Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The melodrama of special-needs cats

We rescue special-needs cats. It's a thing we do. Cats, in general, can be full of surprises... and I don't just mean the hairballs they leave on the floor beside the bed while you sleep.

Melody has cerebellar hypoplasia, which is similar to cerebral palsy in humans. Otherwise, she's very healthy.

Ban Lu was our attempt at hospicing a terminally ill cat, diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal tumors. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that he is actually cancer-free, and will stay cancer-free for awhile longer if we control his IBS, which we do by boiling and pureeing two whole chickens a week.

(Pureed whole chickens are actually cheaper per pound than cheap store-brand cat food, but cost a lot more in time, energy, and stress on the food processor.)

Riley is our hyperthyroid, hyperactive cat. She eats a lot, poops and pees a lot, and hardly ever sleeps. (By cat standards, that is.) She's been having digestive troubles lately, which has led to behavior problems. She poops in my houseplants, and she has started a war with Ban Lu. Ban Lu, unfortunately, is a vengeful cat, and when she crosses him, he retaliates tenfold.

So today I brought Riley to the vet. I was afraid of two things: 1) that they'd tell me her hyperthyroid pills were no longer working and we'd have to get her the super-expensive radioactive iodine treatment. The problem with radioactive iodine, aside from being expensive itself, is that it produces a temporarily radioactive cat. We'd have to have the vet quarantine her for up to a month until the iodine leaves her system. And pet boarding ain't cheap. 2) That she has diabetes and we'd have to give her insulin shots for the rest of her life.

She's only 5 years old.

The diabetes fear came about from the enormous frequency with which she uses her litter box, and the amount of water she drinks, and also the fact that she's lost a LOT of weight this year.

I love my vet. She's so straightforward. She quickly assured me that Riley neither had diabetes nor needed radioactive iodine.

Nope. It's much more likely that Riley has a kidney disorder and IBS.


Riley is now on Ban Lu's strict diet of pureed whole chickens and prednisone. She is also probably at risk of developing intestinal tumors. Hyperthyroidism, IBS, and kidney problems are a triple whammy that commonly occur together and indicate an autoimmune disorder.

Did I mention she's only 5?

The bright spot in all this is that, in spite of the grief Riley has caused me with her plant-pooping and her catfighting, she's still as gentle and affectionate as ever around her people. She's still Cloud's special kitty. We don't regret getting her, although we may get some gray hairs because of her.

My husband was reading about a woman who wanted a therapy cat to reduce her panic attacks, and he and I just looked at each other, thought of Riley, and burst out laughing.


Oh! Barely related story - but a cute one. Ban Lu is a big cat, you know. He's only 13 pounds, but he's very, very tall. He can rub his cheek against my hand when I'm just standing there. Enormous cat - people ask if he's part ocelot or something, and I have to say, "Nope, he's just a domestic shorthair."

So, Cloud and I were walking by the pet store (we shall momentarily overlook my moral objections to pet stores that still sell dogs) and we saw a husky puppy in the window.

"Cat," Cloud said, pointing to it.

"No," I corrected him, "it's a dog."

"Cat," he insisted.

"It's a dog with cat ears," I said.

"Cat," he insisted.





As I watched the little gigantic husky puppy jump around in its glass cage, I realized that it couldn't have been any bigger than Ban Lu. Shrink the dog's head, lengthen the legs, and the two animals would look very similar. It is not outside Cloud's world experience for a cat to be that big.

Next week, the puppy will probably have outgrown Ban Lu and convinced Cloud that it is a dog after all. But for now, Ban Lu will continue to tower over the shih tsu puppies and give the husky puppies a run for their money.


  1. I am sitting her in awe of you and your cat care! Listen I had two special needs cats for years and years- and it isn't easy. Even today, I remember the work of them, the insanity of my life and, strangely I don't regret them. The Grinch had IBS and litter box trauma and for 10 years he never, ever pooped in a litter box. Never. ( How I lived with that is still a mystery! I am a clean freak and just had my own patented clean up system that kept the smell completely out of the house). He ended up with this weird psychological thing that had him ripping his hair out and clawing at his own face and belly. Poor kitty.
    Then we had Stella. She was white and deaf and huge (we used to say,
    "14 pounds of shambling cat just walked thru). At the end of her life she had IBS, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, and a viral eye infection that made her eyes constantly run and drip this rust colored goop. She also had a litter box thing and peed over the side unless she had a huge plastic tote with and entrance divet cut into it.
    So yeah.... special needs cats are not for the weak of body, mid or spirit.

  2. That sounds at least as bad as our cat health adventures! However, I shouldn't talk just yet. This new chapter has only just begun.