Magnificent Bodies

Smooth endoplasmic reticulum

Smooth endoplasmic reticulum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you were to give me a biology test today I would fail spectacularly. My mind just doesn’t work that way. Still, biology amazes me, and I walked away from the biology class years ago with a profound amazement that bodies work at all. From the mitochondria—the powerhouses within the cells, to the cells, and all the veins and arteries and organs and whatnot, it is downright astonishing that any body works as often as it does.

It is also amazing how much fight can be found in those bodies when needed. The lovely, sweet (sometimes bully) kitty that I’ve been caring for is a fighter. Maybe it is the bully in her that fights…who knows. She certainly didn’t appreciate my sticking needles in her to fill her body with fluids, or stuff medicines down her throat. And she really didn’t think too much of being force-fed a slurry of baby food, cat food, and electrolytes every few hours. But we needed to clear her body of the toxins that the kidneys aren’t disposing of right now, and we needed her to eat. Cats cannot go without food for long, or liver problems set in.

After two days of this, she decided she was going to eat on her own, and she is looking and acting more like herself. I wasn’t sure that was even going to be possible. I was teetering between grief at the possibility of losing her and not giving up on her – fighting on her behalf for a couple days. And this sweet little kitty decided to step up and engage in the fight on her own finally, and we are elated.

Her disease cannot be cured, but it can be managed for some period of time. Whether that is a few months or a couple years, who knows? But she is a fighter, and that’s a good thing today.

Bodies are utterly amazing, and they can put up one hell of a fight sometimes. I stand in awe.

Heartbreak and Healing

Today was about heartbreak, and a little bit of healing as well.

I had to tell one of my clients that his cat, who seemed fine a week ago, is in the advanced stages of kidney failure. Kidney failure is rarely detected in cat until it is advanced…cats are experts (even geniuses) at hiding illnesses. We’ll be doing all we can for her the next few days to see if we can stabilize her, buy some more time, but we are all heartbroken.

This was how the very first cat I had as an adult passed away. I knew a lot less about cats then than I do now. But Cody was the cat-love of my life. He picked me out at the shelter in Berkeley some twenty years ago. All the other cats backed up to the back of their cages, and Cody pushed his head as close to my hand as he could manage, and that was that. I have only one picture of him, an ancient one that I’ve scanned.

Cody

Cody was only 12 when he was diagnosed, and he was so far along that nothing helped. The vets gave him fluids for days, and tried to get him to eat, but to no avail. Devastated, I had him put to sleep, and buried him in the back yard under a butterfly bush bought to mark his grave.

But I always wondered if I put him down too soon. Always felt a little guilty. What I realized today is that I did not make a wrong choice those many years ago. His body was filled with toxins that the kidneys couldn’t get rid of. He was so nauseous from the toxins that he ate nothing for many days, and kitties who do not eat develop hepatic lipidosis, a liver disease. The only cure for the liver problem is eating, something a kidney patient won’t do. Because we couldn’t clear Cody’s body of toxins, even a little bit, he was suffering, and his misery was only going to increase, and quickly. Letting him go that day was the humane thing to do, and I am a little healed to realize that I did not make a hasty or convenient decision.

We have another cat of our own now who has kidney failure – Thomas. But his was discovered very early quite by accident, and so we have been able to keep him stable at a low level of disease for two years now. That will change at some point, but I can wait.

In the meantime, I’ll do all I can for my client’s kitty, and give her as much love and food as she’ll take over the next days, along with lots of sub-q fluids (she’s not going to love me for that) and will keep all my fingers and toes crossed that we can buy her some more days. We’re not ready for her to go yet.

Best Friends

I had to share this very cute photo (prepare to say “awwwwwww”) one of our clients sent along. The calico is maybe a couple years old, and the black kitty is less than a year old. They are new best friends, sharing a box.

Cats in a box

Just after this photo was snapped the calico turned and nipped the black kitty’s ear. Not hard…she’s just had enough togetherness apparently.

I guess we all need our own space sometimes.

No More Fear

LighningLast evening was not a fun one for Butterscotch. We had one hell of a storm…heavy rain, hail (lots of it!), and the things she hates most: thunder and lightning. It was one loud hour or two. When that sort of weather strikes, as it does this time of year, poor Butterscotch starts shaking, licking her lips, hiding, and anything else she can think of to get away from the sights and sounds. We comfort her with words and our presence, and especially her Thundershirt, which takes the edge of it for her. If you’re not familiar with them, they basically swaddle the dog, as you would swaddle a baby. For many dogs, though not all, this soothes and calms. It takes Butterscotch down from violent shaking to mild discomfort.

