My Name is Leo

An adored cat deals gracefully with a jaw tumor while his owner quietly falls apart.

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Location: Philadelphia area, Northeast, United States

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Day 12

The past few days have been good for Leo. He has been eating at least as much as normal. And he's been seemingly happy, although perhaps sleeping a bit more than usual.

This morning he was playing like a little demon with various debris on our floor -- more vigorously than I've seen him play in the past few weeks.

But the tumor seems to get a little bigger every day. Perhaps just a mm or so larger each day. It started on his left jaw, but now is all the way over to his right.

Since I'm hoping this blog can be informative for other pet owners facing a similar problem, here is some history regarding Leo's condition.

FYI: He is a 100% indoor cat, up to date on all vaccinations.

He had his regular vet visit in November 2005 with no noted problems. Unfortunately, during the same visit his brother Zeke had to be put to sleep because of kidney failure. But Leo did not seem to suffer too greatly from being the sole cat for the first time in his life; in fact, he seemed to be relishing the extra attention.

That I was devoting a substantial amount of time to petting him makes it even more surprising that this tumor on his jaw could progress to the point it did without me noticing.

In retrospect, I did notice that he was looking a little different around Christmas time -- I couldn't put my finger on it, and thought he was just starting to show his age (12+ years). Now when I look at the photos taken of him on New Year's Eve I think I see a thickening of his left jawline.

Towards the middle of January 2006, I noticed Leo's coat was feeling a bit dirty. He's always had such wonderfully silky fur (never mats, never needs combing). But I thought it was a delayed reaction to losing his companion -- maybe without Zeke he didn't feel the need to be as meticulous, or maybe even Zeke had been grooming Leo. I had seen Zeke lick Leo's face (and nether regions - yuck!) occasionally.

A couple of times as I was petting Leo he hissed when I touched his jaw/throat. But, being a rather vocal cat (who will hiss while playing, or if he meows a few times and you ignore him) I just wrote it off to me literally rubbing him the wrong way.

Around January 16th or 17th, I said to my husband, "Leo seems to be acting a little weird" (to which he replied something like, "He's a cat, weird is what they do.") I couldn't exactly put my finger on what was wrong, but he didn't really want to be petted much, and he seemed to be walking around with less regality than his usual strut.

Plus, he wasn't finishing all his food. And I noticed some bad breath when petting him. But I thought maybe he had just eaten some errant Christmas tree needles (we had just stripped the ornaments off the tree and pine needles were everywhere) and was suffering from a bit of indigestion.

But on January 20th, he barely ate anything. And on the morning of the 21st, he hissed when I went to pet him and was obviously distressed. So, off to the vet -- much wailing from Leo in the car on the way -- and while waiting in the office I saw the left side of his face was swollen.

The vet said he had a lot of plaque on his teeth, one tooth was loose...and he needed to have at least one pulled, maybe more, they all looked bad...

But it was Saturday, and the extraction would have to wait until Monday.

He got a shot of antibiotic, blood drawn for testing (to make sure he was well enough to have general anesthesia, and all blood work came back normal) and we were on our way back home with liquid Clavamox that I would have to squirt down his throat twice a day.

But Leo's was miserable. He didn't eat all day Saturday. At one point, we realized we didn't know where he was, and eventually found him hidden in the basement behind boxes -- which he had never done before.

It was about 5PM and the vet office was closed, so I called the 24-hour animal hospital, but since he was already on antibiotics, I decided it wasn't worth the mental torture to the cat and financial ruin to the owners to bring him in that night.

The next day, the antibiotic had started to reduce the facial swelling and he was acting more normally and ate a tiny bit. But just as he started to really feel like eating(in the evening) I had to deny him food because he wasn't allowed to eat anything after 6 PM due to the next day's anesthesia.

I worried obsessively all weekend about how many teeth would have to be pulled, about whether the infection had gone into his jaw (the vet had mentioned this might be the case and that such infections are hard to treat.) Yes, she had also said the swelling could be a tumor, but everything seemed to point so strongly to a clear case of dental disease, I never even considered it.

I dropped him off at the office at 8:15 AM. About noon, I got a call from the vet after the tooth extraction. They only had to pull one tooth...BUT...the post-procedure x-ray showed what looked like a tumor...

When I picked Leo up at 5:30 PM the technician who brought him out said he was "still a little wobbly." Um, a gross understatement. At home I opened his carrier and his back legs were totally weak..his pupils were dilated and he was freaking out. He tried to run upstairs and fell over onto his back (luckily I was right behind him).

I took him to the basement to his litter boxes and he jumped back and forth between them until finally lying down to pee (that's a new one.) Then he proceeded to literally run around in circles. When I held him, he was shaking. I tried to get him back in the carrier (for his own protection) but he fought like crazy.

When I had dropped him off for the procedure I had checked a little box that said to give him painkillers. Evidently, that was a mistake.

Spent the next couple hours watching him to make sure he didn't fall trying to do anything, and eventually his legs got strong enough that I could leave him alone. But he still felt "loose" the whole next day.

As the swelling in his face went down, he allowed me to touch his jaw. I could feel the rock hard mass on his left jawbone.

And from there I'm sure I've covered in previous posts...


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