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

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Turning Kitty into a Junkie

I just picked up a pain medication for Leo from the vet office. Torbutrol - 1 mg pills.

Can't believe they charged me $18.76 for a week's supply. Upon this realization, I said to the desk-person (in my nicest, most non-confrontational voice) "Wow - that's a lot for only a week's worth. I can't believe I'm going to have to come back here once a week..."

Plus, I had to ask her a ton of questions (which she really didn't have the answer for) because no one had discussed this med with me. I had just gotten a call yesterday at dinnertime saying there was pain med ready for me to pick up.

Suppose I should backtrack to make this make sense:

I had called the vet office yesterday to get Leo's other RXs refilled. I had asked about something to help his mouth pain while eating, but when I came in to pick up the med my request was misunderstood to mean, "What's best to feed him?" To which the answer was "Soft foods." Duh.

So, I told the woman at the desk yesterday that I was asking about pain med and that Leo "didn't have much longer." (In the hopes that sounding ominous would get some action.)

Sooooo....maybe that's why they only gave me a week's worth?

I also picked up some more a/d (high calorie) pet food from the vet. Leo actually ate a decent amount of it (nearly an entire 5.5 oz can) yesterday. It's more finely ground and seems to go down easier. He has these phases of liking and not liking stuff, and in July when I gave him the a/d he vomited. So, I hadn't tried it since then.

He seemed to be a little more like normal last night, hanging out on the back of the couch as I watched a DVD with the kids.

Anyway, back to present tense. It's been about 30 minutes since I forced the little Torbutrol pain pill down Leo's throat. He's sitting near me on the floor. Not sleeping, but looking moderately relaxed.

I'm less than thrilled with my vet office. If only that the process of asking questions via the front desk seems to lose so much in the translation. It would be SO much easier if a vet would have actually phoned me to discuss meds. There are a number of viable pain control options, and I really don't know why this one was chosen. And the kind woman at the desk didn't have much info to impart.

Yes, I suppose a more assertive person would have already insisted to speak personally to a vet.

But I guess I'm overwhelmed -- not only by Leo's care but also day-to-day life. Like, my daughter's upcoming birthday and two parties to organize as a result. The washing machine is broken. School is starting almost two weeks later than usual (September 19th!) and as much as I love my children -- and they are wonderful beings -- we all need a break from 24/7 of each other.

Just went over to pet Leo. He doesn't seem the least bit drugged up (considering he got the smallest dose possible, I 'm not too surprised.) Followed me into the kitchen and he's currently eating his leftover breakfast food.

Wow -- good sign!

Okay, must go and start thinking about lunch for the humans in residence.

Monday, August 28, 2006

31 Weeks Post-diagnosis

In the past week, I've found myself pondering the definition of "suffering."

As in, how much does Leo need to suffer before it is cruel for me to let this continue?

And I am ANGRY -- my sweet, loving, well-behaved and spectacular cat did nothing to deserve this fate. He was never less than the coolest cat I'd ever known.

I pretty much lost it the other weekend. The stress of the time-consuming caring for Leo coupled with seven months of constant worry about his condition made me snap. Emotions were unleashed with a fury. I suppose I felt better afterwards, in a cathartic kind of way (although I can't say the same for the other members of my family.)

But the question remains -- am I am doing all this for Leo, or to save myself the guilt of an euthanasia decision?

During the past week or so, he has been acting as if he is not getting enough food into his system to satisfy his hunger. Even though there is always something out for him to eat. (I've thrown enough uneaten cat food down the drain in the past couple months to feed a small nation of felines.)

Instead of disappearing after his breakfast (an ordeal that takes up the good part of an hour) Leo has been hanging in the kitchen all morning (and sometimes into the afternoon) with that "feed me" look.

When he does wander off and lie down somewhere, I find him with eyes half-open...and he jumps up as soon as he sees me.

The problem is that he's not actually ingesting a significant quantity when he does eat - food falls out of his mouth without being swallowed during his pawing-at-his-face routine.

Although he starts out enthusiastically, he usually gives up after eating 1/4 to 1/2 of a tiny 3-oz can.

