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

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Week's News, in Pictures

Call me "The Blogger Who Cried Wolf." Again.

After thoroughly convincing me he was a goner all day Wednesday, Thursday found Leo back to his now-normal routine of drooling, bleeding and, ta da!, eating without vomiting.

I have no explanation for his recovery, just as I had no explanation for his malaise. (Repeat mantra: Expect the unexpected.)

So, I thought I'd share a few of his glorious moments of the past week. Be forewarned that there is blood involved.

Tuesday morning -- he had vomited repeatedly the night before.
I set out a typical kitty smorgasbord --
AKA: Please, Eat Something! Anything!
Notice his practiced nonchalance.

Wednesday morning.
Vomited, and no interest in food all morning.

Wednesday afternoon -- you can tell Leo was weak because he actually let me clean him up rather thoroughly.

Not in the tub though - that's just for lying on. No, the best I could do was painstakingly comb the goo out of his fur.

Actually, he was starting to feel better by the time I took this and I think he ate something soon afterwards. It's the best photo I've taken of him in a long time.

Thursday morning -- appearances are deceiving -- because this is Leo feeling better -- he actually ate a ton right after I took this photo.

Um, yeah, I did remove the blood clots from his mouth and chin first.

And so it goes...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Bad Sign

Yesterday, Leo seemed fine again. Sure, he made me put out a kitty smorgasbord before he would eat, but he did eat.

This morning, though, he wasn't waiting at my bedroom door as he is every morning. A bad sign. I came downstairs to find him hunched on the dining room floor. Breathing rapidly.

Maybe 30 seconds later, his sides contracted rhythmically as he made that distinctive "cat vomit" sound. (And, um, he vomited.) It looked like your basic mostly-digested food vomit - nothing weird involved.

Leo left the room as I threw some paper towels over the puddle.

I found him upstairs lying on the bedroom floor. He was stretched out and didn't seem to be feeling too bad. I laid down next to him. He wrapped his paws around my wrist as I rubbed his face. Eventually he went up onto the bed in his usual spot.

Now I have to get my kids ready for camp and clothe myself (because signing your children in while wearing a nightgown is discouraged.) I'm down and up the stairs again.

Back in the bedroom, I find Leo's now lying on the bureau under the window. And he's left a little more vomit for me on the carpet next to the bed. But he seems comfortable.

Bad Sign #2 (or was that the bedroom vomit?) is that when I return from dropping the kids off at camp, Leo doesn't pester me to eat. In fact, he doesn't set foot in the kitchen all morning. I spend most of the morning up with him in the bedroom, giving him as much attention as he wants. And crying, thinking about how this all will end.

I get the girls at noon and we do a brief bit of shopping for my lovely husband's upcoming birthday which is overshadowed in my mind by the cloudy skies of feline mortality.

Leo shows his first interest in food when we return about 1 PM. But he sniffs and quickly goes back upstairs.

I try and accomplish anything, but I keep checking on Leo and obsessing when I'm not with him. And taking lots of photos, thinking, "This may be the last time he lies on the bed, by the window, on the edge of the bathtub..." (Yeah, a new development.)

Then, a break in the doom and gloom -- he comes downstairs about 3 PM and actually eats at least 1/3 a can of Salmon Fancy Feast. And doesn't vomit it back up.

Afterwards, he's happy to have me comb out the drool-matted fur on his front legs and neck and face. He especially loves the face part, and I try and sneak the other stuff in for my own personal gratification.

I didn't give him any antibiotic today, but I did manage his prednisolone at 6 PM.

So, that's where our story ends for now. It's almost 9 PM -- a time when normally he'd be swarming around my legs and meowing in a slightly annoyed manner for food. And he's not here. I haven't checked on him for the last hour or so.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Scare

Tonight's either been a scare or a sign. We'll know soon enough which.

We were out with the kids for a bike ride. I had left Leo happily asleep on our bed.

We got back a little before 6 PM and I needed to give him his prednisolone pill. But the bed was empty and there were two half-dollar-sized spots of what looked like bloody vomit on the carpet next to the bed. When I cleaned it up I found it was brown-colored liquid with a little red blood and drool mixed in.

A search for Leo found him lying on the dining room floor. His side was moving up and down as if he was breathing very fast -- looked to me like he was scared and in pain. I went to pet him and he didn't purr and soon moved away.

He went to another spot, against a wall, and I went over to him. He purred for a second while I gently rubbed his head. The purring stopped, but he lay there with his front paws wrapped around my wrist and his eyes closed, as I continued to rub the fur between his eyes and on the top of his head.

