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, June 24, 2006

Five Month Mark

Yesterday marked five months since Leo's diagnosis...

Not much change since the last post -- he's not eating great, he's drooly and smelly. Occasionaly his mouth bleeds, but it doesn't seem to be causing him any pain.

Yesterday I found myself wondering if his quality of life remains. Conclusion: there is still enough there to continue on. Because he wants to eat and dives into each meal -- gives it his best shot although he never manages to eat it all. He enjoys the combing out of his matted fur and still purrs when his chin is scratched.

Pictures to follow in a day or two (and hopefully no bad news between now and then.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

21 Weeks Post Diagnosis

We were away overnight this weekend, and I figured Leo would be okay alone for 24 hours. Hoped so anyway.

I gave him his medications right before we left, and mixed antibiotic into his food - two servings in a timer dish set to open up 12 hours apart.

When we returned Sunday evening, he was waiting by the door. Both sides of the timer dish were open, but he had barely touched either.

Still, he was very happy to see us (if purring is any indication) and very eager to eat the new food I dished out.

But he is so very, very thin. With his long fur, it's hard to tell by looking, but to pet him...he is mostly skin and bone.

He just seemed off today. I think the tumor got bigger. It definitely feels lumpier; instead of being a mostly smooth lump under his jaw, it has these hard nodules sprouting out. It may just be that without any body fat I can feel the bumpiness better...


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly - 20 weeks post-diagnosis

The Good: Leo's urinary tract infection cleared up over the weekend.

The Bad: He has been eating very little the past five days. May be due to stomach upset from Baytril. Or a combination of that and the difficulty he has just getting food into his mouth.

I went to the secret weapon -- people tuna -- on Saturday when he hadn't eaten anything at all for 24 hours. At first, he only lapped up the tuna water. He kept gagging when he tried to eat the tuna itself -- appeared he had mucus drool stuck in the back of this throat. Eventually, the tuna water seemed to clear out his mouth and he ate quite a bit of the tuna itself.

Since then, he's been acting hungry (lots of meowing, and sitting in the kitchen staring at me with that look) but would eat just a little bit of each meal, then walk away to never want to touch it again.

Saturday afternoon, I bought some Salmon flavored Vita Gravy to make his cat food runnier (so he could just lick it up) and hopefully more appealing. At first, Leo lapped it up eagerly - ate about half of his meal -- but never went back to finish it and has refused the sauce (on food or plain) since.

He's also been completely refusing the high calorie a/d prescription food.

All of which adds up to a very scrawny kitty cat.

I was all ready to call the vet this morning, but (the contrarian that he is) Leo ate most of his food last night. And this morning, I fed him before giving the Baytril (although it's easier to get the medication into him if he hasn't already eaten -- since I am crushing it into food) to see if he would eat better without the med in his stomach. He ate 3/4 of the food right away.

Then I crushed the Baytril, mixed it into mayo, and had him lick it off my fingers. I believe he got enough of it into his system.

Good! No vet call necessary, not today at least.

The Ugly: family members would probably say this is Leo. There has been a lot of complaining about his smelliness. Got "Fast Bath" (a spray on - towel dry cat cleaner) and -- Surprise! -- discovered cats don't really like being sprayed with anything.

But the ugly I'm referring to is a bit more traumatic -- I was giving him his prednisolone pill in the afternoon, and I opened his mouth as usual (put my left thumb into the non-tumor side of his mouth between upper and lower jaws to gently force it open.) Pinching the pill with my right forefinger and thumb, I put it into the back of Leo's throat. Just like I've done a hundred times before. (I actually have to put my fingers into his mouth now to get the pill far back enough for him to swallow it easily.)

Either as I was putting the pill in or as as he closed his mouth, I heard a cracking sound. And noticed that Leo's jaw now looked crooked. Like his whole lower jaw was pushed slightly over to the right.

I felt sick to my stomach...thinking, "Oh my god, did I just break his jaw?" He began opening his mouth wide and closing it over and over...and then just crouched there looking somewhat dazed.

I could see that his right "fangs" were not sitting right in relation to each other -- they were rubbing against each other. When he opened his mouth, I had a rare clear view inside. Leo's tongue hanging over to the right side, as the tumor has grown upwards into his mouth so much that it pushes his tongue over to sit on the right back teeth. No wonder he hasn't been closing his mouth all the way for weeks.

To cut the drama (and if you were paying attention I did talk about him eating pretty well last night and this morning): I realized I didn't break his jaw. It may be slightly dislocated from the pilling, or maybe it was already slightly crooked earlier in the day and I just didn't notice.

