Friday, February 28, 2020

Constant Change

Change can be good or it can be bad. I’ve learned that when something is working, it’s best to leave it as it is. Business companies tend not to do that because they want to make ever more money, and improvements are always being engineered to make customers buy more. Whatever the reason, there are usually problems when a food that a cat is enjoying - or at least eating - is changed.

This has happened with two of the foods consumed in the cosy apartment. I am most apprehensive of any alterations to Cammie’s food. With her allergies, she can eat only hydrolised nutrients; she is made ill by anything else. She can have only Z/D food, though fortunately, she likes both the tinned and the kernel varieties. Imagine my concern then when I saw this on the latest bag of the hard-food I purchased for her.

The formula had changed, and so had the size and shape of the kernels. I decided not to mix it with Cammie’s older food at first, as I wanted to see what effect the unadulterated new version had on her. The first thing I noticed was that Cammie seemed to like the taste of the new formula better than the old. Nonetheless, if it wasn’t made right, it would cause her to vomit - and keep vomiting.

But it stayed down. The new formula worked the way the old had. Since my princess liked it rather more than the former flavour, she ate more of it. I was relieved. In this case, a change had been an improvement.

I recently bought a case of Blue Wilderness ‘turkey’. After his initial period with me, this became  the only tinned food Neville would eat. He consumed quite a good amount of it at every meal, then would take himself to the hard-food bowl for his second course.

The most recent purchase, however, showed a change. The food, a pate, was less smooth than previously, and grittier. Nevsky continued to eat it, but in decreasing amounts, and with reluctance. During his time of eating the Blue Wilderness turkey, I had been experimenting with a wide range of food, to see if Neville would try something else, in case he went off his staple. Fortunately, I found that he likes another turkey flavour, that produced by Koha. Though he could subsist on hard-food, the soft has a better effect, aside from the nutrition.

The point is, of course, not that Nev likes another food, but that he stopped liking his former favourite. The formula had changed, at least so I believe. It may just be the case that I bought, and I will buy individual tins later to test the theory. I would prefer to be wrong.

The changes wrought by manufacturers, for whatever reason, double the difficulties in feeding felines caused by the finicky animals themselves. Sometimes I wonder if the makers of cat-food know much about the animals at all.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

My Day of Remembering

Today is my Day of Remembering. I have lost three cats and, considering the ages of my current beasts, I will lose more, relatively soon. Rather than commemorating their lives separately, on the dates of their deaths, and thus collecting a sombre catalogue of memories, I will remember them together, on this day.

Bear-Bear died on this date, six years ago.

This long and very friendly mancat came to stay with me in April, 2013. He had been found, a vagrant, wandering around an apartment building. He seemed healthy, and was neutered. He loved people. I suspect he had been abandoned.

He turned out to be not as healthy as he appeared. He was anaemic, and so could not have stood the anaesthetic of a dental procedure he needed for his gingivitis. Eventually, it was determined that he had cancer. He died on February 25th, 2014.

What I recall most about the BB is his friendliness. He would have been such a good family cat. He would have been perfect for children. He got along with my beasts, though they didn’t really care much for him. He talked quite a bit, and when he spoke, it was in a conversational tone. Even on his last car-ride, going to the veterinary hospital to leave me, he spoke casually, as if discussing the weather. It was a sunny day; Bear-Bear liked sunny days.

It is always sad when death takes a living creature, but it is particularly regrettable when it takes one who would have been made happy so easily, and who could have made others happy so easily. It angers me that more people didn’t know Bear-Bear, and were unable to meet such a marvellous fellow. They missed their chance, and in so doing, caused him to miss his.

But I knew the BB, and he will survive in my memory. To me, he was ‘the ugly brute’, my conversationalist. Now and then we still talk, he and I.

Tungsten died thirteen months later. She was my first cat, and suffered from my ignorance of feline ways. But she was stoic about it, for the most part, and very forgiving. She taught me a great deal. Despite my lack of knowledge, she and I became good friends.

She was very little and light to hold. She never weighed more than seven pounds, I think, but even in her middle age could leap five feet straight up, if she wanted to be somewhere. She liked to be on my shoulders, often jumping there, sometimes when I wasn’t prepared. It was a good thing she was light…

On my shoulders she lie facing left. On my lap, it was to the right, usually curled clockwise. She loved being on my lap, with my hand on her tummy. She would curl around it. She would lie there while I read, or watched tv (I had television in those days.) At night, she would slumber in my hand, or in the crook of my legs. She enjoyed my company.

When I brought other cats to live with us, Tungsten established that she was top-cat. She was the ‘tiny terror’ and, though not dictatorial, she let the others know when they had done something wrong. She became chums with Renn; the only pair of my cats who were friendly toward each other. The big and the small, they sat and lie together, and groomed one another.