He got up rather abruptly, meowed his "pain" meow and hissed (which he also does when something hurts.) Walked into our living room and I watched as he stopped and peed all a giant puddle on the floor.

After I cleaned the puddle, my informants told me Leo had gone down the basement and come back. I went down and found a puddle of vomit...and a litter box with a very large (and recent) poop in it. (Lovely bodily function details!) There was nothing in the litter box to indicate a bladder infection, so I'm guessing the pee accident may have been due to an urgent need to deficate (and I stopped him before that happened on the rug, at least.)

Back upstairs, Leo continued to crouch and not want to be touched. He vomited a little more - foamy vomit. The situation didn't look good. I left him alone and went upstairs to do laundry and mentally fit his euthanasia into my schedule for the next day (with much more emotion than it sounds when typed.) With dread.

But still hoping maybe it's all just stomach upset that will resolve itself.

And maybe it is. When I came back an hour or so later, he was curled tightly on a chair. But he responded to my touch and relaxed his body and wanted his face rubbed.

Then he hopped off and headed for the kitchen, acting hungry. He didn't want what I offered, but he did lap at a saucer of milk. And I felt confident enough to give him his pred pill, which is supposed to help his appetite and act as a pain killer.

He's back in the kitchen as I write this, so I'll be trying out various Fancy Feast flavors as soon as I get the kids to bed - and hopefully Leo'll get something into his system (and it will stay down.)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Six Month Mark

Today marks six months since the growth was discovered on Leo's jaw. It was January 23, 2006 when a dental x-ray showing a "gnarly-looking" (vet's words) lower left jawbone sent us off on an adventure none of us asked for.

Some might call Leo a lucky cat -- if his tumor was SCC (anecdotally, it's the most common type of feline oral cancer) he'd most likely be gone by now. Judging mostly from internet stories, many kitties with SCC only have weeks after diagnosis, or if they're lucky maybe 3 or 4 months. Although it wasn't biopsied, we think Leo's tumor is an osteosarcoma or a fibrosarcoma.

Six months later...well, sometimes I think Leo's good luck is my bad luck. Not that I don't still adore him, not that I would want him gone... but the stress of caring for him is becoming a bit overwhelming these past couple months as the drooling has gotten much worse and the eating situation more tenuous.

Leo's condition has been stable the last couple weeks. Two weeks ago, during a non-eating bout, I was praying I wouldn't have to put him to sleep on my daughter's birthday a few days later. But he rallied and has been able to carry on some semblance of normal cat life since.

But it hasn't been easy on the humans. The stinky drool is seemingly everywhere. Often nowadays it is bloody, stinky drool. I spend so much of my day lately cleaning drooled-goo off the floor, changing the towels covering his sleeping spots, changing my shirts because my cuddling Leo has slimed them, and washing my hands, oh 30 times a day at least.

Not to mention all the time coaxing Leo to eat -- he wants to eat (much more frequently than his old twice a day, because he can't eat as much at one shot) so I feel I must do everything I can to help him do so.

But he'll meow at me to feed him and then turn his nose up at what I offer him -- so I heat it up, then open another can to try a new flavor, and another can...until, as an ultimate last resort, I take a baby spoon and force some food into his mouth -- which pisses him off for about 5 seconds until he realized that, oh yeah, this tastes good, and then he will start to eat. My dog-and-pony show (Kitties! Watch your human scurry about humorously doing all sorts of tricks to get you to eat!) eventually works, at least for now.

Sometimes he seems as if he may be nauseous (crouching, closing his eyes) when he is refusing to eat. But five minutes later, he's chowing down...

But did I mention that sometimes he will eat right away? I never know what to expect. But I do know that I'm spending about an hour total per day just feeding him. And often watching him eat is a painful experience, as he stops to go up on his hind legs and vigorously rubs his front paws against the sides of his mouth to push wayward food out of the tumor part of his oral cavity. Food (and drool and blot clots) flies everywhere...

The medicating adventures continue too -- enough of the antibiotic drops seem to get into him since he's had no infections since his UTI in the beginning of June...and the pred pill seems to get down his throat eventually (my method now is to try and pill him when he's sleeping -- I have to actually put my fingers into his mouth to put the pill on is tongue and then push it as far back as I can) but I can't really tell he's actually swallowing it because the tumor inside his mouth (and the way it has pushed his tongue up and over) has blocked my view of his throat opening.

I should be editing myself (for brevity and non-whininess) but I just can't spare the time. (Oh, is that whining too?)

