My Name is Leo

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

My Photo
Location: Philadelphia area, Northeast, United States

Sunday, April 30, 2006

What Life Are We On Now?

Crazy, crazy since my last post.

Thursday, Leo was super-loving and happy after two doses of Bayril. Thursday night I switched to Clindamycin.

Then came Friday morning. He was in the upstairs hall meowing urgently when I woke my girls up for school. Mostly annoyed meows.

Came downstairs and he started scratching vigorously at the tumor side of his face with his back paw while simultaneously yelping meows (scared the heck out of the kids.)

He hadn't eaten much food overnight, and couldn't seem to get the morning food into his mouth -- got food all over his face.

My husband was off from work since he and I were preparing for a couple days in Atlantic City to celebrate our anniversary. So after the kids left for school I filled him in on the wild cat face-scratching.

An hour or so later, he told me he saw Leo spit out a large spider (wadded up) that looked like it had been in kitty's mouth for a loooong time.

Oh, by then, Leo was growling when I tried to pick him up and his face was very swollen. Lots and lots of mucus-y drool in a constant drip out the side of his mouth.

By all appearances it seemed that switching antibiotics had let the infection go full-blown on him. But did it have anything to do with the chomped-on spider?

This was the absolute worst state he had been in in the last three months. He looked miserable. Meanwhile, I'm supposed to be packing for a trip, but instead I burst into tears as I try and figure out what I should be doing.

My parents were coming to our house to watch the kids (and Leo). But would my mom be able to medicate a very upset cat? Should we be going at all?

I gave Leo an extra half-dose of Clindamycin. Mostly because my doubting nature had me wondering if the pharmacy compounded the medication into treats properly -- what if the two doses I had given Leo did not contain full-potency of Clindamycin?

After a short time, he seemed slightly least not growling. And he hadn't been hiding either. Just looking very unhappy (staring ahead and not sleeping) in his fur-covered studio chair.

Even with the cat's obvious distress, he was still purring a little when I petted him -- as long as I stayed away from his face. Although mostly he would move away from me, remaining hunched in a tense looking position.

Trying to think rationally, I decided that Leo didn't want me hovering over him...that all we could do is see if antibiotics would get this thing back under control, and that I needed to continue with my plans to spend the night away from home.

Of course, my mom wasn't thrilled when she arrived at our house and I proceeded to pill Leo (his prednisone) in front of her so she could observe him hiss at me first-hand. Wanted to reassure her that his hissing didn't mean he would bite or anything, in case he was going to hiss at her in my absence.

Okay -- I'm going into too much detail.

Cut to the chase. Husband and I were gone 24 hours without an urgent call from home regarding Leo. Returned to the homestead and immediately saw that he was eating again and looked much more normal.

He had hissed at my mom when she tried to give him his Clindamycin med/treat Friday night, but she mixed it in a tiny bit of food and he ate it himself. She told me that she was really afraid he might die that night (that's how bad he looked) but sometime overnight things took a huge swing for the better and that he was greatly improved by Saturday morning -- eating without any visible distress.

This morning (Sunday) he looked super -- had obviously groomed himself and had eaten every bit of his food yesterday.

But just when I think I have everything under control a completely new situation presents itself.

I see that Leo has a bloody chin. Bright red, akin to a human's bloody skinned knee; a portion next to the bleeding part was hairless. I'm guessing he either scratched or rubbed it raw.

But there might be a chance that this means he actually has SCC (squamous cell carcinoma) instead of osteosarcoma (bone cancer)? I know SCC is characterised by ulcerations.

Anyway, by this afternoon the area seemed to be scabbing up. Just another twist in this sordid tale.

Scabby chin

My guy is really starting to look worse for the wear; as the tumor grows his face becomes more and more assymetrical. But to me he still looks wonderful when he's feeling good - even with the drool.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Day 93 -- Another Oral Infection

Leo didn't look too happy yesterday afternoon, and didn't finish all his food -- but it wasn't one of his favorite flavors of Fancy Feast (believe it or not, I have now started a list so I can remember which ones he likes best)...and later he seemed perfectly content, hanging out with us on the couch last night.

The attack of the killer tail!

