Monday, February 25, 2013

Of Health and Medicine

My oldest cat Tungsten is on medication, and likely will be for the rest of her life. She has hyperthyroidism.

This condition is caused by a non-cancerous tumour on the thyroid gland, and makes the metabolism speed up. I had been noticing that Tungsten was eating more food recently, and actually coming to me before the usual soft-food feeding times and demanding that I get the nourishment ready. That was very unlike her. She had always consumed too small an amount of food, to my mind. She was a nibbler. Lately, she had started eating everything in her dish and then some. I would feed her as much as she wished, since I wanted her to gain weight. But the quantity she was eating, and wanting, worried me. I took her to the veterinary.

The doctor was worried that Tungsten was suffering from hyperthyroidism. The symptoms include an unusually strong appetite but no accompanying increase in weight. In fact, the weight may go down. This was exactly what was happening with Tungsten. Other symptoms are an increasingly scruffy coat, vomiting, diarrhea and excessive energy. Naturally, all of these signs will likely not occur at once or all in the same cat. The orange one is a ‘borderline’ case. The healthy range of ‘T4’, which is what is measured to determine hyperthyroidism, is from, I think, twelve to sixty. Tungsten came in at 59.4. Her condition is not severe but, weighing only two and a half kilograms now, even a little weight-loss on her part is dangerous.

What to do about the tiny terror? The doctor stated that she could be started on medicine immediately, or after a month, followed by new tests. This second option was to give any abnormalities in reading the first results to clear themselves. I decide to take that alternative, but to use it to give Tungsten a natural medicine for the hyperthyroidism. The medicine is called Thyroid Support Gold, formerly titled Resythro. It is made from herbs and other plants, such as all-heal and motherwort. According to Tungsten, it tastes horrible. But it is supposed to help her condition. I will give it a month and if it doesn’t lower her T4 numbers, I will switch to the chemical medicine.

This chemical medicine is called methimazole, marketed under the brand-name Tapazole. A cat in the rescue-group with which I volunteer is being treated with it; she has a much worse case of hyperthyroidism than Tungsten. I'll let you know how that situation proceeds. The advantage to this medicine is that in addition to coming in the form of pills, it can be purchased as a gel that is rubbed on the animal’s ear, a much less worrisome form of application than ingestion. The disadvantage of which I have heard is that it can, in some cats, cause kidney damage. But Tungsten is twelve and a half (the average age of a cat who is found to be hyperthyroidic is thirteen) so if kidney damage results, it may take so long that old age will be more of a bother to my orange one.

There is another treatment for hyperthyroidism. This is radioactive iodine. I believe it is applied surgically. It is a one-time treatment, though it is expensive. The price I was quoted was $2,100, and may not be done in all towns. I would have to take Tungsten to Calgary, a couple of hours away, for the application. In my little one’s case, the accumulated cost of medicine given daily may be less before, once again, old age intervenes. I figured out the price of surgery versus pills, and it worked out that the pills would be more costly than the other treatment only after eight years. Tungsten will be twenty by then. Of course, I hope that she will live to be much older than that, but it makes the question of treatment a matter of six of one, half a dozen of the other.

If the Thyroid Support Gold does not work, I’ve decided to try the gel-form of methimazole.

Until then, I will continue to give Tungsten as much food as she likes. I have a bowl of hard food on top of the refrigerator for when I am not present; she, and sometimes Renn, if he stirs his lazy bones enough, can reach it, but not my two fatties. Tungsten does seem to be feeling the effects of age, in that her leaps to the counter and then to the top of the refrigerator are not as graceful or easy as they had been. Besides, she prefers the soft-food these days.

I hope the medicine, whichever it may be, will reverse the effects of the hyperthyroidism, and Tungsten will start to regain some of her lost poundage. She is so little that she doesn’t have much to lose. Yet she herself is a great deal to lose.

She Screams for Ice Cream

Tungsten is a smart cat. Aside from the cunning that all animals possess to varying degrees, she learns quickly.

She likes ice cream, too. I was eating some for dessert yesterday evening and the orange one was eyeing me intently. She got up on the table, which I don’t allow while I am eating. This time I did because sometimes, after she annoys me by walking across my papers while I am writing, or by crying for water then not drinking after I get up to turn on the tap, I like to annoy her, too. It’s what we do to each other. I can annoy Tungsten by letting her watch me eat and not giving her any food.