Some other of Leo's "different" behaviors lately -- when we're upstairs we notice he's been going in and out of our master bath. I thought he was thirsty, maybe trying to drink shower floor water or residual bath water. But I just found him lying on the shower floor yesterday and the other night he was lying on a damp bath mat. We think maybe the coolness is making him feel better -- is he having abdominal pain?

But here is why it's still not TIME: He still seems so very, very happy when I pet him, especially when I scratch the side of his face where the tumor is. We had a loud-purring-during-brushing session yesterday (although trying to pretty him up is like treading water, his fur gets all clumped and matty in a couple hours.)

Most of his day is spent stretched out in some favorite spot, gladly welcoming a scratch or a rub. He's not hiding, not avoiding, not growling, not meowing that "I'm in pain" meow -- all of which he DID do way back six months ago -- which was why I brought him to the vet in the first place.

He doesn't look like my old Leo -- my beautiful no-smell guy is gone -- until he's in my arms and he looks at me the way he always has (yeah, this sounds goofy -- but he does stare into my eyes...honestly, I'm not a weird cat lady...)

The Six-Months-Past-Diagnosis version of Leo's Look of Love -- ignore the bloody mouth -- as I have learned to do. He was purring so loud when I took this photo (A self-portrait. I'm wearing an old T-shirt I use when painting, which has now become a Leo drool-protection shirt.)

I see how much he trusts me (even after all the fingers in mouth and force-feeding and pulling dried goo off his fur.) He wants to live -- he loves life -- and I can't take that away from him until he gives up the fight.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Favorite Photo

After so many nasty photos of Leo lately, I wanted to post one of the guy I fell in love with. Well, actually the two guys I fell in love with -- one each of the human and feline varieties.

November 1993

This photo was taken when Leo was about 7 months old -- with some guy I'd been dating a couple of months giving me that intense-yet-sensitive look that no woman can resist.

Observe how that cat is draping himself all over that boyfriend! I couldn't help but trust my furry friend's approval and so I married the guy. (A cat's instincts are never wrong!)

Anyway, the way Leo was resting his head on Future Husband's shoulder is just sooooo Leo. He would just pour himself all over me or my husband -- I've heard the term "velcro" cat, and that applies to Mr. Leo. He always made you feel like he loved you more than anything, and was so comfortable being held.

When he would jump up on my lap he was never content to just sit there -- he had to put his front paws on my shoulders or chest and get his face all close to mine. (See Profile Photo.)

I use the past tense because it's not quite the same nowadays. Sometimes, yes, he is relaxed enough to stretch out all over me. But mostly, he will climb up on my torso when I'm lying down and lie down for a second...get up, turn around a couple times, lie back down again, knead for a few seconds...get up, lie down next to me...

It could be the medication or general discomfort.

But he does still enjoy attention and especially being held like a baby. (I don't think of him as my baby - let's just clarify that! He just has always liked being held that way. And when kitty makes his choice known, a good owner must go with it. )

Anyway, I just wanted to put a "happy" photo up - a reminder of why I have loved this cat (oh, and let's not forget the guy) for so long and so deeply.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Vampire Cat -- 25 weeks post diagnosis

Monday and Tuesday of last week, I woke up to a little kitty Nosferatu:

However, Leo didn't seem to be in any pain, and was eating great. I started to wonder if the moon had been full the night before...oh wait, that's the werewolf thing.

In an effort to keep my kids from getting too freaked out by the blood, I suggested we make up new names for our blood-drooling kitty. "Count Catula" was my suggestion, but the girls liked "Count Dracatula." Never underestimate the power of humor.

The bleeding slowed down by Wednesday, and overall it was one of the best weeks we've had in a long while. So much so that my attention shifted to various ways to clean Leo up -- he has dried drool stuck all over his fur, and it will not comb out easily (plus, he's tired of me constantly coming at him with the comb.)

One night, I resorted to taking his long formerly fluffy tail and dipping it into a bowl of water. The water immediately turned a cloudy tan color. Quite gross.

Then poor Leo was left with his soggy tail so heavy he couldn't lift it and he walked away with the end dragging on the floor. (Hey, maybe my kitchen floor got a little cleaner?) When the tail finally dried, it looked just like the old days - a full, fluffy plume.

The next morning the tail was all matted with drool again. So much for the cleaning experiment.

Last night, I decided to grab some blunt-tipped kid scissors and cut out some of the mats on Leo's chest. I figured it was better to have short chest hair since there was little chance of his hair ever being clean enough again to have a full mane like he used to (hence the name Leo.)