Tungsten had hyperthyroidism, which we were able to control. But she had something else, probably cancer, and she became sick and died on 26th March, 2015. I think of her often, and miss her always, the feline queen of my heart.

My sturdy boy. That’s what I called Parker. This hefty orange fellow came to me in January, 2017, because he was having trouble managing his diabetes. He and I and his doctor worked on it, and were able to drop the dosage of his insulin from seven units twice a day to four, and that, though still high, seemed to work for him.

He was friendly with me from the start but I knew a threshold in our relationship had been crossed when I picked him up from his dental surgery a few months into our acquaintance. He was brought in his carrier from the operating room of the hospital; his back was to the cage’s door. When he heard me talking to him, he turned around and rubbed his face against my fingers through the carrier’s bars. We had become friends.

Parker tried to be amiable to the other cats, but it was rough going. In fact, he and Tucker had a knock-down brawl at one point. It was only after Raleigh was introduced into the household that Puck, as I sometimes called Parker, and Tucker settled down to making the best of each other’s presence.

He loved his food - he could eat half or even two thirds of a big tin of food at a sitting (I loved to see him put it away) - and he enjoyed playing, but his real joy was being outside in his harness. He knew the sound of it and would paw at the door, purring with anticipation. Once outside, he would talk, delighted in being in the fresh air. He liked meeting people on his walks, and was widely admired for his handsomeness.

In February, 2019, he was diagnosed with cancer. The doctor said that Parker had a few weeks to live. My tough little Die Hard defied death for four months. Even the day before he left me, he was outside, no longer sturdy, not walking much, but loving the early summer’s air and the cool grass. He didn’t want to go when his time came, and I didn’t want to let him go, but it was undoubtedly his time. I will always think of him outside, in his orange glory.

These are the three I recall, when I think about the cats I have lost. Each was unique, each irreplaceable, each my friend. I will remember them.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Matriarch

Though Cammie’s stroke has made her feel her age more than she otherwise would, fifteen years is not the end of a cat’s life. Indeed, Josie is a year older and doing quite well (knock on wood - or the melded fragments of wood-pulp that pass for it these days).

Josie is suffering from mild kidney issues, but nothing that isn’t connected to her advancing years. She has plenty of water-bowls from which to drink, but tends to yell at me if a bowl isn’t freshly filled for her consumption. I don’t mind.

She is active enough to climb cat-trees and steps, to get where she wants to go. She even jumps from time to time from the bed to the cat-tree by the window. It’s encouraging not only that she can accomplish this but that she feels confident enough to attempt it.

My Chubs is not really chubby any more. She continues to lose weight but, as of her last measurement, very gradually. My gratitude is great for her continued appetite. As a cat ages, there is always the danger that she will lose interest in food; that, thankfully, has not been the case with Josie. She does want food in between meals. I always give in to these demands (unless it’s only an hour until the regularly scheduled dinner or snack). Her stomach may not be following the routine, but if it wants filling, I am not about to refuse it, not at Josie’s age. I am also grateful that I can offer her something she likes; right now, it is Merrick’s ‘chicken divan’, though she will eat other foods.

The Great White became more demonstrably affectionate a few years ago, and now we have certain times together. She will periodically turn around on the saddle of the taller bedroom cat-tree and, instead of facing the window to look out, she will lie down toward me, and tell me she wants some face-rubs. As well, she has her place on the bed at night, on the near side by my shoulder. If she finds Renn already there (my big boy comes to bed when I do; Josie arrives later) as she sometimes does, she will squeeze in between and lie or squat still, and very uncomfortably. Renn usually moves; I sometimes urge him away, as he has his own spot on my other side.

Josie and I have been together for more than eleven years now. She will be sixteen this summer. Despite her seniority, she is in good health and seems happy with her life. Comfy places to lie, a spot on the bed at night; water whenever she wants it - even if it isn’t always as fresh as she likes - and plenty of tasty food; even a short excursion out into the exciting corridor beyond the apartment’s front door: Josie doesn’t demand much, and enjoys what she has. I hope it is enough to make her happy, because she makes me happy.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

A Little Spring in Her Winter

I think I worry about Cammie the most of my cats. She had a stroke at the end of last May, and lost her sight as a result. She is undoubtedly weaker in body because of the incident, and, lately, she seems more feeble still. I watch her and notice that she moves a little more slowly and is more uncertain on the stairs climbing and descending to the bed. My concern is that her heart was damaged by the stroke; possibly the brain’s capacity to manage the body is hurt. My princess is fifteen now and would be more than three quarters of the way through her lifespan even if in the best of health.

