Vets

Jackson's Broken Heart

Perhaps it's fitting that as I write this my chest feels tights and my sinuses are plugged up. My sole goal for today is to write this update then finally go to bed and rest. With all the effort surrounding Jackson and his care, I couldn't let a cold stand in my way, but I realize I've been flirting with getting pneumonia (again) and if I'm sick I can't care for him.

Jackson. How's he doing?

Jackson responded to the lasix and ACE inhibitor treatment over the course of Wednesday evening. First, the crackling lung sounds subsided, then were gone. The fluid build up in his lungs was resolved. This was a great sign.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson. Waiting.

Jackson's respiration was still too fast, but slower than it was when we first brought him in. This told us the lasix was working to remove the fluid around his heart that was making him feel so uncomfortable in the first place.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson. Here's Jackson! At last!

By Thursday morning, Jackson was off oxygen and in a “regular” cage. After retesting his blood pressure and respiration, the Vets, including a cardiologist and critical care specialist, felt that Jackson was getting close to being stable enough to go home. On Jackson's chart was a warning note-that he was fractious and for the staff to handle him with caution. Perhaps it was the treatment or simply feeling better but Jackson stopped being aggressive and the staff found he was a joy to be with.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson. With boo-boo bandage still intact, Jackson finally heads home.

They also asked me what Jackson was being fed and I told them not to feed him dry food, at least. They gave him canned Friskies, which they knew I'd not be thrilled about, but Jackson ate it right up, the final clinical sign that told the Vets he was ready to go home.

Yesterday afternoon Sam and I drove to VCA Shoreline Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center. We knew we weren't going to pick up a cat who was cured of his illness, but at least we were going to pick up a living cat. Jackson had begun a transformation, but I didn't know how he would be different; would he have more energy? be cranky? be difficult to pill?

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson.

The other big question was; NOW WHAT? What would become of Jackson?

The brutal blow about all of this was the news I'd been keeping secret. Jackson was about to be adopted.

A great family met Jackson a few days before and had decided that he was the one for them. I couldn't ask anyone to take on the care of a cat with a terminal disease. It was too much to hope for that they'd still want to bring him home after I told them the sad news.

In a way, the possible adoption saved Jackson's life-that and the sad fact that my dear cat, Stanley died of HCM when it was too late to do anything to help him. Stanley's respiration mimicked Jackson's and for that reason I felt that I wanted to get Jackson checked out one more time before he got adopted. I had a feeling something was off with Jax and at least, even with the costs and fear for his future, it was worth it. Maybe we caught it in time to still give him a good quality of life?

We spoke with Jackson's Vet and she went over the many details about his care going forward. First, Jackson must be medicated with 2 TINY pills, 2 times per day. He's also on a short course of Baytril since he did show signs of having some sort of infection/upper respiratory issues. Jackson will also be on a small dose of aspirin every 3 days. This is to prevent his blood from clotting. Cats with HCM can “throw a clot” which often causes their back legs to become immobilized. It also can cause death.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson.

In addition to medications, Jackson will need MORE tests done. Doing a FreeT4 blood test is important because heart problems can be brought on by hyperthyroidism so that needs to be ruled out. Jax will also need another echocardiogram in 2 to 3 months and followup blood work to check his kidney function. The problem with HCM, in addition to the obvious, is that the extra fluids we need to keep off Jackson's heart put a strain on the kidneys. If Jackson has renal disease, it's game over.

It's too early to say what Jackson's future holds. There's more to be done to find out the root cause of his heart ailments.

We have to wait and see how he'll respond to the drug therapy over time. We couldn't even discuss if he has years or months. We thought Jackson was two, but turns out he's closer to five years old. He's still a young cat, so perhaps he'll be with us for a long time to come.

Last night we got Jackson home and he hit the litter pan and had what must have been a very satisfying pee. He wanted to be fed but only nibbled on his food. He spent an hour on the bed but most of the night inside the cat carrier we used to bring him to the Vet. This morning he didn't want to eat, but I managed to get him pilled.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson. At home on the bed with Spencer.

This morning, as I started to put a game plan together of what to try to tempt Jackson with, he started to meow. He came over to me and rubbed up against my legs. I asked him if he was hungry and he meowed in reply. I grabbed some cat food, warmed it up and offered it to him. Sam and I had to stand as sentries to keep the other cats away since they were still waiting for their breakfast to thaw out while Jackson finally ate.

It was a marvelous sight.

Though he didn't eat well, he DID eat, then wanted a bit more a bit later.

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©2012 Robin A.F Olson. This morning.

I find myself watching Jackson's chest rise and fall, trying to be prepared at any moment to run him to the Vet. His breathing is more fluid, smoother, slower and more normal, but it's tough not to feel panic. We have to stay watchful, but we have to give it time so we can all adjust.