Anyway, she was on the table, looking at the diminishing amount of vanilla ice cream in my bowl. Then, suddenly, she peered out the window behind me. He eyes grew large and she shifted her feet. Something exciting was going on out there. I turned to see what it was, felt a rush of air and turned back in time to prevent an orange snout from disappearing into my ice cream.

I can’t believe I fell for that.

Perhaps it wasn’t intentional. Perhaps cats don’t plan things that way, at least not all the time. It may have been that Tungsten simply took advantage of my distraction, and that she had not created it on purpose. Nonetheless, she was pretty swift to seize the opportunity. She usually is.

I let her lick the bowl, after all.

Disposable Pets

I am sure that I’ve written about this subject before, usually in reference to specific cats, but I have thought about it again recently. It seems that many people these days think of pets as disposable, and it baffles me that this can be.

I am no Pollyanna, believing that there is goodness in everyone and that all will turn out well. Nor am I an animal rights fanatic who thinks that people should treat animals as they do their fellow humans. Even so, there are certain standards of behaviour to which we, as members of civilisation, should adhere.

When a person takes in an animal as a pet, the rules are different than if the animal is raised as food, or a beast of buden. Farmers, ranchers and others who depend upon animals for their livelihood cannot always be sentimental about animals. Yet they often are, and differentiate between the animal which must earn its keep, and that which exists for companionship. For the rest of us, there is no excuse for not observing the obligations that are thrust upon us when we become pet-owners.

As a volunteer with a cat rescue-group, I see too frequently animals that have been abandoned because they have proved troublesome. A family moving from town will simply leave its cat behind. A female cat gives birth and the kittens are dropped off at a farm - on the assumption that immature creatures unable to defend themselves will learn how to fight off coyotes and hawks much better on an acreage. Then there are the people who decide that they just don’t want a pet anymore. Three were last year returned to the rescue-group because their humans were ‘downsizing’ their pet population. Two dogs and three cats were given up; the poor dogs had no such rescue-group to which to be returned.

As I stated, I am no animal rights zealot. I eat meat. I see nothing wrong with skillful hunting - though I don’t hunt myself. I don’t treat my pets like people. (Disregard the story on this blog about my giving one of them ice cream.) But animals are nonetheless more than furniture, books or old clothes to be sold or given away at a jumble-sale.

Only the stupidest in society would think that the more advanced animals, cats, dogs, horses among them, do not feel emotions, such as love and fear, enjoyment and wonder. To abandon a pet, assuming that he will be fine, that he will survive on his own, is not only ridiculous, it is cruel. And I am not one who thinks of everything bad as cruelty. Cats and dogs are thought to have the intellectual level of a two or three year old child. Can it be doubted that their emotional level is similar? I don’t believe that someone who would leave a cat to fend for itself in a wood would ever do the same to a child, but to the mind of a pet, the result is the same. What the child would exprience emotionally, so would the cat or dog. It’s true, I think, that the animal would stand a better chance of survival than a human, but in many cases, not much better.

That argument is really beside the point. What is more salient than asking how this can be done to a beast, is to ask how it can be done, period. To take on the care of a pet is an obligation. It may be a reluctant one. It may turn from a joy to a burden. It may become something hateful. It doesn’t matter. If it is taken on willingly, however grudgingly, however plaintively, it must be seen through. The time, effort and money must be given. It’s a promise made not just to another living being but to oneself.

This may seem odd coming from someone who has just eaten a pork chop. But, though it may seem like splitting hairs, I didn’t promise to take care of an anonymous pig. If I had, it would be in my back yard now. Mothers and fathers cannot worry about every child in the world; they would explode with terror and anxiety, regret and remorse if they did. They worry about their own. They will do what they can for others’ childen, but it is their own to whom they made an unspoken promise. So it is with pets. We take them in, we shelter them, feed them, change their litter (or take them for walks); we play with them, we tell them not to worry when it thunders outside. We must do that until the day they die.

Is it a bother? Sometimes, yes. I’m not a father, but I can tell you that it must have sorely tempting to my parents not to kick me out numerous times when I was an adolescent. And my parents were good parents. It’s no different when one has pets. Before I realised that Tucker’s recent wetting problems were due to a physical ailment, there were numerous times I wished for someone else to take this animal off my hands - usually just after he discoloured part of my carpet. But he was my responsibility and will be until the day he breathes his last - may it be just before I breathe my own.