It doesn't seem to be bothering him at this point (although I did catch him doing the wide mouth opening later last night, I haven't seen it this morning.)

When he eats, there are all kinds of clicking and teeth-hitting-each-other noises. It's difficult to watch as he opens his mouth wide to take in a big bite, and then most of the food falls out of his mouth before he can swallow it. I suppose because his tongue isn't in its proper position it is harder for him to use it to get the food down. Plus, when food gets into the pouch that the tumor has created on the left side of his face, he has to stop eating and rub his paw on the side of his face to push the food out.

Too sad. But he still has the will and the energy to try to keep eating and still maintains his daily routine, so I will continue to let him live his life.

But it's getting harder and harder to watch. And that's the real ugly.

Leo, as I write...this is where he spends his mornings enjoying the warmth of the sun.

His afternoon hangout

Friday, June 09, 2006

Urinary Tract Infection

Just to make life more interesting...

Wednesday evening, I realized something was up with Leo's urinary tract. He was making frequent trips to the litter box, but only managed to get a tiny amount of pee out.

He has a history of urinary problems -- including a life-threatening blockage when he was about nine months old. Spent most of his life on special cat food -- years on Hills prescription a/d food (although he had problems with the a/d dry food and then went to all wet food diet.)

So, my major concern was that he was going to be blocked again. But Wednesday evening he wasn't in any apparent pain, and at least something was coming out when he tried to go, so I figured it could wait until regular vet hours in the morning.

Even so, worry kept me from getting a decent night's sleep. I think my main fear was that there was going to be something majorly wrong with his urinary tract -- and Leo'd be there oozing bloody drool and curled into a ball (from fear of vet office) and the vet was going to tell me to put him out of his misery. Which I would do if I thought he was truly beyond help.

But my guy had been affectionate and friendly and loving all day and he still seemed to be enjoying life.

I woke up Thursday morning to find Leo in the same shape as the night before. He was happily purring as I pet him, but kept making trips down to the litter box in the basement. He also hadn't eaten much food in the past 24 hours.

But he looked rather good. Because the urinary irritation had prompted him to spend a great deal of time cleaning, Leo had no mucus goo stuck on his face. So, at least his appearance wouldn't influence the vet as far as treatment options.

Long story short (well, may not that short, knowing me...) Got him to the vet where she did a dipstick test and it showed blood, high levels of protein and infection in his urine. Since she was able to squeeze the urine out of him easily, she concluded he wasn't blocked. And Leo should go back on Baytril antibiotic -- a 10 day course.

She gave him a Baytril shot to jump-start the process.

But Leo has lost more weight -- he only weighed 8.6 pounds! I guess it's not too bad considering that the last time he was at the vet office (April) he weighed 9.1 pounds (meaning he's only lost 1/2 pound in two months of dealing with the difficulties of eating with a jaw tumor.)

But he used to weigh 11 pounds before the tumor, so it's no wonder he is looking rather worn these days.

Because he weighs less now, she told me to give him less Baytril than was previously prescribed (1/2 tablet in the morning, 1/4 tablet in the evening.)

Vet also told me that Baytril can be crushed into food -- since I have had many problems trying to give him Baytril before. She spent a fair amount of time discussing different ways to get him to take the pill, that was nice.

They even gave me extra pills in case a pill or two was destroyed/lost in the process.

What didn't occur to me until after I had left the vet office is that they didn't give Leo any subcutaneous fluids like they usually do in UTIs to flush out the system. I don't know if that was an omission or just something the vet felt he didn't need. But it's always seemed to help in the past.

Last night, I had no problem giving him the 1/4 tablet just by pilling him the usual way -- the 1/4 tab is about the size of his prednisone tablet which I can still usually get down the first time.

This morning I crushed the 1/2 tab and mixed it into a pea-sized bit of mayo, which he eagerly licked off the spoon. It took several tries to get it all into him, because he has a hard time keeping stuff from falling out of his mouth.

He doesn't seem to be journeying down to the litter box as much today, and there were a few clumps from overnight in the box that were larger (quarter-sized as opposed to yesterday's dime-sized clumps) but still he isn't going normally (normal clump would be bigger than a golf-ball) at this point.

Oh well.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Highway Robbery

My little family is vacationing in a beach house later this summer, and we are going to have to bring Leo along with us -- because even if we wanted to pay a cat sitter to come to our house twice a day to give him meds, they probably wouldn't be able to get him to take them -- it's become a difficult process as Leo's tumor has gotten larger.

I had to go to vet office to pick up Leo's prednisone refill, so I called and asked about getting Leo a medication like valium, one that would calm him down in the car ride and in strange surroundings.