He has a hard time lapping up things too, so that doesn't make liquid nutrition much better of an option (although I did water down some Iams this afternoon, and that kept him off my back for at least an hour.)

He's drinking a ton of water during mealtime (I think he's using it to rinse out the food off his tumor area.)

On the positive side, he seems bright eyed and (literally) bushy tailed. He doesn't appear weakened and his only meowing is when I'm taking the milk out of the frig or feeding the kids something he'd like a bit of.

I take that back -- he just came into the room and announced himself with a low "I'm here so why aren't you attending to my needs?" mew.

My guess is that the tumor inside his mouth has grown (in the back where I can't see it) and in addition to the food irritating the tumor surface, it's making it harder for the food to actually get down his throat. Whether he'll figure out a way around this eventually (as he seems to have done in June) ...well...I'll just have to wait and see.

Or -- is all this just that I've been giving him milk off and on and he's hanging around trying to score some more?

His mouth also started bleeding a lot (drips of fresh blood) last night and this morning. And then it stopped just as suddenly. Leo's not expressing any pain through his facial expressions or body language when this is happening. (Mostly he's just expressing hunger.)

I wonder if it is cruel for me to allow him to be constantly hungry?

Is his hunger a suffering that warrants euthanasia?

But then I pick him up and he purrs loudly and rubs his face on my hands for me to scratch him in all the right spots.

He doesn't look like he's ready to give up. He seems energetic and he prances alongside me (and underfoot) as I walk around. He lies down and looks at me with the "Pet me" look (distinctly different from the "Feed Me!" look, btw.)

He's ragged, smelly, and skeleton-skinny. But his spirit rages on. What a guy.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cleanliness Is Next to Fluffiness

Post-bathing photos from Tuesday - AKA The Return of the Fluffy Tail.

Tail's still a bit damp, but definitely plume-ish.

His nose is wet, but otherwise Leo's looking pretty good.

A little later -- his face is dry, but the drool is back.

This is Leo's "Quit the pictures and give me milk already!" look.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Seven-Month Mark

Today is seven months since Leo's jaw tumor was discovered.

Since my last post, we've been having some eating issues, but I'm not sure if it's because his tumor got a little bigger or that I made the mistake of giving him milk one day and that's all he wants now.

He's been eating less of his food each meal - maybe 1/2 to 2/3 of the little Fancy Feast can. Plus he still has this finicky thing where I can't feed him the same flavor two meals in a row. And he currently hates his old favorite, Salmon.

But the good news: Leo is now tolerating having his face and front legs washed. I gave him milk one day after doing so, and now he is sitting through it without fighting because he wants the treat.

This is somewhat major, at least aesthetically, as it means I can actually pet him without feeling stiff, sticky fur where fluffy used to be.

He's been letting me wipe off his face after every meal (that I don't reward, and he actually purrs during this) and I washed his front legs three days in a row. His little heart is no longer racing when his leg (I do one at a time) is in the water. I also did his tail two days in a row and it was back to its full plume glory (albeit with a little bit of stuck-together on the ends.)

The legs and tail-washing do earn him a little saucer of milk. So far he hasn't had any lactose intolerance issues to make this a problem. I don't think he can actually get all that much into him anyway, since his tongue sticks out the side his lapping is hampered. (But he doesn't seem to mind.)

For anyone considering washing their unhappy-with-water cats -- here's my patented method. For the face I use a paper towel (Bounty, if that matters!) warm water and just a drop of liquid soap. Squeeze out all water until it's just damp. I can't think of a great way to describe this, but I fold the p.t. into my hand so it's not like a giant wet thing is coming out him. Just enough to go underneath a couple fingers...which I then stoke across his face. I start at his whiskers and wipe in the direction away from his nose. Then I rinse off the paper towel, or get a fresh one that I use just water on.

I used to avoid his whiskers, until I wondered if the reason he was being finicky was that there was old dried food in his whiskers. Once I tried wiping there, I found he actually liked it.

Needless to say, you want to stay away from the eyes..

For his legs, I fill up a plastic container (large takeout Chinese soup size) with warm water and dish detergent. Stick one leg in at a time and use my hand to wash up and down his leg and between his toes.

