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 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...

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