Jackson just cried just now. I went upstairs to check on him. He got out of his cat carrier and came over to me. He purred as I petted him. I lowered my head down to his and he rubbed his forehead against mine. Maybe he was telling me “thank you for saving my life” or maybe he was just feeling a bit lonely. Whatever the reason, I was glad to see this sign of him feeling better. He really IS a good boy.

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A sweet note from some of Jackson's fans.

It's time for me to go back to bed and finally get some rest. Jackson needs it, too. It's been a tough few days on all of us, but this reminds me never to take even a single day for granted. You really don't know what tomorrow will bring.

If you'd like to join the MANY WONDERFUL PEOPLE who have donated towards Jackson's growing Vet bill, please visit this link on ChipIn to donate. THANK YOU!

Tags Click a link below to find more articles on that topic.

JACKSON GALAXY, THE CAT, FIGHTS FOR HIS LIFE

SEE END OF POST FOR IMPORTANT UPDATE

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

Jackson's not well. He's been off for a few days. He's still eating, but otherwise he's depressed and keeps to himself. He's been sleeping on my bed, which is odd, yet nice. The odd part is that he stays there day and night.

I couldn't put it off. I had to have Jackson checked by Dr Larry. Something was wrong.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

Jackson's sensitive when his abdomen is touched. Last time I took him to the Vet, he was cranky but we couldn't find anything wrong without doing expensive tests. I decided to wait it out and hope for the best. Jackson was doing fine until a few days ago when he got quiet. This cat really chats up a storm and for him not to even meow signals that there's trouble.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

I got Jackson in to see Dr. Larry this morning.

Jackson's temp was 105.1°F.

It was not easy for Super-Deb to even get his temperature. The moment Deb started to work on Jackson he started to growl. When Dr. Larry came in to examine Jackson he didn't even want to be touched, though only moments before Dr. Larry entered the room, Deb and I were getting head-butts and purrs from him.

 

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

 

We decided not to mess with Jackson, but rather to leave him be and discuss what we think might be going on. You know I had a virus run through my house a month ago and two weeks ago Spencer was very sick. Perhaps this is a virus that will run its' course?

Nicky attacked Jackson a few weeks ago and scratched his face rather badly. The wound was treated and is healing but maybe I missed a puncture and Jackson has an abscess? That would explain his fever..but Jackson's white. You'd think any boo-boo would be visible?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

That leaves us with having to run tests. This is were I get shaken to my core. We just can't afford a lot of tests and Jackson needs help NOW. To even get blood from Jackson, he's going to have to be sedated. He's just too angry or in too much pain or both and it's the safest thing to do for him and for the staff at Dr. Larry's.

 

We need to do: Blood work, Sedation, IV catheter (to help break his fever), X-rays to find out if he has an injury or internal problem plus exam and boarding costs. Then we start praying he doesn't need to go to the ER Vet if the IV has to stay in place after hours because we can't afford it and the ER Vet doesn't do payment plans.

 

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

 

We REALLY NEED YOUR HELP to provide care for Jackson.

We can't give him what he needs and I'm terrified of what is to come. Please if you would considering contributing to this Emergency ChipIn for Jackson I would be so grateful. I'm trying not to ask for a lot, but I'm guessing just today will be over $600.00 with our discount.

 

Your donation is TAX-DEDUCTIBLE as my rescue, Kitten Associates is a 501©3 Non-Profit Cat Rescue.

If you'd prefer to send a check, please make it out to: Kitten Associates and please note on the check the funds should go to "Jackson's Big Heart" mail it to:

Kitten Associates
P.O. Box 354
Newtown, CT 06470-0354

Any funds not used for the care of this family will go into our General Fund.

If you can't make a donation, you can help us by getting the word out. Every dollar helps and every Re-tweet or FB Share does, too. THANK YOU for caring about Jackson!

 

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Sept 12 6:49 PM EST UDPATE:

Jackson's heart is big, but in a bad way. Dr. Larry fears a serious problem. Jackson's breathing is labored so they're holding oxygen near his face. Jackson's crying. I'm crying, too. We looked at the x-rays and you could see that Jackson's heart is HUGE with a swollen lobe off to one side. Jackson's lungs have a strange pattern, not exactly pneumonia and probably not cancer.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson's heart should be 2-3 ribs wide, not 4-5.

We were faced with what to do next. Jackson MUST have an echocardiogram ASAP. He must be in a cage with oxygen, too. Dr. Larry can't do those tests so we had to drive Jax about 40 minutes away to the VCA Shoreline Animal Hospital.

I called Katherine, my dear friend at Animals in Distress. She and I have been working on finding Jackson a home. I called her, crying. I didn't know what to do. I had to find a way to come up with the money to help Jackson. She offered to pay for the echo, which is nearly $500.00. She told me not to worry. Thank God I have friends like her.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. You can see Jackson's heart bulging and misshapen from fluid.

Sam got the car running and cranked the A/C. I paid the bill for Jackson. It was $540.00, then we made our way to Shoreline with Jackson riding shotgun.

