Tag Archives: cats

Happy Ending

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Hopefully this will be my last post about Begley’s thyroid. Hopefully because he’s just had his fifth weigh in and blood test and the results are in. He’s comfortably in the normal range for his blood test. He was also within normal at the last test in November but the big news is that his weight has bounced back to 5.51kg, which I think is Begley’s ideal weight. He doesn’t need to be weighed and tested for another four months and with any luck that’ll just be a formality. His stomach seems to have settled down on the current dose so we just carry on with the tablet routine.

I could just have said that on Twitter but I decided on a post because I’ve got a story about another cat for you. I mentioned in Little Hero that I know someone whose cat was diagnosed hyperthyroid and she completely refused to take the tablets. They tried various strategies but nothing worked and everyone involved thought surgery wasn’t an option for her. It wasn’t long before she was so sick she had to be put down. I was talking to him again and he’d remembered a story from years ago. He had friends with cat who’d recently been diagnosed with diabetes. He’d agreed to cat-sit while they were on holiday, which meant staying in their house because they lived a couple of hours away.

On his arrival, they produced the insulin syringe and explained he’d have to inject the cat every day. He started feeling pretty anxious as he looked at that syringe (I’ve always dreaded the thought of either of my cats being diagnosed with diabetes for the same reason). The cat sounds like he had quite a similar personality to Begley. He was happy and laid back but shy. He only really got along with a small number of people he knew well and his novice catsitter/nurse wasn’t one of them. He just hadn’t spent enough time there. I’d be equally nervous about anyone trying to give Begley tablets in those circumstances.

So, the cat’s owners left and the time for his injection rolled round. His catsitter sat him on his lap and picked up the syringe, expecting the cat to make a run for it. The cat just sat, perfectly still, waiting. He put the needle in. The cat stayed put. He accidentally bent the needle (which must have hurt, surely?). The cat gave him a look but stayed still. Finally he got the injection done. Despite his being a virtual stranger and his initial incompetence with the syringe, the cat came back each day and placidly sat through his injection.

The cat was about Begley’s age when he was diagnosed with diabetes. He lived to 17. Some cats just know. I wish for his sake that his own cat had been one of them. I feel strange about thinking it but I’m relieved it was Begley and not Ciara who was diagnosed with a long term condition. Begley’s always been good about these things but Ciara’s always been a monster. She has to be bundled up in a blanket to be given tablets and squirms to get a paw through the neck hole. She can spit a tablet across the whole width of the lounge and a male vet trying open her mouth to put a worming tablet down her said she has unnaturally strong jaws. If it ever comes to it, I’ll mould her beloved Red Leicester round her tablets and hope for the best.

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Little Hero – a little trooper

Thank you to the lovely people on Twitter who’ve sent Begley get well wishes and hugs. I’ve been passing your hugs on. The day after my first Begley post, he took his attitude of mature cooperation even further. Begley’s treated me like I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on for years. In the mornings before I leave for work he reminds me to top up the crunchie bowl (even if he doesn’t want any right then) and if the water level ever gets a bit low he’ll draw my attention to it (usually by politely sitting next to it and looking back and forth between me and the bowl). I know how important it is to give Begley his tablet on time so I’ve set an alarm on my phone. I was deliberately moving tablet time by a few minutes each day so I wouldn’t have to be up so early on weekends but Begley must have decided that his scatterbrain owner needed help so he started a new routine. When I go for a shower he comes upstairs. He sits on the window ledge while I get dressed and moves to block the hallway when I move on to putting on make up. When I’m done, he runs down the stairs ahead of me and then waits to be picked up for his tablet. We’ve got the actual tablet delivery down to a fine art now. He wants me to put it as far back and centred as I can so he doesn’t have to manoeuvre it before swallowing – if I get it wrong it looks like a pinball rattling around in there. Job done, he wants a cuddle but accepts that on work clothes days it’ll be very brief. If anything, I’m the inept one – there’s been two mornings where I tried to do it before coffee and completely missed his mouth! He’s being so helpful that he swallows whether the tablet’s actually in there or not. I’m not sure if he realises I’ve missed either.