Today, Leo kept to himself -- sleeping from morning into afternoon in the furry cat chair in the studio. I was busy and didn't check on him, and since he ate all his morning food, I figured all was well.

We were out this afternoon; among other things, getting more cat food (I brought my favorite flavors list!) The kids love looking at the cats up for adoption at PetSmart -- me too, but it is also quite sad to see such beautiful animals without homes.

There are about 5 or 6 cats there at any given time. Each cat has a card posted with its name, age, and other relevant info. I usually end up wanting to take at least one of them home -- hard not to want to when you look into their sweet faces. Happily, today two of the cats' cards said they were in the process of being adopted.

It was feeding time, and the cats were all more active than usual (I've joked with my husband before that I thought the cats were drugged, as they usually seem to be comatose.)

The attendant saw us looking at the kitties and asked if she could help us. Told her we were just visiting, and that our cat had cancer so we weren't looking for another pet at this time. Almost immediately regretted it, as her face fell -- getting sympathy from a complete stranger wasn't really my intention...then again, I'll take kindness whenever it is offered.

But I digress. We got home, I went to visit Leo, and when I rubbed the affected side of his jaw, he let out a soft little growl to tell me that it hurt. And the left side (tumor side) of his jaw was visibly swollen.

So...I gave him some of leftover-from-switching-antibiotics Baytril tonight (he barely ate any of his dinner) which will hopefully hold off the infection until I can get more of the antibiotic Clindamycin compounded tomorrow.

This is the - what? - fifth or sixth infection he's had in the three months since this jaw tumor reared its ugly head. I should be used to it by now. Even though it's likely he will respond to the antibiotic, it's still upsetting to see him obviously uncomfortable.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Three Month Mark

It was three months ago today that Leo's x-ray showed a mass on his jaw.

And I'm happy to say that his condition has not worsened significantly in the past month. In fact, his weight improved after we found that Clindamycin was a much gentler-on-his-stomach antibiotic.

He's seemed pretty perky the past few days. Thursday and/or Friday he wasn't even drooling all that much.

Considering most cat cancers seems to have a two-to-three-month survival prediction, I'm happy to be marking this day with no crisis, and no obvious distress.

Leo displays the opposite of obvious distress tonight.

So the next mental milestone is Leo's 13th birthday...probably marking it on May 6th, since I found that birthdate on some paperwork when he was a kitten (although I'm sure it was a date I just picked out of thin air, since I never knew exactly when he was born.)

Since it's just under two weeks ago, I'll be very surprised if he doesn't get to celebrate in some fashion (perhaps involving cheese, tuna & catnip.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Caution: Drool

This post contains graphic photos of cat drool, so proceed at your own risk.

I wanted to put these up for others who have a cat experiencing the same problem -- thick drool seems to be a universal symptom with cats who have cancers of the mouth, especially SCC (squamous cell carcinoma).

Our vet thinks Leo's jaw tumor is osteosarcoma or fibrosarcoma, but without a biopsy we will probably never know if it is that or SCC.

Leo only drools out the left side of his mouth, which makes sense since the tumor grew from his left side of jaw.

For months (a year?) before the tumor was discovered, I noticed that he was drooling (clear, watery) when I was petting him. Nothing as drastic as these photos -- only evidence would be a small wet spot on my arm or shoulder. Thought it was old stuff on internet talks of cats salivating as a normal part of kneading (reflex based on kneading as kitten during nursing.) In retrospect, I think it may have been a warning sign.

Anyway, these photos were taken a few days ago with the rare event of a dual drool (usually he has just one strand at a time.) The drool is thick; I guess its consistency is best described as mucus-y.

If it's not evident in photos, he is totally unbothered by the gooey drips. Happily (for me) the drool doesn't have any sort of malodor at this point (but it smelled nasty when his concurrent oral infection was at its worst.)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Return of the Happy Cat; 12 weeks post-diagnosis

Tilt your head to the right (for whatever reason, blogger won't upload this photo in the proper orientation) and you will see Leo displaying cat body language for "I'm feeling alright."

These photos were taken on Saturday. Since then he had a not-wanting-to-eat Easter morning, followed by a happy-to-eat-and-life-is-good Easter night and a ravenous Monday morning.

