Life with my 20 year old cat – Part 1

Say Hello to Miss Gabby. Born June 1st 1999, or as close as I can determine. Gabby was a surprise addition to my family. I was fresh out of college and still living at my parent’s house. I had already taken on my first pet; a cat I named Kramer (because of the unique way she had of entering a room). Kramer had just had a litter of kittens that I was actively trying to find homes for. My brother, ever ready to jab a disparaging remark my way, (as all brothers are) came walking into the family kitchen holding a little kitten. “Erin,” he said, “If you want to keep working for a vet you may want to be a little more careful with your kittens. I found one of them outside by the road.” I pointed down to the box at my feet and said that I had all my kittens right here.

Growing up on a farm it wasn’t uncommon for us to find “gifts” at the end of our driveway of puppies or kittens that people would leave hoping that could find a place on a farm. I had found homes quite a few animals over the years, which is how I had found myself in my current predicament. My newest pet, Miss Kramer, was also found. Released into our lives to have her litter on a farm.

Gabby was young, cold, shaking and scared out of her wits. And I knew immediately that I was going to keep her. I warmed her up as best as I could and fed her. The next day I took her to work with me had and Dr. Scrivener take a look at her. All things considered she was in fairly good health. A few vaccines, a dewormer and a flea treatment later and she was a picture of health.

That was nearly 20 years ago. Oh, how time flies. Gabby never lost that fearful kitten mindset. My family jokingly refers to her as my imaginary cat, because she is so rarely seen by anyone, even those that live in the house with her. The ladies I work with have seen more of her over the years for annual exams, dental cleanings and the like than most of my family. Despite her timid nature though she is lovable and requires, or more demands, to be petted nightly. She loves to bury herself in pillows, sitting in the bedroom window, and she adheres to a very strict feeding schedule for which she is quick to scold if you are late in feeding her.

Even as time passed and she got older she continued to stay in surprisingly good health. Ever after her seventh birthday and she officially became a senior. Her yearly bloodwork and exam spoke only of a shy, but healthy cat. Year after year it became a waiting game for me. Age 12, 13, 14, would this be the year she started showing her age? 15, 16, 17, would this year be the year her bloodwork came back with news that she was sick. I knew what I was checking for each year. I knew that the exams and bloodwork were looking for kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disease and a whole host of other conditions that were manageable, but not curable.

The day finally came. The start of 2019 brought with it the first of a host of new challenges for Miss Gabby and I. It was time for her 6 month senior exam and her bloodwork. Gabby had begun to show her age. It’s not uncommon for her to walk into a room a bit confused, sleep for most of the day, or be a bit slower moving around. Unfortunately, knowing that, didn’t soften the blow any when I learned that she had early renal disease. There was also the added sting of guilt when I found out that she also had a urinary tract infection I had failed to notice. I reminded myself that she was a cat, a creature notorious for hiding ailments, and that was why I brought her to the vet twice a year.

Early renal disease in cats is a conversation I’ve had many times over the last twenty years with other pet owners, but it’s somehow different when it’s your own pet. I sat and listened as Dr. Scrivener discussed the bloodwork results with me and talked about all my options. She would need an antibiotic for the next 3 weeks to treat her UTI, a pain medication and new food specifically for renal disease as well as a fatty acid supplement designed to help support kidney health. I agreed to all of it with the confidence of a woman who’s been in veterinary medicine for 20 years. It wasn’t until I came home with a bag full of treatments that reality began to set in.

The antibiotic was a daily pill that I would need to administer for the next three weeks, the pain medication was twice a day, and the supplement was an oil that went on her new food once a day. All this for a cat that could hide so well that most people believed her to be imaginary. In a household with 2 other cats and 2 dogs. The unanswered questions started swirling in my head. Aside from the fact that I have to get my food picky cat to eat a new food that has an oily medication mixed in, how in the world was I going to feed her a different food from the other two cats? How was I going to be able to give her he pills? How was I going to find her every morning and every evening to give her pills?

I’m currently a week into her treatments, and things aren’t going so well. The first day gave me false hope that I would come out of this endeavor unscathed. She was easily found on the bed in the morning and that evening she came to me like she normally would to be fed. I was excited, hopeful even, at least for a few seconds. But after I gave her pills she turned her nose up to the new food with a haughty sniff and ran away. Day two was a disaster. I couldn’t find her anywhere for her morning medication, she hadn’t eaten any of her new food, and that evening we learned that her pain medication is apparently very bitter after she chomped down on it and proceeded to hyper-salivate for the next half hour.

Day three’s morning hunt was again unsuccessful, but that evening brought with it a few positive developments. It started when we successfully found her hiding in my room. I immediately shut the door and prepared to move a kennel, litterbox and all her feline accoutrements into my bedroom. My room would, at least for a bit, become her new world. We also learned that if someone else went into the room first she was more willing to let them pick her up and put her into the kennel and I could then go in to feed her and administer her pills. She still didn’t like the food with the supplemental fish oil, but she was at least eating the dry food.

Day four found her a bit more relaxed. Whether she was more comfortable with the new routine, or whether it was the fact that she was now in a dog free zone I couldn’t say. I was successful in giving her morning medication and she was continuing to allow others to put her in the kennel. We also tried having the person that put her in the kennel feed her the canned food with the supplement and shockingly she ate it. I came in an hour or so later, gave her her pills and then let her back out into the room.

I’m not about to sit here and tell you that its all rainbow and unicorns at my house now. Mornings are still hit or miss and she’s not always as willing to be picked up and kenneled, but we’re getting there. I’m trying not to take it personally that she still runs to hide if I walk in to the room, but hopefully we will eventually find a rhythm that works for us.