The woman I spoke with said valium was way too strong for this purpose...and she would talk to the vet...

I didn't hear back and went to pick up the pred figuring they would either have something for me there or I would bring it up again in person. I asked for Leo's prescription and another pill vial was given to me along with the prednisone. No discussion of contents, just handed to me.

I see the vial is marked "Pet Calm" and I open it (as my bill is being prepared) and noticed the tablets were huge (and vial is marked give 1/2 tablet.) "No way am I going to be able to get this down my cat's throat," I say. The woman at the desk say, "Oh no -- it's a chewable -- and you can crush them up and mix them into food."

I was so preoccupied with the size of the Pet Calm that it wasn't until after I left that I realized that this is not a prescription drug, just an over-the-counter herbal pill.

And that I was charged $7.50 for three tablets.

Went online immediately and found I could get a bottle of Pet Calm at a reputable seller -- $5.59 for 50 TABLETS.

Ingredients: Calcium: 100mg, Vitamin B-6: 20mg, MAGNESIUM: 75mg,
VALERIAN 4X CONCENTRATE: 175mg, PASSION FLOWER: 175mg, Black Cohosh: 150mg, Niacinamide: 100mg, Hops: 50mg

So, I called the vet office...told her that I found it online for far less and I wanted to return the pills to the office.

She seemed surprised that it was so much cheaper online...said I could return them, but I had to do it that afternoon.

So, back to the office. I resisted the urge to complain when there...after all, the women at the desk don't set the price and they already knew I was irked from my phone conversation.

Still, can you imagine charging $7.50 for 3 pills that cost them 75 cents (the highest price I found online for 50 pills was $12) at the most?

That is so very wrong.

Unfortunately, when in the process of purchasing the Pet Calm online, I went and ordered $40 more of various vitamins and suppliments from Vitamin Shoppe! So somehow I managed to spend a lot of money in the process of trying to save a little. Oh well... (I got myself some valerian too, so hopefully both Leo and I will be quite mellow on vacation.)

Status Quo (CAUTION: Graphic Photo)

Leo has been doing very well since my last post -- at least in the sense that his behavior has been relatively normal and he appears to be pain-free.

However, the mucus-drool/bleeding has been constant and profuse. More drool than bleeding, although at least once a day the two are mixed.

My grade-school-age kids are actually afraid of him now (maybe grossed out is more accurate) even as I explain that he is still the same kitty inside, and he has an illness and can't help but drool.

It kind of breaks my heart to post photos of Leo in this state, but I want to illustrate his condition for other pet owners whose cats might be dealing with a similar oral tumor.

I find some irony in that he was always the most beautiful, gorgeous cat -- no one ever met him without commenting on his beauty. (He knew it too!)

And he gets this horrible tumor that has made him ugly in others' eyes. But I still see my same guy -- and the goo that covers not only his chin but often wets and mats his neck, chest, front legs and tail...well, it's incidental to me. Even as he smells like a used handkerchief!

Anyway, here he is this morning, just being his usual regal self and waiting for his servant (um, that would be me) to feed him.


I assure you that he is in absolutely no pain even though the drool is bloody. The camera's flash is the only reason his eyes are closed in the photo.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Crying Wolf?

I just caught Leo on the kitchen table lapping up leftover milk from a Barbie cereal bowl.

One might say that this is a good sign. (At least until the lactose gives him diarrhea.)

My last post was pretty ominous, but for whatever reason, Leo seems to have rallied again. After spending yesterday morning under the chair (and bleeding so much that it left a quarter-size spot on the rug) he didn't have any major oral bleeding yesterday afternoon or this morning -- and his chin wasn't even slime covered as it has been all week (although the drool drip remains fairly constant, but somehow it's easier when it's just dripping out the side as opposed to a permanent chin smear.)

In other words, he's looking good enough this morning for a little photo shoot....

Cleaning up after breakfast

Clean and waiting to be lavished with attention...

Just for contrast, the photo below from a few days ago shows the chin mucus-like drool goo we've had to deal with of late (but not today, so far!) Sorry for the gross nature of the photo -- it's here to inform, not to disgust.

When this drool goo happens there is nothing I can do to remove it -- he will not allow me to touch the front of his chin...heaven forbid if I try to get near his face with a tissue or paper towel.

The mucus drool smelled as bad as it looked.

And some clinical tumor photos from this morning...

I've outlined the tumor area -- you can see that it has pushed Leo's mouth off-kilter a bit. Also making it difficult for him to eat, as the food that goes into his mouth can go off to the side and get stuck in the pushed out tumor area.

It's also gotten much more challenging to pill him.

Underneath view of the big old tumor that my sweet kitty has to deal with.