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

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Baby Pictures

In some post, way back when, I mentioned putting up photos of Leo as a wee kitty.

So, here they are:

My first photo of Leo -- about six weeks old -- June 1993. My sister and I had just brought him home to join his brother Zeke (who had been adopted a day earlier.) Both were born under our grandparents' shed -- mother's owner not known -- and were part of a litter of six.

The day before this photo was taken, I had watched all six kittens playing happily around a log pile for about an hour (looking for a lively, playful kitten to adopt) and noticed that the grey and white one (Zeke) was spending all his time chasing around the orange fluffy one (Leo.)

So, when Zeke was miserable the first night we had him, walking around the house meowing, I went back the next day in the hopes of catching that fluffy orange kitty. Found out later that they were the only males in the litter.

More first-day photos:

Both cats were so happy to be together again (ya know, if "happy" is defined as trying to attack each other, which I believe it is in kitten terms.)

Look at that face! How could I not fall in love with this furry little guy?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Two Month Mark

Yesterday marked two months since the tumor was found on Leo's jaw. On that day back on January, I didn't think Leo would make it this far.

Yesterday was a good day.

Leo finished his latest round of Clavamox on Tuesday. He had lost a visible amount of weight during that round -- many days only eating half his normal amount of food.

A little thin, but still a sweet ball of fluff

Halfway through the antibiotic course, I went back to pilling him the normal way (as opposed to putting it in a treat.) He seemed to have a setback and I suspect maybe all the Clavamox wasn't being properly absorbed when placed in the middle of the clay-like treat.

After two solid months of medication, he's gotten to be such a good cat about being pilled. He doesn't even squirm anymore, just sits still as I open his mouth and toss the pill to the back of his throat.

Now that he's off the antibiotic, his appetite has returned.

Unfortunately, his bad breath also returned yesterday. And the tumor has grown -- at least it has spawned small bumps on top of the large mass. He also has a thick drool that periodically hangs down in a string from the side of his mouth (the only thing about this whole ordeal that really grosses me out!)

But, like I said at the top, yesterday was a good day. Leo's happy. He's eating. He's playing. He's grooming himself.

And watching bunnies.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Talking Cat Links

I couldn't just leave the following links hiding in comments...

Merujo (of Church of the Big Sky fame) gifted me with these, and I have enjoyed both heartily.

She has found means to communicate with my fuzzy friend Leo, and sent me his message.

Merujo followed up with some real live "talking" cats. Freaky!

After watching, I couldn't help but think Leo is a total underacheiver.

I mean, he sometimes meows in a way that sounds likes "Mom" when trying to get me to open the bedroom door in the morning (a sound he only started to make after I had children, I might add.) It sounds enough like a kid's whiny "Maahm" that I've been fooled a couple of times into thinking it actually was one of my children calling me.

But he certainly doesn't do it on command. Come to think of it, I should be glad of that.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Day 52

Back on the Clavamox again.

Leo appeared to be having mouth pain yesterday -- he seemed uncomfortable when I rubbed the left side of his jaw -- plus he hadn't been eating very well the past few days, and his breath was becoming even nastier. Chin looked a little puffier too.

All adds up to another infection. So, back to the vet for another round of Clavamox.

When I called for the refill, I mentioned my concern that the Prednisone he was taking was causing the reinfections. Message later relayed from the vet is that the tumor was causing the infections, not the prednisone, and Leo needed to stay on the pred for the rest of his life to make him "more comfortable."

Duh -- I know the steroid itself wasn't making him infected; what I meant was that it was lowering his body's natural resistance and making it easier for infection to reoccur.


After my lovely husband picked up the pills yesterday afternoon, I gave Leo both the prednisone and clavamox at the same time. Bad idea. A short time later I found he had barfed on my bedroom floor. The usual way of discovery -- I stepped in it. (But see, he's a great cat in that he didn't do it in my bed.)

We had a family excursion to PetSmart (my kids have very exciting lives -- Wow! We're going to PetSmart!!) to buy new varieties of Fancy Feast to tempt Leo, some soft cat treats (this guy has never had a cat treat in his life, because he was on a strict urinary tract diet!) and a new catnip toy.

The Friskies (Ocean Whitefish & Tuna) treats went over great (although they smell horrid to me.) But I didn't want to stuff him with junk food, so I just gave him a few.

At his dinnertime, he went right for the Fancy Feast, but didn't eat much.

Afterwards, he looked pretty miserable -- curled up in the tightest ball on our couch. By some miracle, I managed to not become freaked out by this. After nearly 2 months, I was confident he'd be feeling better soon.

And soon came this morning -- he meowed at my door at the lovely hour of 6 AM (you can't blame a cat -- it's light out and his human should be awake.) He was perky and purring and any other good word you can think of that starts with the letter "p."

Chin looked less swollen than yesterday. His breath still is pretty nasty though.

Our hero, this morning

Had only eaten 2/3 of his food from last night, but ate well this morning. I decided to smoosh this morning's Clavamox into a cat treat -- even though I have no trouble pilling him in the chuck-down-the-throat method, I'm hoping maybe having the pill encased in foodstuff will make it less likely to give him nausea.

He's been looking and feeling thin, but his weight on our bathroom scale this morning was 10 pounds -- not bad.

Leo dreams of escaping the house to show those birds what he's made of...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Day 49

I never thought I'd say this -- but my cat smells like a dog.