 

Butterscotch Thundershirt

 

Butterscotch’s fear last night left me reflecting on two very different conversations from the day.  The first was a conversation with someone who was using a radio shock collar for training her dog. Things weren’t going all that well…not a surprise.  At least, not to me. Fear as a training strategy might produce results (of a sort)…or you may convert a perfectly good dog into an aggressive or fearful one. Fear, as a training technique does a great job of destroying the bond between person and dog, and why would that ever be a good idea?

In total contrast to that situation, I met some folks yesterday who took in a breeder dog from a puppy mill. The poor girl has all the problems you’d expect with a puppy mill dog – shyness, housetraining problems, health issues, and the very difficult problem of separation anxiety.  The folks who rescued her have done an amazing job of giving her a better quality life. She’s overcome a lot of her shyness, and is the sweetest dog you’d ever want to meet now. They are working with her on housetraining, but everything they do is designed to encourage her, and reinforce great behaviors, rather than punish.  They know this little girl, who lived in a crate for many years, has limits, and shouldn’t be pushed too far too fast, and they’re setting her up for success every step of the way. As a pet sitter, I adore meeting people like this…it does my heart great good.

Severe weather is predicted again for this evening. Butterscotch’s Thundershirt is at the ready. There’s not much I can do to stop thunder and lightning and the fear it causes her, any more than I can wipe out fear-based training strategies and the fear they cause. But if I could stop both of them, and anything else that causes animals to be fearful, I would.  Yes I would.

Stripe’s Heart

Stripe asleep

Stripe is another of the three greys – you met Thomas, Stripe’s brother, in a previous post. One of the first things you’ll notice about Stripe is that she isn’t. Striped, that is. She is the most solid grey of the three greys, in fact. I didn’t name her. What can I say?

If she had a choice, truthfully, Stripe would much rather be in a solo kitty household. She’s a loner cat, more interested in the occasional human companionship than the company of her own kind. She is also a cat with a heart condition: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is the same disease that has killed young athletes without any warning. The myocardium, a heart muscle, is thickening and will eventually close. The cause is unknown, and there is no cure.

Most people with cats that have this condition don’t discover it until the cat dies suddenly, like the athletes. We discovered it when Stripe was about a year old. Her heart rate at the vet’s was about 250 beats per minute. (160 beats per minute is considered very high.) It is a little slower at home, but nowhere near the normal level for a cat. She gets the same medicine that human heart patients get, and that helps as much as any medicine can, but we know that someday she will have a massive heart attack and be gone in minutes. So re-homing her, even though she would love to be a solo kitty, isn’t really an option.

Perhaps because her heart beats so fast, she sleeps a lot, and many of the pictures we have of her are of her sleeping. She looks like a little angel asleep.

Cat on chair

Because she doesn’t care for the other cats, she has carved out places that are away from the madding crowd, and exclusively hers. She loves her box (filled with pillows and towels) in the dining room.

 

Dining room box

 

When she’s not there, she hangs out in a closet in the downstairs cat room, tucked in with the spare towels on a shelf about four feet up. Even with the heart condition, she’s an agile jumper.

 

Stripe in closet

 

Lately she’s developed a new habit and she hangs out with me and Marley when we’re eating. If I am sitting in an easy chair in the living room with a snack in front of the tv, Stripe is next to me in a flash. She’s a purring machine when she can have me all to herself, and if someone else appears on the chair, she’s gone. In just the last few weeks she has decided to join my husband, Marley, for breakfast, and she sits on the breakfast bar next to his bowl while he eats.

Aside from the fact that she has to take medicines every evening, I doubt that Stripe knows she has a heart condition. She won’t take meds from anyone but me, but she resigns herself to her evening Atenolol, and then a pet or a treat, or both. Some days I am surprised that she has lived nine years with this heart of hers, but who knows…maybe she’ll live nine more. Probably not. But this doesn’t seem to worry her, and perhaps that’s the blessing she brings with her. Her days are numbered, but then, so are mine. Until then, life goes on.