Yes, it's all a giant pain in the butt. But better than seeing kitty covered in goo and fossilizing cat food.

Leo would not tolerate any of this in the beginning. It's making me realize you can train a cat.

Still, you can't get near him with a dry tissue or paper towel. He runs in the opposite direction.

He has been behaving very badly as far as jumping on counters to try and get to people food. Probably always did this stuff at night when no one was around, but now he is getting bolder.

I took photos of the mostly-clean Leo to post, but time restrictions deem they will appear here another day.

Monday, August 14, 2006

29 Weeks Post Diagnosis

From the reaction I've gotten off-blog, I pretty much grossed everyone out with the photos in my last post.

Sorry about that.

Here's a nicer photo from this afternoon to make up for the last ones.

There have been questions as to whether he is suffering and the severity of the bleeding.

I don't believe the bleeding causes him any pain. It comes and goes - sometimes mixed in with the drool or a clot comes out of his mouth. Less often, fresh blood drips out of his mouth, but usually only a couple drops at any given time.

I can't tell where the blood is coming from in his mouth. It may be coming up from his jaw through his gum-line.

His antibiotic (Clindamycin) is specifically indicated for treating wounds, abscesses and dental infections - so whatever is bleeding should not get infected.

Honestly, if I thought he had no quality of life, I would have him euthanized. As much as I'm dreading that, and hoping that the decision will be taken out of my hands...I will not let him suffer.

It is said that cats are very good at hiding their pain, so as not to let their weakness show to predators (in our house, that would be the kids.) But I know Leo's body language (and meow language) very well. He would definitely let me know if there was anything significant bothering him.

At this point, it's all about Leo, because, truly, the trial of taking care of him outweighs the joy he still is able to bring to my life.

But he does still bring joy to my life. Even though his new nickname is, "Mr. Stinky."

Last night when I came home from work, Leo did not appear by the door as he usually does. I was a little concerned, but sometimes he's sleeping and he doesn't make it down right away.

A few minutes later he appeared. Instead of coming over to greet me as usual, he headed in the other direction.

I assumed he wanted me to follow, as he usually does this when he's trying to lead me somewhere. But instead, he just walked a circle through the downstairs rooms. It was glaringly apparent that he was trying to get away from me (albeit with a casual air, in order to maintain his feline "cool.")

This was a first. But who can blame him? Especially when my next order of business was putting a big plastic tube with a pill down his throat.

He did seem to forgive me eventually, but I told my husband that I felt like I was torturing Leo and I was just going to give up on the washing except for once a week or so.

Cut to this morning: Since I hadn't cleaned Leo up at all last night, his face and front leg fur were completely stiff and covered with gook.

So, I went back on my no-washing vow and dunked his front legs after he ate his breakfast.

He was quite unhappy with the process, but when I went to towel his legs off, he actually started to purr.

The rest of the morning he wanted an uncharacteristic amount of attention, most of which seemed directed at getting me to feed him more.

I gave him a saucer of milk (now every time I take the milk out for the kids Leo thinks he's getting some) although he doesn't seem to really be able to lap it up anymore.

He kept swarming the kitchen, so I ended up opening another can of Fancy Feast. He didn't eat all that much, but it seemed to satisfy him enough that he went off to lie on my bed.

Still, he jumped off to greet me when I came upstairs later...let me comb him a bit and seemed happy about the procedure. Then it was off to the window seat (and the photo above.)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

In the "Worth a Thousand Words" Category (CAUTION: gross photos)

Here are some photos of the mess that Leo's eating creates. Mostly on him.

The slimey, bloody mucus-drool gets much worse when he's eating. It drips on his paws, mixing in with the food that falls out of his mouth. He rubs his paws on his face during eating...and when he's done, he grinds the mess in even further as he uses his legs to "clean" his face.

(I had a little slideshow, but it doesn't seem to work here on blogger - drat! Now you'll just have to deal with the photos individually)

Hopefully this shows how Leo has to stop constantly during eating and rub his face with his paws. (I believe it's because food gets onto the tumor in his mouth and that is irritating to him.)

The last photo also shows (kinda) how I have to constantly push his food into a mound while he eats. Otherwise, he can't get any into his mouth far enough for him to swallow.