In other words, more of the same roller coaster.

But at least once during each day he's seemed like his former happy and relaxed self. And that's all I need.

The following photos show the current extent of his jaw tumor; although the contours just don't photograph all that well.

The above is Leo's favorite petting position (if he's not on lap, which he isn't for more than a few minutes a day.) When I start to pet him, he will immediately place his front leg over my arm -- like he's trying to hold me there...sometimes falling asleep in this position or with his face cupped in my other hand.

Even with this big nasty tumor, he still likes to have his chin and neck scratched.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Day 80

Another slight downturn...yesterday Leo only ate about 3/4 of his food; so far today only half his food -- starting to feel skinny again.

The Clindamycin compounded treats no longer appeal to Leo as they have hardened into gelatinous squares and don't have much odor. So I've had to cut them into little tiny 1/8-inch chunks and mix into his food -- even so, I see him jawing hard to get them down.

Since my last post I've twice spotted a small amount of dark (as in bloody) drool dried into his fur.

The thing that's worrying me most is that he just doesn't seem himself today. He's purring when I pet him, but he just looks tired, worn.

Going back to the Hills a/d food tonight -- maybe the extra calories will perk him up. It's also a thinner consistency, which goes down easier.

Oh, just remembered I did feed him a pea-sized bit of Nutri-cal this afternoon...which previously seemed to upset him stomach when given in a large amount (even though he loves the taste of it. So maybe that's making him a bit off.

In the meantime, I came across this photo while doing computer housecleaning.

It is just soooooo Leo - before his illness he was always a mellow ball of fluff spread out all over the place. Brother Zeke played the sentinel, with a more cautious approach. Photo was taken a little less than 3 years ago, when the boys were a youthful 10 years old. Seems like much longer ago, at this point.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Day 75, or 10 Weeks Post-diagnosis

I woke up this morning to find a blood-streaked thick drool coming out the front of Leo's mouth.

Quite surprising, since he has been doing so great for the past few days.

The Clindamycin (which he started Wednesday night) has worked much better than the previous antibiotics. And he LOVES the treat form, compounded by Stokes Pharmacy in Medford, NJ.

The Hills a/d food (RX food for weight gain) was also devoured with gusto. After eating only two cans he seemed almost hefty. Since the vet office only gave us three cans, I went back to the Fancy Feast last night, which he also gobbled up quickly.

So, I guess his previous lackluster eating wasn't really tiring of the Fancy Feast(as I had thought) but rather his mouth infection.

He was acting completely like his old self -- better than he had in weeks -- I had my shoulder-massaging lap cat back.

So, I'm kind of shocked about the blood. I thought I might have seen something like this late last night when I came downstairs and petted him briefly in the dark. But I wrote it off then to the darkness.

This morning, he ate (with gusto) almost all his food right away, so his mouth can't be bothering him too much. The bleeding did not reappear after he ate. At least not so far.

The other different thing is that previously his drool was always coming out the affected (left) side of his mouth, and this bloody stuff was coming out the front. I also noticed he had a dried bloody spot on his neck fur.

The vet did tell me he could start to have bleeding. I just wish I knew the mechanics of it...where exactly the blood was coming from...Leo didn't want to me touch his mouth when I picked him up after he ate, but that could have just been that he didn't want to be picked up in the first place.

Oh well. Just another slight dip in the roller coaster ride, I guess.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Doctor visit

Leo proved today that he is not a dumb (strawberry) blonde.

He knew when he was put into his carrier that he was going to the vet, and he wailed the whole drive there. I had thought he just didn't like riding in the car, but he was completely silent on the way home -- very grateful to be going home, I think, since the last time he was at the vet was for his dental work -- the work that revealed the growth on his jaw.

Anyway, I finally got the guts to bring him in to have a vet take a look at him. Remember, Leo has not been to the vet since this tumor was found, and noone had given me a diagnosis about what caused the growth.

I specifically asked to see the senior doctor (when I made the appointment) -- and was surprised when one of the other vets came in to the exam room. Hopefully, I did not insult her when I said that I wanted to see the other doc. It probably ended up coming out wrong, but I am most comfortable with him and his years of experience (he was very reassuring when I had to put Leo's brother to sleep in November.)

