A suffering feline

Six and a half years later our three-year-old rescue cat Arthur is now pushing ten years of age. His age is just an estimate, but the veterinarian that examined him estimated that he was born in late 2003. He came to live with us in September 2006. It took him a whole year to get fully housebroken. This was perhaps not too surprising given that he probably had been mostly living on his wits the first years of his life.

Arthur the cat (2012)
Arthur the cat (2012)

A video of Arthur

Picked up off the street in Lovettsville, Virginia, our domestic shorthair cat made his way to a no-kill cat shelter in Loudoun County, Virginia and eventually into our house and into our hearts. Affectionate with people by nature, he was not completely domesticated. He remains unusually skittish but after a year of occasional naughty episodes like peeing in our vents he fully settled in. He seemed finally completely at ease when the carpets were ripped up and replaced by hardwood floors. No more scents of deceased cats to torment him. We marveled at his relative youth when we got him, for we were used to aging cats that often threw up more than they digested and were more than a bit senile.

At around ten years old though, there are signs that Arthur will not live the nineteen and a half years his predecessor Sprite did. Arthur has become an expensive cat, attested to by $1400 in medical bills racked up in the last couple of weeks. His symptoms were perhaps not surprising to long term cat owners: vomiting, diarrhea and sneezing. Various veterinarians have puzzled over him. Pills were tried and special cat food was put in his dish but they did little. Eventually it seemed just part of his nature, something to endure. Because otherwise Arthur seemed happy, eager to sit on our laps, happy to be perched on a chair and looking outside the front window in the mornings and anxious for daily commutes in and out of our screened in deck via his special kitty door. He purred easily, never was the least bit malicious (unlike our late evil cat Squeaky), never considered escape and never shredded the furniture. He enjoyed being fussed over him and we fussed over him a lot.

It’s hard to know when a cat is really sick. One way is when their habits suddenly change. That was what triggered the start of $1400 in veterinarian bills to make Arthur whole again. Arthur was nothing if not habitual, and he did not come out to greet me when I came home. I called and called and he eventually showed himself, but wholly spurned the dinner he usually scarfs down. His water had hardly been touched, and he was losing weight again. Moreover, he was usually quiet and rarely purred. There was plenty of diarrhea, however. The truest sign of this sick cat was the moribund tail lying flat on the ground. It is usually extended behind his back and curled up toward his head. I scheduled a trip to the vet for the following morning and wondered if he might be dead before I got him there. Our wily cat that can usually sense a cat carrier a dozen feet away did not object when I gently put him in it and took him to the vet.

Shots for hydration. Shots to stimulate hunger. Shots to cool an enflamed butt, because his bowels were enflamed. Newer, blander cat food to try, plus a day in the cat hospital being monitored and getting blood work. He ate well at the vet, perhaps due to his shot. But mostly there was an urgent request from the vet to get him an ultrasound. It was likely one of three things: a tumor, a general lymphoma or irritable bowel disease.

He came home, survived another night while looking ever weaker and more dispirited. The following day he was seen at the local Southpaws where for $600 or so he had his belly shaved and an ultrasound performed on his GI tract. A tumor was thankfully ruled out. A thickening of the bowel walls was noted, but it was impossible to say if it was a lymphoma or the IBD that was causing the diarrhea, although a kitty colonoscopy for another $600 could probably rule out one of these. Another shot in the butt to calm things down was followed by more water injected under his fur. And there were pills. A pill developed for people with cancer to stimulate appetite. Another to get rid of his diarrhea. And one twice a day pill to calm his inflamed intestines: a steroid.

Lots of pills, lots of shots, lots of bills but his progress seemed marginal. He mostly didn’t want to eat, so it was hard to get pills into him, even when put in his food. As anyone who owns a cat knows, pilling a cat is generally not an option. Mostly Arthur was listless and out of our faces. His food and water seemed mostly untouched and he kept losing weight. So yet another trip to the vet was scheduled, this one for $200. More shots. More hydration. And suddenly we had a cat that was ravenous and would not stop eating. And one who purred again. And one who sat outside our door in the mornings again, and looked out the window after finishing his food, just like old times.

And so it went for a day or so, and there was great rejoicing, until his appetite ebbed again. Getting pills into him via his food on time became problematic. Arthur was in a better place, but still struggling. And there he remains today, a subject of considerable concern.

He is aging and he is struggling. He will probably need to be on pills the rest of his life. Right now we wrap them in cheese in hope they will get consumed. It works, for now, but history suggests it will not work for long, and cheese may not be good for him. The root of his problem is likely an allergy, but to what? We have no way to know. We try different prescription foods and see if it has an affect on his explosive sneezing. Or maybe it may be something environmental that we could not possibly know.

It seems crazy to spend $1400 on a cat, and we will likely spend a lot more than that over the course of his remaining life. He is such a plain and ordinary cat to look at, but such a total sweetheart in person. He is constantly sweet (or when he cannot be, at least inoffensive), constantly gentle, full of good heart, honest and naturally endearing. If this is the start of his decline, it will be a sad process to witness every day. Meanwhile we hope for the right combination of food, environment and medicine so that this ultra sweet cat can simply go on being his sweet, inoffensive and endearing self.

Arthur, we love you. It may not seem like it but we are doing our best for you. Stay with us. We will do our best to keep you safe, healthy, warm, hydrated and loved.

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