seemingly decreased.  That same night I was able to take her back home, even though her apatite hadn’t returned during her stay at the hospital. They gave me medicine to increase the motility and special veterinary a/d food to hopefully stimulate her appetite. The blood work took 24 hours for the results so we had to wait until the next day to see if the condition was more serious than anticipated. At home that evening Zoe ate a little, but nothing impressive, and the next day was worse than the previous one. She wasn’t eating at all and was lethargically staying in one place. I frantically called our family vet who dropped off an appetite stimulus medication. By late afternoon the blood work had returned indicating that everything was in order, and there was clinically nothing more to be done to explain the lack of appetite and lethargy. Soon after giving Zoe the appetite stimulant medication, our vet, who was involved in this from the beginning, and coached me through this traumatic process every step of the way, came over to do one more physical exam. As a last resort she gave Zoe an antibiotic injection after noticing her straining to swallow. And strangely enough, even though it may not have been very scientific, it was the only thing that worked. Hour by hour Zoe’s appetite began returning to normal and the lethargy faded away. A few days later she was back to being our hungry kitty, and I couldn’t have been happier to feed her whenever she asked, day and night, or sleep in awkward positions in the bed so that she was comfortable and slept soundly.

I am thankful that after two weeks of uncertainty, a bucket full of emotional turmoil, two ultrasounds, two IV fluids, one x-ray, three blood tests, and about five medications that my story still had a happy ending, but unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

Dorthe Brandt’s cat, Pjerrot, was just 6 weeks old when she found him abandoned and sitting on the side of the street in 2002. She picked him up and took him home where he fell into bed and just slept for the first two days. Dorthe suspected that Pjerrot was deaf when he wouldn’t react to being called by his name or the sound of things dropping on the floor. He was very clumsy and couldn’t do simple things like walk along the table next to a glass without knocking it over. He was always bumping into things which is unusual for cats as they tend to be very graceful and cautious of their surroundings. It was because of this that a friend of Dorthe’s 5 year old girl thought he should be named after the famous Danish clown, Pjerrot, who acts as a mime. At two months old he was officially tested at the animal hospital and they determined that he was in fact 100% deaf. Dorthe had suspected it all along especially since he was an all-white cat, and she understood that they were prone to being deaf. This simply meant that Pjerrot would have to be kept indoors as it wasn’t safe for him to be outside alone when he couldn’t hear any dangers approaching. 

Ironically enough, the fact that Pjerrot was kept indoors to keep him from being run over by cars didn’t stop him from loving to ride in them. On Sundays when the weather was nice, Dorthe used to take Pjerrot on long drives where he would look out the window at enjoy the scenery passing by. She remembers that by the time they arrived home, Pjerrot would be so exhausted that he would walk into the house, head straight for the bed, and fall fast asleep.  During weekdays when Dorthe was getting ready for work and was putting on her high heels, Pjerrot would take this as his cue to go and sit by the door and wait in hopes that she would take him for another car ride.
Like Zoe, feeding time for Pjerrot was a sacred ritual that should never be broken. Pjerrot almost had Dorthe believing that cats could tell time and set alarm clocks as he always knew when it was 6 am, the time that he expected his breakfast to be prepared and served. If Dorthe was sleeping he would brush her hair until she woke up to serve him, and if that didn’t work he would pounce on the bed until she got up. His determination was immeasurable and he was just as vigilant about dinner time, screaming at her unless his meal was served promptly at 6pm.

As the years passed by and Pjerrot got older, Dorthe read articles about senior cats and what to expect, but it still didn’t prepare her for the day when his illness actually came. Pjerrot had been losing weight, but it was nothing alarming and he had even received a clean bill of health at his last check-up about a year before. He was still eating and screaming, as deaf cats tend to do, so when Dorthe decided to go away on holiday for a weekend she’d made the decision to take him to the vet right after she got back. When she returned home that Sunday Pjerrot wasn’t standing at the door to meet her. Instead he was hiding underneath the duvet. When she found him he was still trying to greet her, but the sound of his purring was totally different and she could see that something was completely wrong. Dorthe immediately called the vet and took him to the hospital. When she lifted him out of the kennel he tried to scramble away and fell onto the floor and screamed. Dorthe reached down to pick him up and place him back onto the table but he took his last breath and passed away in her arms.

The entire act happened so quickly that the veterinarian didn’t even have time to examine Pjerrot before he passed away. The vet said that when he arrived he was breathing very fast and his illness could have affected his heart. The vet had tried to massage Pjerrot’s heart while he was lying on the table, but it didn’t help. It was already too late. In the end, the  prognosis was that Pjerrot died of heart failure.

Pjerrot was extremely loving and enriched Dorthe’s life for the entire 14 years they were together. Pjerrot had never been sick a single day. When looking back on his life Dorthe remembers the good times, and that he was such a happy cat always off in his own little world. When asked to describe her last moments with him she said, “I literally think, maybe it’s me wishing to think, he was waiting for me to come home so he could die while I was here”. And even though he is gone and watching over her from above, she will forever hold onto her fondest memories, “When the sun starts getting up, we are going to get up, even if its 4am. And if I tried to crawl back into bed he would come wake me up saying, now it’s time to play.”

1 comment:

  1. My sweet calico catTeena was like your cat...she died Oct 8th Canadian Thanksgiving..She his her kidney failure and cancer in her other kidney...Oct 28th went to shelter..Found Athena..Tuxudo kitten...Vet told me she is no kitten..She is two years old..according to shelter...Athena was found homeless Oct 12th.ridden with fleas...etc..Athena was last black cat to be adopted...