Anyway, vet #1 went to get the senior vet -- he examined Leo. From his experience he believes it is either an osteosarcoma or fibrosarcoma. Did not suggest biopsy.

He indicated the same treatment for either osteosarcoma or fibrosarcoma -- continue Leo on prednisone (actually, it's prednisolone) 5 mg/day -- he says not only does this inhibit the growth of the tumor but also serves as a painkiller. And treat recurring infections with antibiotics.

Brought up Piroxicam and he said the basically does the same as pred, but pred is better for pain.

He said he doesn't think it's SCC (squamous cell carcinoma) because that usually originates in soft tissue and the inside of Leo's mouth looks good besides inflamation from infection. Plus, the tumor has grown downward and not up into his mouth.

He suggested switching Leo to a new antibiotic - Clindamycin. Since it generally comes in a liquid form (and Leo tends to spit out all liquid medication) a local pharmacy (Stokes Pharmacy in Medford, NJ) is compounding it into cat treats. Tuna flavor.

These suckers better be tasty, since a 15-day couse is costing $26. (That's on top of us just spending $10 for Baytril antibiotic on Saturday.) Vet says Clindamycin is really good at treating oral infections, and should be easier on Leo's stomach than the Clavamox or Baytril.

See, Leo's problem is that he doesn't eat great when on antibiotic, and he is on them at least half the time.

His weight today was only 9.1 pounds -- almost 2 pounds less than his old normal weight.

I also got a few cans of Hills a/d food from the vet -- a high calorie food -- hopefully the fuzzy guy will like it.

He also suggested I might want to split Leo's pred into two daily doses (since I told him that it seemed to make Leo jittery/nervous.)

Dr. said Leo was really doing very well under the circumstances!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

I'm the April Fool

I'll blame parenthood. Sometime about 9 years or so, right around the time my oldest child was born, I decided that Leo and his brother Zeke would mark their birthdays on April 1st -- figuring they were born in the beginning of April (exact date unknown) and the Fool's Day thing seemed appropriate considering how often I had made a fool of myself playing with my kitties.

So, yesterday morning my girls and I wished Leo a Happy 13th Birthday. They wanted to know how old he was in people years, so I found a few cat-years-to-people-years converters (try here or here to see for yourself) and learned that being a 13-year-old cat is like being somewhere between 69 - 72 in human years (different sites used different formulas.)

My sweet senior feline - not the April Fool...

The birthday boy didn't seem to be feeling great -- had only eaten half his food the day I decided it was time to call the vet office and get him back on antibiotics.

I mentioned that Clavamox seemed to mess up his appetite, so they gave me Baytril instead. (And after only two doses, his jaw does seem to look smaller.)

But I digress from THE APRIL FOOLS PART -- as I looked at the receipt after leaving the vet, I noted they had Leo's birth-date as 5/93. Now, I had noticed this before, and assumed the office had made a typo entering his birth-date way back in 1996 when I first moved to this area and brought my guys in for their checkups.

But, being Leo's birthday and all, I started to actually do the math...wait...I KNOW I adopted Zeke (Leo's brother) on Father's Day June 1993 -- came back for Leo the next day...and I had always said the guys were six weeks old when I adopted them.

OOOOOH, this would put their birth in the beginning of MAY, not April. But maybe I was mixed up about how old they were when I adopted them?

To make a long story shorter, I dug into my old cat files and found paperwork from when they were kittens -- Leo had a urinary track blockage mid-April 1994 -- and his age is listed on the vet bill as...11 MONTHS. Then I found another old bill that had his birthday as 5/6/93 -- which would have been a guess on my part anyway since I wasn't there to personally cut the cords or whatever, having only heard via Mom-phone that a stray cat had given birth under my grandparents shed (and the rest, as they say, is kitty history...)

Anyway, it all means that my hopes that my fuzzy guy would at least make it to his 13th birthday have not been realized -- not yet anyway.
And you'll have to wait another month for the silly-birthday-hat on the annoyed cat's head photo.

"You'll have to catch me first," says Leo.
(Photo taken today -- looking the rather youthful 12-year-old, isn't he?)