All I had to do was clip the stuck-together hair tips and then I could loosen the twisted fur closer to his skin with my fingers. It had become so matted that I really couldn't scratch his chest or pet that area through the crusty hardened drool.

He let me cut off a few mats before he decided to move along and take his fur downstairs.

Hey, things are pretty good that I'm worried about this cosmetic stuff.

This morning, he looked relatively spiffy as he waited for me to feed him.

That is, if you ignore the mats on his legs and feet.

But as he tried to start eating, the bleeding began again and he had so much drool that he gave up.

Two food flavors later, I did manage to get a little Fancy Feast into him. I think he blames whatever food I put out for his drool gagging and then has no interest in that particular variety.

Last night, as I was hovering over Leo eating (re-piling the food to make it easier for him to bite into) my youngest daughter was annoyed that I wasn't paying enough attention to her. "You love the cat more than me," she said angrily.

Tough words. She stormed out of the room and I followed. I went over to her and told her that I loved her more than any cat. She brightened and said, "And I love you more than (her 7-year-boyfriend.) At least 50% more!"

Thanks goodness the first graders are learning fractions nowadays.

Well, must go and wash a large load of drool covered towels.

Monday, July 10, 2006

24 Weeks Post Diagnosis

The adventure continues...

Yesterday evening after I returned from work, Leo was showing all signs of being hungry (as in standing in the kitchen meowing) but refused everything I put in front of him without even trying it. Room temperature, warmed -- he turned his nose at a variety of meat products, cat and baby food. I even resorted to shoving a tiny bit of baby food into his mouth, which of course just made him run away from me.

As a last resort, I pulled out the gallon of milk. I never feed him regular (cow's) milk (that whole lactose intolerance thing) but often catch him trying to drink the leftover milk in the kids' cereal bowls after they leave the table.

Poured it into a saucer -- and he began to drink. Emboldened, I then plopped a bit of baby food into the milk and Leo ate it up.

Relief that at least he'd have a little nutrition in his system for the day.

However, less than a half hour later, my husband informed me that Leo had thrown up in the upstairs hall. I was no longer relieved.

When I cleaned it up, I discovered that there was lots of mucus in the mix -- so much so that some of the mess just lifted right off the carpet.

A couple hours later, I tried again to feed him. (Again, it was at Leo's verbal request.) Again no luck with his current favorites.

With nothing to lose, I pulled out a can of Fancy Feast Whitefish + Tuna. Leo hadn't wanted to eat any fish flavors for weeks, so I had stopped offering them to him as of late.

Of course, ever the contrarian, Leo dug right in. He ate at least 2/3 of the can, which these days is cause for celebration.

This morning, the sunrise found Leo meowing outside my bedroom door. The "Feed me!" meow, which I swear he has worked on to make sound as much like "Mom" as possible.

When I opened the door, his behavior was perky (again in that "Feed me!" way of trying to corral me down the steps towards the kitchen.)

But his chin was covered in blood.

He didn't seem to notice or be in any pain. So I decided to try and feed him as usual.

Going for another fish flavor, I pulled the top off a can of Salmon Fancy Feast. Leo dug right in, even as blood dripped out of his mouth onto the plate (watery bright red blood, not mixed with drool.)

As he chowed down, the bleeding subsided. That is, if you don't count the foot-long bloody drool that slimed out the side of his mouth as he ate.

But he ate the whole can! Even if he doesn't eat another bite today, this is enough.

I'm pretty sure that last night's vomit of mucus/milk/food made Leo feel better -- got some of that mucus out of his system at least.

I have no idea where the bleeding is coming from in his mouth (it's now 11:15 AM and all his drool thus far today has been blood-tinged.) It's from somewhere in the back of his mouth on the tumor side. Nothing seems to really be hurting him when I rub the side of his face -- although I notice he is occasionally scratching the hinge area of his chin on that side.

Put Leo back on the Clindamycin drops -- he really needs an antibiotic to make sure that whatever is bleeding doesn't get infected.

I'm finding myself worn down by this whole process -- although today is much better than yesterday, to be sure. I have to keep myself from going into doom-and-gloom mode when things go bad (natural tendency to prepare yourself for the worst, I suppose)...and remember to always expect the unexpected, good or bad.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


I'm dreaming Saturday morning -- the sun is up, but I'm asleep. I dream of being tossed from a small boat, which overturns in the ocean waves. Leo is in the water (doggypaddling) in front of me. The cat can swim -- who knew? The sun shines, it's summertime and we are near the shore, so there is no panic.

