Remember I’d said in September how depressed poor old Foster Cat was at having to be an indoor cat? And how much he perked up at finally getting outside?
Well, the same day I noticed that his breathing was noisy and his purr was a bit ‘off’. We’ve been no stranger to Foster Cat’s strange vocalisations: when he came to us, he didn’t miaow – it was soundless, like a mime artist. He barely made any noise except for purring. Except when he had to go to the vet – then he’d make enough noise! We put the funny noises down to him maybe being over the moon at getting outdoors and thought nothing more, especially as his appetite had come back.
The next day, the funny breathing was still there, but otherwise he was a happy, active, normal Foster Cat.
Maybe 3 days later, although he still wanted out, he didn’t really want to explore or do much active. He was also sneezing a bit. When we took over his care, we’d gotten his annual injections back up to speed, so I’ve never seen him poorly or sniffly. Did cats catch colds and flu?
The day after that, though, when he went out he just sat down on the step. He didn’t mind if I picked him up and carried him indoors. His breathing was noisy all the time, not just when he was purring. He was definitely lethargic. I was definitely unhappy and watched him closely all day, willing the hours to pass quickly till it was Monday again and the vets would be open (I didn’t know about emergency vets… duh).
The next day was Monday. When he breathed that morning, I could see his tummy flaring below his ribs. Stop. Put everything else on hold. Straight to Yellow Pages and find a vet immediately. Luckily there was one in the next town, who saw him that afternoon. She wasn’t happy with his breathing either, and asked for him to come back the next day for a chest x-ray. She gave him steroid and diuretic injections in the meantime and told me to starve him because he’d need an anaesthetic for the x-ray.
Next morning (1 October) I took my now-hungry big boy to the vet for his x-ray. Overnight I’d wondered if the 3 engorged ticks we’d found on him 3 weeks ago – obviously a leaving present from the woods near our old house! – had given him a tick-borne infection? I asked if he could have his bloods checked. I was told to call back around 1pm.
The vet rang at 10.30am. It wasn’t good. She’d found a large mass in his throat when she’d tried to intubate him. The x-ray showed ‘suspicious little nodules’ in his lungs. The upshot was that he was too old and too ill for any operations; we could try and buy him a little time (days or maybe a few weeks) with steroids; or because he was still under anaesthetic she could euthanize him immediately. I surprised myself by bursting into tears. I’m not an animal lover (except flash-fried in a ginger and garlic-based sauce). Why was I breaking my heart over him? No way was he dying alone – he was coming home first to say goodbye. Oh hell, how was I going to tell the minxes? And I had the small matter of Foster Cat’s main staff (my little brother and his children) to tell first. The vet wasn’t too happy about letting him come home right away and kept hold of him till evening.
When we got him home, he wasn’t a happy cat at all. Neither was I – I was still tearful. I am never tearful. In general I am often angry but rarely upset. I think the old boy recognized this, because he spent the night cuddled up on a blanket I put beside my bed or right beside me on the bed. Now, he loves snuggling up beside Mini Minx, in a guarding, protective kind of way, and sometimes the other 2 if Mini pushes him away. But he’s never shown any interest in snuggling in my bed. We shared quite a moment that night.
Next morning, he was still depressed and unhappy, and the girls started the first of many painted portraits of him. Maxi in particular found it easier to express how she felt by painting than by trying to articulate her feelings in words. I’d sat the girls down after school and just told them simply that the vet had seen Foster Cat again, that he was very, very ill, and very old, and that he was going to die soon but not today. Maxi burst into immediate tears but the other 2 didn’t really process it right away.
Over the next few weeks, Foster Cat started a series of steroid injections. The first ‘big’ one turned him into a kitten again; he decided to attack the tree again… I opened the back door to let him out and he pelted hell for leather at the big sycamore tree. With a powerful pounce, he sprang at the trunk about halfway up, elegantly spreading his legs to catch the bark with 4 sets of claws. He hit the trunk. He suffered claw-failure. He slid cartoon-like down the trunk. I doubled over laughing. He prinked off aloofly, almost muttering, “You never saw nuffink; I wasn’t here”.
He’d lost so much weight that we decided to feed Mr Suddenly Very Hungry All The Time kitten food. We reasoned that if his throat was constricted, then it made sense to give him food with tinier chunks and to jam-pack it with calories. And with a prognosis of at best a few weeks left, we stopped stinting on the treats! He suddenly became one pampered feline: the odd bowl of warm milk, little bits of raw chicken when I was cooking it, little crunchie treats at bedtime… After a month, he’d regained most of his weight and was looking better, more alert, and far happier than he’d been in months, so long as I kept a close eye on him and got him an injection quickly as the previous one wore off: a lovely Indian Summer for him!