I've taken to putting his front legs into mildly soapy water as soon as he finishes eating (before he can "clean" himself.) Theoretically, he will then be wiping less slime on his face.

Needless to say, he loves (she says, dripping with sarcasm) this process. Usually it ends up with one of us growling at the other.

I was hoping to do it only once a week or so, but lately it's been every other day. Otherwise, food and slime get ground into his leg fur and form stinky little rotting food lumps that are very hard to remove.

The evil plastic instrument of my cat torture, with it's post-washing dirty water inside.

Post-cleaning (mine and his) -- Leo's wet, but definitely less slimey. He always seems to forgive me...eventually.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

More Favorite Old Photos

Leo's condition hasn't changed since the last post - more than a week without any sort of crisis or major distress (besides the ongoing distress of medicating him three-times-a-day and my very-much-against-his-will dunking of Leo's front legs and tail into soapy water to temporarily ungunk him.)

Anyway, without any upheaval to distract me, I managed to scan a few old photos that hold special meaning for me.

Just a little more than Ten Years Ago...

1996 - Three-year-old Zeke and Leo observe the strange creature that entered the house a week earlier.

Leo, a mere three-years-old himself, goes is for a closer look.

A Few Years Later...

1999 - Six-year-old Leo sniffs two-day-old S.

More than anything, these photos demonstrate the difference between first and second children.

The first child is isolated from the cats until she's a week old.

You let the cats meet the second child the day she's home from the hospital. On the floor, no less.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Holding Position at 27 1/2 Weeks

The adventure continues...

Sometime between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning, Leo threw up again. (The time-line uncertainty is due to the fact that the large puddle of regurgitated food was in the basement and not discovered until Monday midday.)

Leo's meds are just about out, so when I called the vet office this morning for the refill, I asked if there was anything that could be done about his excessive mucus drool.

Of course not. I should have known. I'm part of a feline cancer group...if there was anything available someone on that list would have been aware of it, I'm sure.

I think I've started to drive Leo nuts with trying to un-goo him. Probably spent an hour yesterday removing stuff from his fur. I had to cut his chest fur (formerly long and fluffy transformed into giant mats) because there was no way to get a comb or even my fingers into it.

He seems to like the grooming at first, and then get annoyed. So, between that and the medicating, he's started to run away from me when I approach him. Which bums me out terribly.

Oh, I also dunked his front legs into soapy water yesterday to uncake them (where he gets not only mucus drool but food ground in, as he rubs his paws across his face when he's eating.) And then tried to comb out the loosened pieces of food/mucus drool/dried blood.

So, he may have a good reason to avoid me, but it's disheartening when I'm just coming over to say hello. He does relax once he realizes I'm only going to scratch him and rub his head.

But it's so hard to resist pulling whatever out of his fur at the same time. And if I let the stuff stay there the matting gets worse and worse.

So, in the vein of a picture being worth a thousand words...

The masked kitty -- Kitty Libre!

This is what my guy looks like after eating. He does all the right cat cleaning-up-after-dinner things -- licking the side of his front legs and wiping them across his face. But in his current condition, it just rubs sticky slime on his face.

Half an hour later, his face is nearly dry. Then it's up to me to comb the stiffness out of his facial hair. He does like that, at least. Oh, if you look behind Leo you can see his splattered bloody drool on the baseboard. I clean this stuff up all day long...

This is actually the face of a happy cat -- and front legs AFTER being washed just a couple hours earlier. It is the definition of a losing battle.

After I took the photos we continued to have a nice little bonding session. I lay down on the floor and gently loosened up the fur between his front toes. He never let me touch his paws before this illness, so it must feel good. Then I just held his little paw in my fingers and we both started to fall asleep. (Aaaaw...)

Looking at him right now (he's lying on the dining room floor and didn't run away when I just went over to scratch his head) the fur on his one leg is completely matted down again. But overall, he looks pretty cute. (I'm to the point where I don't see the drool anymore.)

So I jump up to take photos. He actually rolled onto his side and posed for this one! He's always seemed to like having his picture taken. Or maybe he's just immune to the process after having me as his human for 13 years.