Next thing I know we are out of the water, and my kitty finds himself trying to maneuver through a six-inch-deep snowfall.

Keep in mind that Leo is a 100% indoor cat. He's never been in the snow, and as far as I know he's not sneaking out for the occasional swim.

Oh, there was more, I'm sure. I'm fairly certain I dreamed of another Leo crisis last night. But I think one goofy dream is enough to illustrate my particularly disturbed state of mind.

There's a pretty obvious subconscious illustrating the continuing trials that Leo is facing. (Is the water a symbol of Leo's excessive drool? Hmm...where's Freud when you need him?)

Of course, I jinxed myself and Leo by being too positive in my last post. Probably the nanosecond that post hit the www, Leo stopped eating again.

I did manage to spoon feed him baby food yesterday, but even that wasn't acceptable to the furman this morning.

Just feeling at the end of my rope. I like an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster ride, but I'm not a fan of loops and I'm being thrown through a lot of them lately... (I could belabor the metaphor and say the floor has dropped away from me like a floorless coaster, but I'll resist ;)

Maybe it's my control-freak personality that is distressed by this uncontrollable illness. I want to break the code, to figure out how to make this journey smoother -- or perhaps even make his journey faster at this point. For it seems that Leo's happiness is equally balanced by his limitations.

But he is still experiencing happiness -- even after he barely eats this morning due to the slime pouring from his mouth, I find him stretched out on my bed. When he sees me entering the room, he rolls over and purrs. I rub his matted belly and remember how it used to be so fluffy and soft -- the softest fur your most huggable stuffed animal come to life.

Through his ordeal, I see glimmers of his former vivacious personality but it alternates with body language that seems to signal something between discomfort and defeat.

Why Leo? Why my sweet, magnificent, greatest cat ever?

It's just not fair. And I am very, very pissed.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Comeback Kitty (1 Graphic photo)

(Forgive my long and rambling post -- I'm time-deprived, so I can't edit myself.)

On Sunday, Leo had convinced me he was a goner.

That day he basically didn't eat anything. And because I had resorted to mixing his Clindamycin antibiotic "treat" into his food (since he couldn't swallow it whole) no food meant no antibiotic.

I also tried giving him non-medicated food (in case the med was putting him off) and he couldn't even bring himself to lap up any baby food -- maybe just had a small taste of cat milk, that was it. He wouldn't even eat tuna...just a few laps of the tuna water.

When he came up on my lap for petting, I could feel he was shaky on his feet -- plus he was nothing more than fur on bones.

Over the weekend, I had decided I would call the vet office Monday morning to get Clindamycin drops (instead of treats) -- but should I even bother getting his pred refilled? He had enough pills to take him through Wednesday - but if he continued his non-eating ways, Wednesday would probably be his final vet visit (if you catch my drift) and I would be left with 30 pills I had no use for.

For whatever reason, Monday morning I decided to go try Fancy Feast again -- even though all through the past week he hadn't been able to get it down. And for whatever reason, Monday morning he was able to eat it!

I don't know why it worked when he hadn't been able to manage regular cat food for days, but he was actually getting something into his system, so the why didn't matter. Maybe he finally figured how to maneuver his tongue around the growth in his mouth.

A graphic view of the tumor pushing Leo's tongue off to the side.

It's actually kinda cute when you just see his little tongue sticking out the side of his mouth. Seeing this much of the inside of his mouth (which is really only visible with flash) = not cute.

And with his renewed ability to eat, his demeanor changed -- Monday he spent most of the day approaching either me or my husband for petting. He just seemed more like his old self than he had for the entire month of June.

More Like His Old Self Monday

Since Monday, there have been a couple days when he's nearly eaten an entire can of Fancy Feast at dinner time. He's not eating a normal amount of food, but enough to sustain him. Probably a total of 1 1/3 cans of Fancy Feast per day and an afternoon treat of 1/2 to 1 jar of baby food.

Yesterday (Thursday) morning when I bent down to pet him at my bedroom door, he actually felt more substantial than a skeleton.

The Clindamycin drops are easier to administer than I expected, because it is only a half-dropper (12.5 mg) per dose. When he was on the much-hated (foaming at the mouth) Clavamox drops it was an entire-dropper each dose. The Clavamox had an objectionable-to-my-cat flavor (it smelled like banana to me - are cats supposed to like bananas?) The Clindamycin liquid doesn't have a distinct odor and from his reaction it is more an annoyance to have me squirt a liquid into his mouth than anything that puts a bad taste in his mouth.