I need to stop ringing for a vet appointment at the last minute in front of Begley because he knows that there’s no good reason to hear his name in a brief formal phonecall. He’s got nothing against individual vets – both cats behave beautifully whenever we go – but they both hate the waiting room. Who can blame them. Last time we’d been in there was a dog pitching an absolutely screaming fit over having a tick removed and his claws trimmed. Our next appointment was a week ago last Thursday. Begley knew he was safe until I’d had my shower (it was a non-work day so he’d already had his tablet). Once I was dressed, my clothes confirmed his suspicion. Jeans. Crap. He legged it towards the back door. I casually picked him up and put him on his desk nest (he’d co-opted my cosiest hoodie but I’ve bought him a new bed for the same spot on the desk, which he completely loves). He wasn’t having any of it and ran for the lounge. I have a day bed in the lounge and Ciara’s usually on it at that time of day so she was horrified to find me pulling it forward to try to reach Begley. Before I could grab him he was behind the sofa. When I’d pulled the sofa out and was clambering over the back of it, Ciara joined me, sitting on the back of the sofa glaring down at a miserable Begley. I didn’t have a choice. A full 20 minutes before we needed to leave he was scooped up and crated.

Ciara really surprised me at this point. Once I opened the lounge door, she ran outside but after a couple of minutes of what looked like intense thought she came back in, hovering round me like she wasn’t sure if she was missing out. Last time I’d taken Begley to the vets the capture was quick and quiet. I’m not sure she even noticed he was gone because she was asleep. This time she was waiting for us by the front door when we got back. Ciara’s a funny thing. She takes Begley for granted most of the time but leans on him heavily when they have to go to the vet or cattery. Two years ago we had the nightmare of a suspicious lump. It was the first time she’d ever been to the vets alone and she was a completely different cat. With Begley there, she’ll hop off the table after her exam to investigate the room. Without him her confidence completely deserted her. Begley’s had more solo vet visits over the years – not many but a few – and his demeanour never changes, with or without Ciara. It’s incredibly sweet that the brother she takes for granted and sometimes bickers with is her anchor.

Much as I love dogs (if you don’t follow me on Twitter I feel like I need to point out that I do), some of them behave abysmally at the vets. On Thursday it happened again. The dog waiting to see our vet howled through nearly the whole of Begley’s appointment. Next time I’m going to ask if they do a cat only clinic because Begley also has a stress induced heart murmur. The vet thought that by the time we’d been talking about treatment options for a while he’d be calm enough to check his heart again. I was the one obviously struggling – I’d nearly fainted as she described the risks of surgery and had to sit down but (after I’d tugged his crate towards my chair in response to his look that the stroking had stopped) I could see Begley was still really stressed and I could see why. His ears were pointed at the waiting room, where the howling was coming from. I’m probably not going to decide surgery’s right for Begley anyway because he’s settled into the concept of treatment so well but the heart murmur is an important factor in whether the vet would allow it at all so I really need to try to get him in front of a vet when the walls aren’t shaking to the sound of howling.

Begley does have some limited experience of dogs and they bring out his hero side. The first time I ever heard him growl was when he met my parents’ last dog for the first time. An energetic Irish Water Spaniel, Corin put his paws on my shoulders when I got down to him. It must have looked to Begley like I was under attack because I’ve never seen him act quite so aggressively before or since. Years later when Corin had died and my parents got Quinlan, we decided to introduce the cats to him while he was still their size. Ciara was amazing (possibly a story for another time). Begley did what none of us humans had been able to with this cocky little bundle of rags in a cyclone
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most of my puppy photos of Quin are just blurs of brown velvet because the person who termed the phrase “bundle of rags in a cyclone” was absolutely right but here’s a rare one of a sleepy tiny Quin (who can now get his paws to my shoulders when I’m standing)

Begley scared the living crap out of him with just a growl, a glare and 5.5kg of puffed up irritation. Begley had him belly up on the floor, submitting and looking for permission to get up again before we knew it. The cats quite often stay at my parents for a couple of nights when I’m away. Quinlan’d gotten so used to me smelling of cat that he spent the day and evening of their first stay after he came along wondering why I wouldn’t come downstairs to see him. “She’s in Reading” apparently wasn’t convincing in the face of the overwhelming evidence that I smell of cat and therefore I must be in the house if he can smell cat. Mostly there’s an assured mutual destruction thing going on between them and the dogs these days I think. The dogs (Meris has never been formally introduced to the cats) stay downstairs, the cats stay upstairs and no dog ends up with a bloody nose.