She spends most of her time in the bedroom, sometimes on the bed, sometimes in her heated cat-bed on the floor in the corner. It is placed on a towel on a rug on the carpet, has a heating pad in it and is by the radiator: I think sometimes she finds it too warm, but at least she won’t be chilly. She still grooms herself conscientiously and, while there are days when she eats little, her appetite remains encouragingly good. I feed her soft-food whenever she asks for it and there is always hard-food available to her.

Her blindness must limit her world tremendously, but even so she strives to enjoy what she can, which is why I am pleased that spring is approaching. Our weather here has been alternately wintry and vernal, but yesterday it hinted at April, or at least March, for a few hours. I came into the bedroom to find that Cammie had climbed one of the cat-trees and discovered the sunshine coming through the window. I opened the pane a little and let the fresh air enter. My little Siamese caught a whiff of the outside and spent some time learning from the fragrances what was happening in the wider world that she will never see.

Cats are, I think, practical creatures, and so Cammie probably doesn’t sigh too much over her lost vision. I fancy that she enjoys her comfy bed, the ready supply of food, her little water-bowl close to hand and, when the sun comes back north, the thicker rays it sends her way, and the warmer scents that slip through the window’s screen. Some day she will leave, but perhaps she will stay for another spring, another summer. She and I would like that.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Results We Like

Tucker’s experiment with the new blood-glucose sensor ended Friday. The ‘cap’ that held the sensor in his skin was coming loose, and since the monitor that read it had to be returned to the veterinary hospital within six hours of the last reading (otherwise the information recorded would be lost), I decided to take it in on Friday. If the cap had come off during the night, or when the hospital was closed, it would have been an open question of getting the monitor back to the doctor in time.

Even so, the experiment was a success. I expected a telephone call from Tucker’s doctor on Monday or Tuesday. She and her colleagues must have been eager to see what the device would tell them, because I received a call from her Saturday afternoon (when the hospital was actually closed).

She was very pleased with the results. They gave a very full picture of Tucker’s diabetic management over a week’s time. (I will be handed a print-out of the results when I am next at the hospital.) For the most part, what they show is very good. The roly poly had good to excellent ‘curves’ in relation to his insulin injections, the diabetes responding as it should. Wednesday, however, showed very high numbers with very little response to the insulin. This was followed by a drop to low numbers, too low for insulin to be administered.

This has happened in Tucker’s history of diabetes, rarely, but more often in recent times than previously. The fact that most of his ‘curves’ are satisfactory or better proves that he is not insulin-resistant, as some cats become. This is a relief in itself. But how to account for the times that show no response to the insulin?

The doctor questioned the injection sites for the insulin. I almost always give Tucker his injection in the same places: on either flank, usually; just through habit, within an inch or two of the same spot. This has been going on for years. While theoretically there is nothing wrong with this, it can cause scar-tissue to develop, which will inhibit, not the insulin itself, but its delivery. In other words, it might be having difficulty getting through a callus.

The solution suggested by the doctor is simple: selection of another spot on Tucker. I can inject the insulin in the scruff, the tummy, or another location. If I move it after some time, it likely won’t permit for scar-tissue. This may not be the answer (because a callus may not be the question), but it is a likely solution to the mystery, and easily applied.

Even with these lapses, the doctor is very pleased with Tucker’s diabetic management, and very pleased with the new sensor and how it worked. I am, as well. Not only did it provide an excellent depiction of my cat’s situation but it gave scope for a concrete response to a problem.

I asked questions regarding the sensor. I wondered how it gathered blood samples for reading the numbers. I thought it tapped into the capillaries just beneath the skin. It does not. It samples the sugar in the subcutaneous flesh and, using a formula in its miniature computer, translates the numbers it reads into the equivalent that would come from blood. Rather ingenious, I think.

In theory, there is no reason why a cat can’t have one attached to him all the time. It cannot remain in the same place, as natural feline movement and the re-growth of shaved fur will cause its detachment. But another may be applied in another location. Practically, not every cat-owner will favour such a policy, and, for the time being, the veterinarians see the sensor as something used to study a cat’s diabetic routine, and to help clarify problems. Even in this capacity, I feel that the new device is a success.

I can foresee, in the not distant future, a smaller, flatter item implanted under a cat’s skin, lasting six months, a year, or longer, giving the owner the peace of mind that comes from knowing instantaneously what his little one’s numbers are, and if there is a problem; giving a ‘curve’ without fuss or discomfort.