Leo's breath has gotten pretty nasty the past few days, and the smell tends to linger on his fur after he cleans himself. Very doggiesque.

But...he is cleaning himself, has been eating well and doesn't have any painful facial puffiness going on, so even though the bad breath may be a sign of some sort of oral infection, I've held off on putting him back on antibiotics.

Trying to save the Clavamox until absolutely necessary, especially since it seems to upset his stomach.

Sunday morning mellow cat

At one point last week, Leo weighed 10.5 pounds using my unscientific bathroom scale method (his pre-illness weight was 11 pounds.) He feels a little less rotund the past few days, so I would suspect he's back to 10 pounds or less at this point.

The Fancy Feast has lost some of its allure, in that recently he hasn't been scarfing the whole can up immediately, but he does end up eating all of it eventually and that's all I'm interested in.

I did make the mistake of buying cans of Fancy Feast's "sliced" variety, not knowing it is cubed, not sliced. He didn't finish it either time I gave it to him -- I think the chunks are harder for him to get down.

So, we're back to the fish feast varieties, which are ground. Yesterday, he had a total of 2 1/2 of the little cans over the course of 24 hours.

Fingers crossed for another good week...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Latest photos

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Day 41

I am such a liar.

The keyboard was probably still warm from my previous post when I started worrying again about Leo's not eating.

By Friday morning he was starting to look dehydrated. I weighed him (using my totally unscientific method) and he was down to 8.5 pounds from 10 pounds a few days earlier.

So, drastic measures were called for and I opened up a can of water-packed (people food) tuna.

Leo has never been allowed human food; in fact, he was on RX food for many of his 12+ years because of his tendency for urinary blockages. Not even allowed cat treats.

The tuna worked like magic -- he went crazy eating eat...I tried to mix it in with cat food and he worked hard to only eat the people-food.

I fed him two meals of tuna, but felt a bit guilty and worried that he would never eat cat food again after tasting the forbidden fruit (forbidden fish in this case.)

However, I had read on various bulletin boards about ill cats really loving Fancy Feast, so we picked up a few cans yesterday afternoon.

I don't know what is in that stuff ...but he loves it...three different flavors so far have been consumed with gusto.

He was back up to 9.5 pounds tonight, and sporting a rounder belly than I've felt in a long time. And he is happy as a pampered kitty can be (although a bit miffed that I refuse to feed him in little crystal dishes like they do in the Fancy Feast commercial.)

Plus, the swelling on the front of his chin went down completely - I can actually touch the front of his chin, maybe for the first time since this all started (the front has been varying degrees of soft/puffy even as the tumor that grows underneath his jaw is rock hard.) Can actually see the row of little teeth in the front of his mouth.

I have not noticed any of the thick drool lately either.

Figures, since he only has one day left of Clavamox antibiotic. Debating on whether to keep him on Clavamox continuously. I was ready to stop it completely a couple days ago when he wasn't eating. But now, I've got Fancy Feast in my corner -- at least until he tires of it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Day 38

Take a deep breath...exhale slowly...that's better.

I need to work on a mantra for this cat situation -- something, anything, to get me centered.

Leo hasn't been eating great the past few days -- maybe 1/3 of his usual intake. Anyone reading this blog will know that I've been quite obsessed with his food consumption. Because the vet told me at diagnosis that Leo would need to be euthanized when the tumor progressed to the point that he couldn't eat. Therefore, the weight issue has taken on a great deal of importance.

Looking pretty good for a cat who doesn't want to eat

His mood has improved quite a bit since Tuesday, even though he hasn't been eating well. So, I'm attempting to redirect my mental state -- and focus on Leo's attitude as opposed to his eating habits.

A clinical note: a thick mucus-like saliva occasionally drips down in a "string" from his mouth. Besides that, his chin is looking less puffy...but sometimes I think that the actual process of eating makes his chin swell up and since he hasn't been eating much...

(See, I just can't stop mentioning his eating!)

He came to me several times today and wanted to lie on top of my torso (when I was lying on the bed) while I petted him. He hasn't done that for's one of his most endearing "Leo-isms" that I thought was never going to happen again. So, some very nice moments today.

One of the harder things in this journey is the looming unknown...I don't really know what to expect with this tumor; without having a definitive diagnosis due to:

1) the vet not suggesting it; and
2) me not wanted to torture my cat with vet procedures (the why isn't important if there's nothing we can do anyway.)

So, Leo could have an osteosarcoma...? Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in cats, but he doesn't seem to be progressing in that direction (no sores, bleeding.) Heck, this is all just conjecture.

In my dark moments I mentally page through various scenarios -- will he develop an abscess...will the tumor grow so large that his jaw break...or into his throat and choke him...will this unknown cancer spread to other parts of his body...?

Cheery stuff.

ANYWAY, this was supposed to be an positive post, so I'd better get to that.

Maybe Leo's not eating isn't the worst thing. His brother Zeke died in November from renal failure, and honestly I didn't know anything was wrong with Zeke except that he very gradually lost weight over the course of two months. He actually became more affectionate and calmer than he had ever been before. Never meowed in pain...and it wasn't until the last few days when he stopped eating completely that it was obvious something was seriously wrong.

I guess what I'm getting to here is that if my lovely Leo doesn't feel like eating and seems happy otherwise, then I should just chill.

A novel concept for me.