Anyway, back to the vets. I got the blood test results the next day and it was brilliant news. Although his weight hadn’t stabilised yet his thyroid count wasn’t just in the normal range. It was hovering at the lower end of it so we reduced the dosage of his tablets. Unfortunately, since we lowered the dose he’s had an upset stomach again. Fortunately, from monitoring point of view, Begley only uses the litter tray when he’s sick. He didn’t get sick on the higher dose so it’s hard to believe it’s a side effect. Diarrhoea’s common in hyperthyroid cats and this is similar to how he was before he was diagnosed. If we hadn’t seen such a dramatic reduction in his thyroid count last time I’d be panicking that he’s back where he started but I just don’t believe that could happen from the reduction we’ve made. There’s been no vomiting or diarrhoea since Thursday night so hopefully we’re moving forward again.

Begley’s brilliant. He does his best to communicate how he’s feeling, even coming to find me if he’s thrown up somewhere I might not notice (which he’s never done for normal things like hairballs). He’s stayed perfectly cooperative over the tablets, despite being sick this week. I thought I might be in trouble yesterday when he went outside just before tablet time but he came straight back in when he saw me. I could hardly blame him if he’d decided that they weren’t working and he’d had enough. His faith in my judgement, if not my memory, is a privilege but it’s also the most frightening thing about pet ownership and I hope it’s justified.

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Begley absolutely loves his new bed

Little Hero

If you’ve ever wondered what Begley means, that’s your answer: little hero. In his head, he is. He once tried to pounce onto the back of a deer. God knows what he would’ve done with it if it hadn’t run away. He’s also a very thoughtful cat, in the sense that he thinks a lot. After lower back surgery, when I couldn’t pick him up and couldn’t sit up or cope with his weight on my lap, it was Begley who worked out a new routine. Whenever I was going upstairs, he would stand in the middle of a step above me, high enough up that I could reach him without bending. We’d slowly make our way up the stairs, with Begley getting stroked all the way.

He has a freakishly logical mind. At 5ish one summer morning, I woke up. I heard a noise and looked over. Begley was standing with a paw in a wedge heel sandal. As I watched, the sandal started moving. Then I noticed a circle of shoes. There was one sandal sized gap and the last sandal was being eased towards it. Then I noticed the circle wasn’t empty. Begley enjoys moving things for the sake of it – flat boxes propped against the kitchen counter were constantly being shoved over until they blocked the back door in the kitchen when I was moving house – so this wasn’t a given. Inside his shoe fence was a giant moth with its wings pulled off. That thing wasn’t getting away on his watch.

That’s Begley. The real Begley, not the one hoping to get elected. Smart as hell, ridiculously sweet, quietly stubborn and a bit wierd. Ciara and Begley are 11 so I decided to get screening blood tests done with their vaccinations this year. When my last cat reached this age they weren’t available and I wish they had been. My vets are incredibly fair on pricing and gave me two for one but I’d have done it at full price. Ciara’s absolutely fine. Perfect results. She’s at the ideal weight for the first time in years (see this old post and this follow up for my rather unusual explanation) and she even has all her own teeth (I feel I should thank the hundreds of mice who’ve died over the years to make that the case). I’d noticed Begley had lost some weight but I put it down to the hot summer. He was still within the normal range at the weigh in. Then the blood test results came back. His thyroid was just outside normal (normal’s 30-60 and he was at 63). The vet wanted him back to be re-tested in three weeks. I tried to convince myself it was a fluke but I could see the weight was still falling off him. Sure enough, he’d lost more by the time of the weigh in. The next morning I got a voice mail message just as I pulled into the office. The test results were back and he’d gotten worse.

That was a nightmare of a day. I overreacted, panicked. For years when you have a pet you can ignore their short lifespan but then a moment comes where they’re suddenly old. So a part of my heart broke loose when I got that message. I couldn’t even bring myself to look information up online. The message said she’d left a prescription for me so I left work early, driving home past a pet crematorium (which is never pleasant but was particularly hard that day), and picked up both of our prescriptions. I reckon every cat owner worries about being able to get medication into their cat when a long term condition’s diagnosed. I was quietly hopeful. Begley’s logical mind comes into its own in situations like that. Case in point: a couple of years ago he had conjunctivitis. One eye was a complete mess and I whipped him out to the emergency vet at 11pm on a Saturday. There was no way it could wait until Monday so I figured I may as well get him help straight away. Nobody likes eye drops. It’s instinctive to flinch. He flinched and squirmed for the first couple of doses but then he started to feel better. The next time, he stayed perfectly still when I sat him in my lap, his whole body tense with the effort of not flinching.