And so they cannot be disposable, these animals with whom we live. They are with us forever, through joy, rage, exaspration, excitement, fear, love and even, unfortunately, sometimes reluctance. They must be wih us forever. They have no one else.

The Plumber's Visit

The problem with owning one’s own house is that when something goes wrong with it, it is up to one to deal with it. That almost always means spending money.

The drain from my bathroom was plugged a few weeks ago. I won’t go into details, but the solution involved the removal of the toilet and the scouring of the pipes with an auger. First, it was put in through the hole where the toilet had been. The auger was diverted by the pipe from the tub. Then it was thrust down a pipe from the roof. I didn’t know a bathroom could be plumbed from the roof. It didn’t work, anyway, since the auger came up through the toilet’s drain. Finally, it was put upwards through the blocked drain. That worked, after two and a half hours and too much money.

The cats were frightened. I put them in the bedroom, but the noise of the auger was so great that they must have thought the world was ending. I checked in on them from time to time. What surprised me the most was their reaction after the plumber had departed.

After a preparatory sniff, they were assured by me that we were once again alone and hurried out of their haven. They were moving so fast that I had a hard time capturing them with the camera. Tungsten did not hurry. She seemed to have snoozed through the entire event, or at least pretended to snooze. A good top-cat doesn’t show any excitement over such things as home-invasions by tremendous noises.

But Renn’s scientific curiosity overcame his fears and he was out, smelling with that big nose of his, his tail up, his mind racing. Josie followed, ready to reclaim the top of the cat-tree. Even Tucker ventured out cautiously. There was much for them to sniff, much for them to see. After the fuss had ended, they seemed to enjoy themselves.

I spent the rest of the evening cleaning.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Josie and the New Cushion

Josie is not a demonstrative cat, though she has become more so over the years that she’s lived with me. She will purr, sometimes quite strongly, when I give her the right attention. She will get up, move about and bump her head against things when presented with the joys of being combed. But for the most part, she keeps her emotions obscured.

There was no doubt, however, how she felt when I placed a new cushion on a dining table chair last evening. The old cushions were getting pretty bad. I can never keep up with the amount of cat-hair such upholstery accumulates, and cats, though clean as animals go, will leave other debris behind from time to time. And then they simply throw up on things. So it was time for the old cushions to go.

I bought new cushions but was reluctant to put them out. I suffered from hard chairs for a while because I didn’t want the new ones to be covered with cat-hair. That was a silly attitude, of course, because it merely resulted in the cushions sitting in the basement, unused. I am reminded of the parent who told his child, “If you eat those apples, they’ll all be gone.” One wonders what the point of buying them was.

Last night, Josie, who enjoys slumbering on the cushioned dining table chairs from time to time, wanted to jump up on one and rest. She stood up, only to discover the chair’s seat was uncovered and hard. She dropped again to the floor, quite dejected. That settled it for me, and I retrieved the cushions from their repository.

What a reaction this elicited from Josie. I’d never seen her exhibit such spontaneous joy. She jumped up on the new, full, soft cushion and immediately started purring. She began kneading the hitherto untouched fabric. She turned this way and that, sniffing and smelling. Only after a few minutes, did she lie down. Even then, her purring continued.

It doesn’t take much to make our pets happy. Plenty of attention from us humans does the most, of course, but some tasty food, play-time, a few minutes with a brush or comb, a warm and soft spot on which to sleep... These are the ingredients of a joyful cat. It seems the more biologiclly and intellectually advanced the animal, the more it needs. It shouldn’t be the case, but there’s no point in asking why we can’t be like cats. We have bills to pay, people - and pets - to be responsible for, commitments to fulfill. But once in a while, we can stop and admire the ease with which our furry friends find gladness. At the same time, we can experience a little of it, too, because what makes them happy, makes up happy.

Josie the Literate

Renn may be my resident scientist, interested in the natural phenomena that comprise his small universe, but he’s not the only cat of an intellectual bent in my household. I’ve noticed recently, that Josie may often be found near, or on, books.

This is an old characteristic of hers, as may be seen from this photograph taken of her in my old apartment. She continued her fondness for literacy after we moved and, when she gets the chance, will lie down by a book and see what it has to say to her.

At first, I thought it was the large, well-illustrated volumes that attracted my Chubs. There are several books concerning residential architecture that seem to hold a fascination for her. But she is not one dependent upon pictures to hold her attention.

