My darling kitty, Cassie, endures some poking and prodding
Today was my fifth vet visit with my newly adopted kitty, Cassie, in just over a month. Was it all necessary? I sure hope so. But even if today's appointment was overkill, an unexpected encounter there warmed my heart.
I was prepared for trouble when I adopted Cassie from the RAPS Cat Sanctuary in Richmond, B.C. They don't exactly specialize in highly adoptable cats. The pets considered adoptable reside at the main shelter, which RAPS operates for the city in a no kill manner. The sanctuary is where feral cats, peeing cats, and those with extensive medical needs are housed in a safe and cozy manner. Visitors can wander the garden and buildings and meet the cats on Sunday afternoons.
As a regular visitor to the cat sanctuary for eight years, it was time for another visit. After my elderly cat, Kringle, passed away, I had a vacancy at home. I didn't have high hopes, but brought two pet carriers with me, one large and one small, just in case. I told them I was interested in an older cat, perhaps with special needs.
"Male or female?" asked the manager.
"It doesn't matter."
"Any preference for appearance or colour?"
"Cat. Feline. Someone sweet."
The sanctuary manager led me to Cassie, a four-year-old long-haired grey and white kitty who won me over. The purring feline was believed to have back trouble, although she seemed to have recovered after a month of cage rest. Two days later, I met with the manager and a medical volunteer to learn more about Cassie's needs. Then I brought her home to a room adapted for her needs, with no temptations to jump and possibly injure herself.
But Cassie really wanted to jump, and got the chance after two days with me. I had to move her to another room when her room became overheated during a heat wave. Despite giving her places to move easily, she chose the high jumps, with no ill effect. The next morning, I opened the door to the rest of the house. She trundled down the stairs, then ran back up them.
I let the manager know that Cassie was not a cat with back trouble! I was relieved that her care had become much easier.
But Cassie walked oddly, her back legs working weakly. Was it her extra weight? I gave her controlled feedings of good quality food, and regular play sessions to gradually address the weight issue. But when Cassie developed a limp one day, I called my vet for her first visit. Cassie recovered by the time of the appointment, but Dr. Chan thought she wasn't injured and walked confidently, although oddly. Her heart sounded good. He wanted to see her after she was with me for a couple of months, when she wouldn't be working on adrenaline, for a clearer assessment.
But I soon found concerning pink pee. Normally I couldn't tell if there was blood in the urine, but when it landed outside the box, I saw the odd colour. I checked the other box and found another spot of blood on the newspaper outside the box. Then I thought about the probable blood stains I found on my pillows shortly after Cassie came home with me. She liked to sleep behind my head. Connecting the dots, she was probably suffering from a urinary infection when I adopted her. She had suffered from bladder infections before she was surrendered to the shelter.
Dr. Chan wondered if everything was in fact related to her earlier diagnosed back problem, and took new X-rays. But her spine looked perfect. That didn't mean it wasn't a neurological issue, like a pinched nerve that we couldn't see. "An interesting case!" said Dr. Chan.
After beginning some treatments, Cassie wasn't improving. A week later, there was a half hour when she strained to pee, right on the carpet in front of me, then back in the box, then on the carpet, grooming herself furiously before squeezing a couple of bloody drops out. She could get no relief. As it was already early evening, I had to take her to an emergency vet. Online veterinary resources suggested that her behaviours could signal a life-threatening blockage.
I shared about my wild ride to the Langley emergency vet in a story on my cat blog. Most distressing was learning that my cat's heart was literally too big for her body, seen on an X-ray. A heart murmur, the whooshing sound between heartbeats, first signalled that Cassie may have heart trouble.
"But my vet checked her heart, and didn't find anything wrong with it!" I said.
Dr. Christianson didn't reply. Had my vet overlooked something? I found out that he had not.
On vet visit #4, just over a week later, the vet filling in for Dr. Chan found no heart murmur. Cassie was feeling great again after a new mediation regime. She was purring and relaxed with the vet, who even tried to stress her a bit to see if the murmur would reappear, but nothing. The vet believed that the heart murmur only arose when the heart rate was very elevated, as it had been at the emergency clinic. "What an interesting case!" she said.
"You're the second vet who's called it that!" I commented.
But as Cassie's urine sample would be contaminated by the antibiotics still in her system, we had to return a few days later. Which brings me to today, vet visit #5. I dreaded it a little. Cassie felt better. Did she really need the urinalysis? But the vet required it and I trusted her opinion. Perhaps we would learn how to prevent Cassie's recurrent infections.