But it's not all cheery and light. There is a lot of me jumping through hoops to get him to eat. I have to pile the cat food in a Close Encounters mound so he can get his mouth around the "peak." Which means I have to crouch by him as he eats to maintain the mound.

When Leo leaves without finishing (which is all the time) I have to take the leftovers and warm them in the microwave to get him interested again.

He will not eat the same flavor two meals in a row. He will not go back and finish old food that is left on his plate (Oh yeah, I've gone from kitty bowls to feeding him on saucers -- easier for him to maneuver for the food.)

His drool gets worse as he salivates in food anticipation, and I have to somehow wipe the strings away in between his bites -- because if it gets into the food he won't eat it (well, can't blame him for that one.)

And I'm not really a natural caregiver type, so don't confuse my dedication with some sort of natural nursing bent!

The prednisolone pill, which used to be the easiest part of his care, has become somewhat of an ordeal.

Wednesday afternoon, Leo was the happiest of cats. He was lying on his back in the sunshine, wanting me to rub his belly. "Ah, he's so relaxed," thought I. "This is the perfect time to pill him."

Wrong! I tossed the pill into his mouth, right into the worst of spots -- into the pouch created by the tumor in the back of his mouth.

Immediately, Leo began to freak out -- growling as he rolled from side to side on his back with both front legs rubbing frantically along his face to try and (unsuccessfully) get the pill out. In doing so, he dislodged a blood clot that had resided somewhere in tumorland -- the clot landed on the rug (by then Leo had jumped off his window perch and was struggling on the floor) and he began bleeding all over the legs that he was rubbing against his face.

Well, eventually the pill went down. At least I think so. Resolve removed the blood stain on the rug. And Leo forgave me, as he is so good at doing.

The next day, I was determined to have better aim when pilling him. So I made sure I aimed for his actual throat opening. And then he spit out the pill -- I hadn't thrown it in far enough.

So I went for the secret weapon -- a piller I had purchased a few weeks ago, but never used.

The evil piller

I put it into Leo's mouth and pushed the plunger. It seemed to work. He did not struggle. He went over to the bed and hopped up, looking for petting. I was happy to oblige.

As I was scratching his face, I noticed a white spot inside his mouth -- an ulceration? I looked again -- it was the pill! Evidently it had landed in a part of his mouth where he doesn't have a lot of sensation. Towards the front, partially under his tongue.

So I kept scratching his little head while simultaneously lifting it - to try and get the pill to go down. When that didn't work, I figured it would just dissolve and get into his system that way.

But I had to watch him to make sure he didn't spit it out.

Long story somewhat shorter -- 30 minutes of watching later, the pill was dissolving into a white foam, which then dripped right out of Leo's mouth onto the towel on which he was lying. Oh, he had moved twice in that time period -- from bed to chair to window seat -- and all the movement did was slide more of the medication out of his mouth.

I decided he hadn't absorbed enough to count, so a couple hours later I went back and somehow managed to get another pred pill in him the right way, the first time. No trauma whatsoever.

All this was yesterday. Last night, he came up to our bedroom and lay on the bed at our feet while we watched The Office. He doesn't visit us in the evening often (although he used to be around so frequently when we were watching 24 that I began to think he either was actually watching the show or just liked the sound of Kiefer Sutherland's voice!)

He was so contented that I almost forgot he wasn't our old normal fluffy guy.

So, although the dark and dismal slide will likely start again soon, for at least a couple days I have had my affectionate Leo back.

Sure, he's still smelly, drooly and matted, but he's purring like crazy and seems happy to be alive.

A sure sign kitty is feeling better --
Leo this morning, as he creeps along in an evil plot
to drink the leftover milk from my husband's glass.

(Um...sorry, husband -- he didn't leave any bodily fluids on your pillow, I swear.)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Vacationing with Kitty

When Leo's chin tumor was discovered more than five months ago, the only positive thought that entered my mind was, "Well, at least I won't need to hire a cat sitter when we go down the shore in June."

Turns out I was right about the sitter, but quite wrong about Leo's imminent demise.

But Leo's condition had deteriorated at the end of May to the point that I knew there was no way I could leave him in another's care. We were going to have to bring him with us -- even though the rental house's lease had a "no pets" clause.

As the departure date neared, I found my sleep interrupted with worries about how Leo would adjust to his first stay away from home in the 11 years we had lived in our current house. Would he be so fearful of the car ride and the new surroundings that the stress would worsen his health? Would he meow so loudly at night that he would keep my children and my brother's family awake? Would one of the five young children staying with us accidentally let him out of the bedroom where we would be confining him? Would Leo keep me or my husband awake by walking all over our heads (or drooling on them) in the middle of the night? (At home he isn't allowed in our bedroom when we're sleeping.)