For now, the experiment is ended, with good news all around. Tucker has a little bald patch on his right shoulder for now, but, aside from licking it periodically, it troubles him as little as did the cap itself. The doctor is happy with how my guinea pig is doing; I am, too. And so, I think, is the guinea pig.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Sausage-shaped Pioneer

Tucker’s experiment continues. The implant meant to read his blood-glucose levels is still safely connected to him. He licks at it from time to time, as it probably itches, but doesn’t do anything else. From my point of view, things are progressing very well.

The physical advantages of the device are obvious. With this, I don’t have to poke Tucker in the ear every two hours (hourly, as we approach the nadir of his blood-sugar levels) to sample his blood. This continual stabbing is an inconvenient and imperfect process. Even after years of practice, I cannot guarantee a drop of blood each time. There may be blood but not enough for the test-strip to analyse. I have to gather Tucker and place him on a flat surface (in our case, the dining table) and have him lie still while I poke him; to his great credit, he almost never moves. A sudden jerk on his part, though, may ruin the process, and result in the need for another poke.

The roly poly of course dislikes this. It is painful for him (mildly, perhaps, but eight or nine pokes in the ears, even alternating ears, can cause some aching); it disturbs him, having to take him from his naps just to be stabbed, and it is demoralizing for both of us.

With the new device, however, it is simply a matter of holding the meter over the cap of the sensor. I can do it while Tucker is snoozing or eating or playing. It is quick and painless.

Furthermore, it encourages the taking of readings. The usual means, with a needle to the ear, is the opposite: it makes me want not to do it. With the electronic sensor, I want to take a reading every hour - or more frequently. And why not? Hourly readings give a better picture of the curve, and there is no fuss involved. This, I think, is the greatest advantage to the new system: the encouragement it offers to take readings.

The arrangement is, unfortunately, temporary. I am sure that the technology will be refined and, eventually, become common and long-lasting. It probably won’t happen in Tucker’s time, but at least it will allow some study to be made of his diabetes, and he himself is helping to pioneer its use in our region. Every step forward in the fight for health is a step in the right direction.

Monday, February 17, 2020

A Lucky Mistake

Sometimes, a mistake turns out better than what one planned.

I had to buy some more Fancy Feast for the beasts. While not everyone eats the brand (Neville is very particular when it comes to turning his nose up at something), it is often a good resort when their usual doesn’t appeal to them. Unfortunately, while I have been able in the past to leave my purchases until there is a sale, sale prices these days appear not to dip very low. In fact, sale prices everywhere aren’t falling as low as the everyday price at Canadian Tire (for the benefit of readers of foreign origin, that is a national hardware-store chain in my country. It sells items other than hardware the way drug-stores these days sell socks and computers. I hate the twenty-first century. Anyway…)

It was to Canadian Tire that I went to buy some Fancy Feast. The variety most liked by most cats here, if you understand, is ‘ocean whitefish and tuna’, with a blue label. I bought a dozen tins. When I opened one that evening, it was not the sickly grey, fairly solid paté that my animals usually eat. It was pinkish and more liquidy. I was perturbed.

I opened a second tin and found it similarly mutated. I checked the expiry dates, and saw that they were still a year in the future (though tinned food will last long beyond that unless contaminated.) It was contamination which I next considered. Then a thought occurred to me, as they do from time to time, though not enough to prevent me from acquiring six cats. I checked the label.

Though blue, and a shade very close to ‘ocean whitefish and tuna’ paté, some of my purchases were ‘flaked tuna’. Well. Evidently having fooled the clerks at the store when they were stocking the shelves, they fooled me, as well. I could take the unopened tins back for a refund, but the store would probably be reluctant to accept the opened ones. I decided to try them on my cats.

Like Mikey in the Life cereal commercial, several of the beasts unexpectedly liked the unexpected variety. Josie, while currently favouring Merrick’s ‘chicken divan’ variety, also liked the ‘flaked tuna’. Raleigh was coaxed to eat the remnants of his regular repasts by adding a garnish of the new flavour, and Tucker, hard to please, also consumed it. (It is under the maximum percentage of carbohydrates a diabetic cat should have, too, like most Fancy Feast varieties.) And Renn, hardest to please of all, finished off nearly a tin on his own. And unlike the chunks in gravy, the cats lapped up not just the fluid portions but ate the solid bits, for the most part.

While I do not expect the cats to continue to like this new variety (I have, after all, purchased a dozen more tins of it; that should end their tangent right there), two or three tins of it already went into cats who usually eat very little soft-food, or whose consumption of it is a battle of human/feline wills. If having cats has taught me one thing, it is that while struggling for greater success, I should not disdain the smaller. The journey of a thousand miles begins, I’ve discovered, not with a single step, but with managing to tie one’s shoelaces in inadequate lighting.