For the first few days on his thyroid tablets, he was an awkward little so and so, trying to push the tablets into his cheek so he could spit them out when I wasn’t looking.
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“I don’ wanna!”

But then he started to visibly gain weight after about a week. He started hanging around waiting for the tablet at the right time. Then he went further. No fuss. I popped the tablet in and he quite deliberately dry swallowed it down without my having to clamp his mouth shut and stroke his throat. 10 days from the first dose, he’d accepted the need to get it done.
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“ok. That’s done. Now put the camera down and give me a belly rub”

When you see a cat voluntarily dry swallow a tablet, you realise it’s actually quite difficult for them. Hell, I take between 20 and 30 tablets a day – I should be an expert on the things – and I can’t dry swallow them. I’m incredibly lucky that Begley’s being so sensible. I know someone else whose cat was diagnosed hyperthyroid and she just wasted away because they couldn’t get the tablets down her, no matter what they tried. Begley’s managed to reverse the trend and hopefully has years ahead of him. Yes, I could’ve forced the tablets down him but he made his own decision so I don’t have to. So, I just wanted to share this because I’m hugely relieved to see him improving and I’m proud of him.

Cats are good for you, update

A little follow up on Ciara following my recent revelation that she’s taken to performing osteopathy on me. She’s lost weight. Given her age that could be a bad sign but if anyone knows you can’t relax your body when you’re in pain it’s me so I don’t think I need to be concerned. She wasn’t huge before but she was tubby so I’m really pleased she’s losing weight as long as there is a positive reason for it. I’ve made dietary changes before and she’s pretty active but nothing’s dealt with her belly until now. She’s also started radiating more heat when she’s on my lap than she used to, considerably more, lounging loose limbed and happy. Spring is a favourite time of year for both of my cats anyway so this could be a coincidence but she also seems more lively.

I saw my human osteopath last night. As I said before, he doesn’t have any qualms about accepting what Ciara’s been doing. There are a few reasons for that. He has cats himself so he doesn’t underestimate what they might be capable of. He can see for himself that I’m in really bad shape overall at the moment but the bits she’s been treating are better than he’d expect. Finally, he’s open-minded about treatment. He does cranial osteopathy, a much gentler option than traditional manipulation and one which is better suited to the jangled up mess that is my upper back, shoulders, neck and head. When I told him about Ciara’s weight loss etc, he pondered it and suggested that the weight loss could be occurring because her metabolism’s sped up, as evidenced by her radiating more body heat. He wondered if the effect could be something to do with Reiki. That reminded me that while the cats were with my parents for a few days last year my mum tried Tellington Touch on Ciara, a relaxation technique she learned to do on their older dog. She’d reported back that Ciara really enjoyed it. Maybe that experience lodged in Ciara’s brain.

Over the years when the doctors couldn’t find the damage in my back, I tried various alternative treatments. I’m not sure whether Reiki was one of them. I knew it was largely about the flow of energy though. I had a look online and found that there are various Reiki practitioners out there treating cats and the practitioners whose sites I looked at said that they receive a kind of positive energy feedback themselves when they treat cats (the same thing apparently happens with humans). That fits in with my very limited understanding of Reiki. If humans can get this energy feedback from cats can cats get energy feedback from humans who they treat? I’m betting there’s no empirical evidence on that point but my human osteopath raises an interesting point. She’s been manipulating me more than I think Reiki practitioners usually do but energy flow is a common theme in many therapies, including cranial osteopathy. Maybe she’s even picked up some kind of vibes from me when I get home from an appointment. Who knows? I’d love to know whether there are other cats out there like my weird little Ciara.