And the big one: would someone see Leo through a window (or hear him) and call the rental agency causing my parents to lose their sizable security deposit...or worse, be evicted.

Well...the short answer is that I have a very, very good cat.

The long answer:

We prepared for the trip by buying a new litter box, a smaller carrier (so I could have Leo on my lap in the car), and an herbal concoction called "Pet Calm" to reduce trauma during the 75-minute ride. Lots and lots of towels were packed to protect the room where Leo would be spending the next 10 days.

The morning we were set to leave (about 4 AM) our sleep was interrupted by the sound of Leo retching outside our bedroom door. I rolled over and hoped it was just a hairball. When I got up a few hours later I instead found two large pools of vomited food (and no fur.)

Add "vomiting" to my list of fears for the beach house.

About an hour before we were scheduled to leave, I crushed up 1/2 tablet of Pet Calm, mixed it with mayo, but Leo refused it. And after the vomiting earlier that day, I wasn't about to push it on him, and I just gave up on the whole idea.

Even unherbalized, Leo ended up being a champ in the car. He wailed as usual for the first few minutes - pretty much until after we passed the vet office. Then he quieted down for the rest of the ride, with just the occasional cry during stops/starts and when we were travelling over 60 mph.

There was one bad moment when he starting panting in fear, but I think it was because my 6-year-old was being very loud in the backseat and he is scared of her (wasn't when he was well, but he can't tolerate her volume at this point.)

We arrived at the rented shore house (that doesn't allow pets) and snuck him in with a sheet over the carrier. Now, normally I would never ever disobey a rental agreement, but I was sure that Leo would not survive if we left him behind in another's care. I medicate him three times a day and it is not easy to get the meds into him.

And we were very careful to protect the property -- towels everywhere...and the owners already had our bed's mattress encased in plastic -- didn't make for the most comfortable night's sleep, but it meant I didn't have to worry about drool somehow getting through our layers of towels into the mattress.

Leo was not the least bit nervous when released from the carrier into the bedroom. Of course, he insisted on checking out every corner of the room (and closet) but then settled in. In fact, he was very happy and purred loudly once he deemed the property safe. When a car ride usually just brings you to the vet, anyplace else is greatly appreciated!

He did scare me by not using the new litter box until the middle of the first night. Leo's a very polite cat who would never go out of box unless dealing with a UTI, but still...I was getting nervous when he kept jumping out every time I placed him in the box. I suppose he had to decide on his own when the time was right to christen it.

Oh, and he didn't vomit again. Thankfully.

He did try to escape the bedroom a few times the first couple days, but the house luckily had this unusual situation of a door at the top of the stairs. (I suppose at one point the rooms on the top floor had been rented out separately or housed a family member who really valued privacy!) So when Leo did get out, he couldn't get far.

The first few days he slept under our bed, but then we rigged up a cardboard box perch under a window with a nice padding of towels that became his bed. Either way, he was quiet and left us alone during the night. I suspect if it had just been me alone he would have been next to me drooling on my pillow. Leo used to nap with me when he was a young kitty. To this day (at home) Leo will sneak up to visit me in the bedroom at nighttime if my husband happens to go downstairs to get a drink or a snack...his little furry head will push open the door and he will leap up on my side of the bed and deposit himself on my torso. As soon as my husband returns, Leo jumps off and runs out the door.

Not that he doesn't love my husband too. Just not that way.

But I digress...

So none of my fears turned out to be founded.

Another helpful hint: We kept a container of handi-wipes in our room -- Leo's drool leaves a nasty smell on one's hands and we were sharing a bathroom with three other bedrooms so we couldn't always get to the bathroom to wash up (plus every coming and going out of the room had to be carefully orchestrated so Leo wouldn't get out.)

We brought Leo home before we left the rental house for good (we all slept at home and humans drove back the next day) so we could thoroughly clean the rental bedroom without him in it -- and probably left the place in better condition than we found it.

The ride home went even better than the ride out -- he only meowed a couple times when we first set off. He seemed somewhat happy to be back home (had to do a cursory walk-through to check out all the rooms when we returned.)

Even though thing went better than expected, there were negatives -- We had to keep the windows closed so as not to give away Leo's presence to the neighbors. We did end up cracking the windows and raising the blinds a few inches so he could peek out. I felt rather awful for not giving him something more interesting to see, since looking outside is one of the few joys he has left at this point.