As you may see in the picture below, she seemed to be fascinated by the fine print of an old stand-by of mine, an historical encyclopaedia, a one-volume work full of information. I believe she was learning, in this instance, something of the Mongol invasion of thirteenth century Europe.

But Josie doesn’t restrict herself to reading books, it seems. She appears to have some cognition as regards to my writing. This would be quite a feat, as most who see it declare that my penmanship borders on the incomprehensible; indeed, some would assert that it has crossed that border and taken out full citizenship in the land of illegibility. But Josie doesn’t mind. She finds my writing relaxing, and seems even to enjoy a restful cup of tea while digesting my work.

There are hidden depths to the creatures that populate our lives. Tungsten fears nothing, an excellent quality for a top-cat. Renn is fascinated by his surroundings and seeks to learn what he can about them. Tucker - well, Tucker’s a melon-headed little goof; with him, what you see is what you get. But Josie is a bookish cat, perhaps fitting for a pet who likes to remain a little apart from the others, somewhat aloof. Who knows what great works of literature she will conquer next? Perhaps she is even considering penning her memoirs.

Bored on the Inside

I can’t help thinking that my cats are bored much of the time. I try to entertain them with play, I give them toys, a friend kindly supplied them with the Undercover Mouse machine, they have windows out of which to look, and, periodically, they can annoy each other, and me. But, for the most part, they seemed sated with what their small world has to offer. The house is all they have, and the great outdoors beckons them through the windows, tempting them with all the variety of an undiscovered country.

I see other cats who are allowed to go outside. A number of those who feature in other blogs are outside/inside animals. They seem to fare well, but I can’t believe mine would. Let’s take a look at the individuals, and consider their chances in the wilds.

Tungsten would probably do the best. She is a tough little cat, who will stand up for her rights. But she is indeed a tiny creature, and weighs less than the fur on her back. As I discovered from previous foster-cats, my orange one realises that her size limits her dominance of any situation. She will hiss and growl, and even fight, if necessary. But she knows that she will be bested by cats larger than herself. This doesn’t keep her from confronting them, but it will keep her from defeating them. Therefore, Tungsten should stay indoors.

Renn is a big, strong animal. His muscles bulge when he climbs up a cat-tree; he is swift and powerful. He is also timid. When an automobile pulls up outside the house, he growls and hurries for the shelter of the bedroom. He comes out quickly when the visit is over. If the visitor is a friend he will rejoin me to welcome our guest. But, though he becomes braver every day, he still fears the world a great deal. He could, if it came to a matter of survival, beat most opponents. But I don’t believe my big boy would stand up to the battle, unless he had no choice. His share of spoils in the wild would be small, and he would go hungry. Therefore, Renn should stay indoors.

Josie puts up with little nonsense. My Chubs doesn’t have a great sense of humour, and her life revolves around the basics of food, water and sleep. She plays, but I don’t see much laughter in it. She is a practical cat. Josie would know how to survive outside. Yet knowledge and practice are not identical. She is fat. There is no evading the fact. She can run, but not fast. She can jump, but not high. She can fight, but not with great agility. She is more likely to be a meal than gain access to one. A feral animal would look at her and see only an immense dish of Fancy Feast in a white coat with tabby spots. Therefore, Josie should stay indoors.

Finally, there’s Tucker. My roly poly one is shaped like a sausage, and has the personality of a happy, mischievous child. He is strong, and quick for his size. He has fortitude, and has rebounded heroically from adverisity, retaining his hair-trigger purr through it all. Yet this quality would enable him to suffer well, not survive well. He, like Renn, is easily frightened: though he knows I will not harm him, he still sometimes scurries past me as if expecting trouble. He almost expects to be frightened in any given situation, and bows to any powerful personality that confronts him. He would wait on the edge of a feeding circle, hoping for a scrap of sustenance, and be disappointed. Therefore, Tucker should stay indoors.

There are my four cats. I promised the rescue-group from whom I adopted them that they would remain indoor cats. But beyond my word, there is my concern. The quartet would not do well outside. I don’t think I merely flatter myself that only I stand between them and destruction. It is, unfortunately, true. They must remain inside, bored but safe, wistfully peering through window panes at what they may never have. I think they are happy most of the time, or at least content. But once in a while, watching the world at large, seeing what they may never share, they are, I think, bored on the inside.