Cats are good for you

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Time for a true story. It’s weird enough that you might not believe it’s true but it is. My two cats are fast approaching 11. For years, Begley seemed more conscious of what was going on with me physically but it was when Ciara started paying attention that things got weird. That was about three and a half years ago. It started with purring. Ciara has various purrs The one she does on my lap acts as her “I love you” purr. Then there’s her “pay attention to me” purr and her “thank you” purr and probably various other messages I’ve failed, in my hopeless human way, to decipher. She has one full throttle, deliberate communication purr that she uses to suit various occasions.

When she started lying against my lower back at night, instead of my legs, I didn’t think much of it. She would purr her super charged purr and I’d get to sleep faster than I would without a feline hot pack purring away. It hadn’t occurred to me this might be deliberate until one afternoon I was lying close to the edge of the bed. There wasn’t enough room for her to lie down but there was enough room for her to walk up and down. She did that and then suddenly stopped. She pressed her paw against my back – on the most painful part of my mid back, the part where the pain is so deep and grinding that it makes my teeth ache (I’ve since learned three of the joints there are damaged). She picked out the hot spot. I don’t know how. Maybe it was literally a hot spot, although I get so cold that it’s hard to see how she would be able to tell that through three layers of clothing. From then on, she’d come to bed at night, walk up and down behind me and then settle against the most painful part, wherever that might be, purring her full throttle purr (which I suspect is the same purr cats use to resuscitate kittens when their hearts stop) . It helps. I don’t know whether there’s a ‘proper’ medical reason or if it’s just the warmth and the comfort of knowing she’s there. It doesn’t matter. She’s a special cat. I’ve met someone else through the pain clinic whose cat does the same thing. She finds the spot that hurts most and then does the same purr against it.

In October I had a procedure to kill the nerves running into the three damaged thoracic joints. Once I recovered, Ciara started doing something new. Both of my shoulders probably have rotator cuff damage. One night, after I switched the light out, Ciara hopped on top of me, patted around again and then started kneading the right shoulder socket. She was very precise. I didn’t even know Ciara was capable of kneading with her claws retracted! It helped. It’s almost always the right shoulder because I always start the night lying on my left side. Even though I’m right handed, my osteopath could tell which shoulder Ciara’s been “treating” because it’s been in better shape than the left since she started.

Then it got stranger. This beggars belief. My sacroiliac joints (where the dimples in your lower back are) are unstable and I often get pain and problems walking from them. I use various pilates exercises to open them up. The other week, after she’d worked on my shoulder she walked down my side, stopping and starting until she got to exactly where she wanted to be and then lay down on top of me. I couldn’t believe it but I could feel my SI joints open up. She wasn’t purring, just gently using her body as a lever. All I could think was “how the hell can she know so much about the mechanics of the human body?” She only does it on days when the SI joints are actually giving me trouble. I’ve done pilates for eight years, studied human mechanics in A level physics, spent days of my life reading up on my body and my cat just came along and did that!

She didn’t stop there though. Before surgery on my lower back I had sciatica a lot. Afterwards, once that was gone, I realised I also had piriformis problems, particularly on the right. The effect is very much like sciatica. All the muscles are unbalanced throughout that area and my gluts are knotted and spasmy most of the time (yep, they’re a pain in the ass). I do stretch the muscles but it doesn’t usually help much. Ciara, on the other hand is a bloody genius. By moving a bit further down my leg from where she lay before to open the SI, she can unknot the glut.

Ciara has always had quite a type A personality. She doesn’t relax in the was Begley does. He’s a floppy ragdoll of a cat. Ciara tends to hold more tension in her muscles. In that, she’s just like me. I’m thrilled to be able to report that, since she became a feline osteopath, she feels more relaxed. Before, when she sat on my lap, she always felt a bit like a bowling ball, even when she seemed happy. Now, she feels looser (she’s on my lap right now), more Begley-like so it seems like she’s happy with what she’s doing. She’s a remarkable cat. The only problem with all of this is that she seems to expect me to treat her differently when it comes to the rules on eating. Since she started the manipulation, she’s taken to sitting on the arm of the sofa while I eat, pushing at me, and I can’t leave any plate for a second. My osteopath thinks maybe she expects payment (well, he would!) but I think she’s thinking of herself as more equal to me. Still, apparently my secretary’s cat just started doing the same thing about food without any of the osteopathy so I’m definitely better off than her.

(see also Cats are good for you update)