And his general condition deteriorated during 8 days he was away from home, due to eating problems. He would take a mouthful of Fancy Feast and most of it would fall out of his mouth before he could swallow. So he soon gave up on anything except (human) baby food, which he can lick up.

I tried CatSure (like Ensure for kitties, I guess) a liquid meal substitute -- Leo liked it at first, and then one time his mouth was bleeding and the blood went into the liquid -- and he turned his nose up at it every time I presented him with it afterwards (and the stuff costs like $7 a can!) But he does still drink Whiskas Cat Milk.

I also couldn't get him to eat his Clindamycin compounded treats (it kept falling out of his mouth, even when I broke it in half and mushed it flatter.) So, I mixed it into the baby food, and that generally worked. I figured he was getting at least half the dosage, and with his weight down so much that is probably enough. He hasn't had an oral infection return anyway.

When pred pilling him (which doesn't work great at this point) I can see that his throat opening is getting smaller.)

He was also drinking a frightening amount of water (for a cat.) Especially when we first arrived, so maybe it was a result of the panting. I left a bowl of water and he drank an inch worth's at one shot. I suspect he may have a kidney problem (whether or not caused by all the medication he's been on for the past five months, I don't know...) But at this point, with the tumor as progressed as it is, it is not worth worrying about.

We did end up bringing him home a day earlier than planned. In part because he wasn't looking so hot, but it was just as much that the whole situation was stressing me out. I felt that I couldn't give him enough attention with all the other demands on my time (some of those "demands" were fun activities, and other times it was just that I really had to keep more of an eye on my kids than I would if they were safely occupied in our own home.)

Oh, a skinny furry guy has just come to visit me with a "It's dinnertime" meow.

I hope I can actually get him to eat something tonight, since he wouldn't eat any of his morning baby food -- I think he initially gagged on his mucus drool and then blamed it on the food. Later, I force fed him a little bit on a spoon, which inspired him to eat more on his own -- but only a little bit more.

Soon after, he purred his loudest purr as I was rubbing his head and face. So I have to accept that he will eat what and when he wants to eat at this point.

Um, Leo just put his front paws on my lap to get me off this laptop. The master calls, and it's time to go...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

22 1/2 Weeks Update - Graphic Photo

A few days ago, we brought Leo back from his first trip away from home in the 11 years he has lived in our current house. I'll cover that whole extravaganza in a more extensive post soon.

In the meantime, here are photos taken a few days ago, when we were still in the vacation house.

Here is our hero, wondering why I'm taking pictures of him instead of scratching his head.

Since the tumor has grown upwards into his mouth (in the beginning, it only grew out and down) it has pushed his tongue over to the side.

He cannot comfortably close his mouth at this point, so we are seeing more of his "fangs" in the past few weeks than we have seen the entire 13 years of his life.

Regarding slime-mucus-drool: this is actually better than he usually looks in that regard. More often it is all over the front and left side of his chin, as well as hanging down in strings. I've become rather immune to the gross factor, but I do try to remove it as much as possible. However, it clings to his fur like you wouldn't believe.

This is the best (maybe "clearest" is a better word than "best") photo I have been able to take of the inside his mouth. By the way, he is not uncomfortable with the way I am holding his mouth -- I would never do anything that bugged Leo for the sake of a photo.

And now I'm going to list a bunch of terms in case anyone is doing a search on them: Squamous cell carcinoma, SCC, feline osteosarcoma, cat jaw tumor, fibrosarcoma. The whole idea of putting these graphic photos up is for other cat owners who are dealing with the same thing to see. I have done a lot of searches and have only found a couple of photos I could relate to Leo's condition.

I will post in more detail later, but his condition is continuing to deteriorate to the point where I find myself wondering if I am doing the right thing for him. He just came over to meow at me -- sounds like his "I want attention" meow, so I will rush through the rest of this without consideration for proper writing form.

The first photo above is really a best-case photo -- I couldn't bring myself to put something up from the times when his fur is all damp and matted (as it is at this present moment) from his grooming attempts (when he cleans himself it spreads the thick drool all over and his fur mats itself to his skeletal frame.)

I must have been combing out the mats too vigorously a few days ago -- he used to love it but recently has gotten up and walked away every time I've tried to unmat his long tail fur and lift the matted fur off his paws.

So much trouble getting food into him now. It seems the only thing he can manage most days is (human) baby food -- meat varities.

But he's not acting like he wants to leave this world. And so I must assume that the time has not come to let him go.