I brought a novel to read to Cassie for our wait times. The first wait happened after I put her in the car. I've pampered my ancient Oldsmobile with its own warm house and regular maintenance, but it has developed idiosyncracies. Most annoying is when it randomly locks me out of the engine. The car starts, then stops, the security light telling me that it thinks I’m a thief! My trusted mechanic showed me how to reset the system with a ten-minute procedure anytime that happens. Fixing the system would cost more than the car is worth, and even deactivating it would be too expensive. I try to build in extra time and always have reading material just in case, and have my eye out for a replacement sedan with low mileage.
I read aloud to Cassie for ten minutes, then we had an uneventful journey to the vet. Thankfully, we found a nearby parking space without a one-hour time limit. I got a $55 parking ticket last week for overstaying the limit when our appointment went overtime. Then I had to wait another ten minutes before we could leave!
The cat room was ready. The receptionist stopped to admire Cassie in her carrier. I told her she had been a favourite at the shelter. Cassie seemed to be a favourite at the animal hospital too! She checked the room for new scents after I opened the carrier door. Her eyes grew huge when she saw someone pulling up at the loading zone outside the window. A dog’s bark from the hall got her ears perked and body tense. When she began panting, I stroked her where she stood on the blanketed examination table, and her breathing immediately calmed. They soon took her out to get the urine sample. Thankfully, Cassie arrived with a full bladder and wouldn't need a further wait.
When I heard a lot of activity on the other side of the door as I waited, I checked if they needed the cat room for another patient. There were no other cats, but they needed the space for a client emergency. A large brown dog heavy with milk had just given birth. She stood periodically whining next to a young man, who anxiously told her to stay calm. There were six puppies, most of whom didn’t survive. One struggling puppy had been taken to the back.
Two healthy pups whimpered occasionally from their box behind the receptionist's desk. I’d been there before, caressing the former office cat, Chloe, who’d been adopted, so it didn’t seem strange for me to have a closer look at the pups. One seemed completely still in a corner of the blanketed box. I wondered if the pup had also succumbed, but when she touched it, the pup responded. The downy little pups, about six-inches (15 cm) long, strained to move in different directions. I thought they might comfort each other by nestling together as kittens do.
When the receptionist was tied up answering incoming calls, I nestled the pups together. Remembering how my orphaned baby raccoon had moved toward the warmth of my hand, I thought I might comfort the pups in the same way. I lowered my forehead to them and breathed my warmth onto their little bodies. When they rested in my fingers, still in the box, the pups relaxed and went to sleep. After we left, they would be reunited with their mama.
Before meeting the pups, I'd wondered if Cassie was left in a kennel while the vets dealt with the emergency. I asked if I could be with her and read to her. They found her in the dog exam room, where the urine collection had just concluded. An aspirated sample was taken by inserting a needle into the bladder, which avoided contamination with outside bacteria when urine is released naturally and perhaps stepped on.
The vet expressed relief that I’d learned that Cassie recently tested negative for Feline Leukemia and the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Her multiple problems at such a young age might have signalled either disease. The vet added that Cassie had registered a heart murmur after the stressful procedure. No murmur was detected on the other three vet visits with me, and another five visits this year in the care of others.
Nevertheless, a second occurrence confirmed a heart problem, along with the X-ray showing an enlarged heart. But is it treatable? The vet explained that the latest research for cats says that drugs used successfully for dogs have no proven effectiveness in cats. The only treatment of interest to her is a blood-thinning drug, if a clot was believed to have caused Cassie’s leg problem. A blood clot from a poorly functioning heart can lodge at the base of the aorta where it splits to feed the back legs, resulting in paralysis or weakness of those legs. But the sideways movement of Cassie’s left rear leg didn’t seem consistent with the clotting explanation.
We’re now pausing to collect more information. The vet is also seeking opinions from an online veterinary community. The emergency vet recommended an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart, that can assess the heart's function and whether its muscular walls are thickened or too thin. But although the test is considered non-invasive, it will be stressful to Cassie. I've been advised to keep her stress levels down as much as possible. With her many challenges, known and unknown, I want to be judicious about what further stresses I put her under. Ultimately if no useful treatment can be identified from the procedure, there’s truly no benefit.
I feel sad that Cassie was stressed for the procedure today. But even if the test yields inconclusive results, I’m glad that I was there to briefly become a surrogate mama to two little newborn brown pups who needed a loving touch.
- Irene Plett
Topics: Veterinary medicine, cats, heart disease in cats, lower urinary tract infection, animal hospitals, RAPS cat sanctuary, Regional Animal Protection Society
Note: The vet encountered in this visit, an associate of Dr. Chan’s at BC Animal Hospital, prefers not to be named. She has also worked with TinyKittens' rescue cats behind the scenes.