Jackson cried and was struggling to breathe during the trip. I was in the back seat frantically texting people updates. We were all trying to guess what was going on, but we didn't want to know, too. That x-ray was shocking. I started to fear I was going to have to put Jackson down.

Dr. April, a cardiologist, did Jackson's echo tonight. She went over the results saying without any hesitation that Jackson is in Heart Failure brought on by the anesthesia he got this afternoon. He was teetering with it before but this pushed him over the edge. They were treating him with lasix to see if he would resolve some of the swelling around his heart.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Getting Oxygen before we run him to Shoreline.

 

Bottom line, Jackson has HCM or Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. It's VERY difficult to diagnose without doing an echocardiogram. Jackson's probably had this for a long time. Jackson's probably not 2 years old-more like 5.

 

I'll go into more detail about his condition, but it leaves us in a very sad place.

I do not know if Jackson will be with us in the morning. It's up to him and the treatment. He did look a bit perkier when we said our farewells to him, but we really won't know anything for awhile.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Jackson meowing. A bit perkier. Maybe a sign of hope?

 

Will Jackson have a future? I don't know. Will he be adopted? Probably not. Did Jackson find his forever home with us? I don't know, but I DO know we love him and hope he comes home tomorrow feeling better.

 

Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center-The Tour, Part Three

[if you missed part one, you can read it HERE and part two is HERE]

I asked about what happens when a cat gets too old to be tested or develops problems where they can no longer provide good test results. The senior cats were placed in a “retirement” group home that frankly was quite austere. I asked why they couldn’t get adopted out to a family. Their reasoning was that senior cats often developed illnesses that were too costly for adopters to have to pay for so it was not possible to adopt them out. I couldn’t help but think that with all the money Hill's has, the least they could do was to adopt out those cats and give them FREE Vet care for the rest of their life, taking the financial burden off the adopters and giving those cats (and dogs) a graceful end to their life.

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©2012 Hill's. Dr. Burris with cats. (used with permission)

When the tour group moved on, I asked one of the employees what they do with cats who have terminal illness. She said they had a cat with mammary gland tumors, but they would not do surgery to remove them. She didn’t know if it was due to the cat's blood test results making it too risky to do the surgery or why their staff Vet decided not to do anything. She didn’t go into whether they’d done chemo for any cats but I heard of a dog getting a surgery to repair a leg injury. I wondered at what point they turned their backs on those animals? Maybe they never do. I can’t speak to that question.

The animals are only subjected to occasional blood draws and yearly dentals. They are not dissected, but they do necropsies after the animal has passed away.

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©2012 Hill's. Turtle and Zebra (used with permission)

We were told that Hill's took euthanasia very seriously, but in the end, when the animals were put down, they were put into a group cremation and that was all we were told. No, those cats or dogs weren’t someone’s pet and were placed in an urn in a cherished place on the mantel, but each animal is given a name from the moment they enter the facility.

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We toured the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association which was founded in 1933 by a group of Veterinarians-Dr. Mark Morris was one of them) accredited surgical suite and state-of-the-art Vet department. It was spotless, glowing, enormous. They mostly did dental cleanings or spay/neutering. They had every sort of MRI or dual bone density scanner that any Vet would drool over. I couldn’t help but wish they’d open this space up to local rescues for a free Vet clinic a few times a month-just to give back, but how could they? It would bring disease into the building.

We finished the tour of the animal housing and many folks were abuzz about how wonderful the areas were. Maybe it was just me, but I could only think about how every night they turned the lights off and not one of those dogs or cats had a bed to sleep on and a human to sleep with. Was it worth those animals giving up their lives to science when the clinical trials don't seem to be long enough in the first place?

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©2012 Hill's. Falstaff. -today they use beagles- (used with permission)

For what it was, their facility is spacious, clean and well lit. The dogs appear to be having a good time, running around outside, barking their little beagle barks. I’m certain the cats and dogs who live in other test facilities have it much, much worse. I think Hill’s did a very good job at creating as comfortable and humane a space as they could.

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It was time for the wrap up. Mr. Kontopanos was very eager to hear what we thought about the tour and the presentations. Many folks were on board, but thankfully a few asked some probing questions. Questions like where does your protein come from—factory farms or free range? Answer: Tyson’s for chicken and other places, but then they glossed over the answer, meaning it was probably factory farms. Many pet guardians care about where their own food comes from and they feel the same way about the food they feed their animals. No one wants animals to suffer so where is the leadership in Hill’s opting to use farms that can be certified humane? Perhaps those changes are to come?

I asked Mr. Kontopanos if Hill's was planning on producing a grain-free food since the market has exploded with options-clearly due to consumer buying trends. Mr. Kontopanos paused, looked a bit irritated, then said they would produce one only when they could declare it as “complete balanced nutrition.” I wondered how many times he’d answered this question. Had Hill’s focused too much effort on trying to convince pet owners that corn and other grains are good for their pets while there is a lot of evidence to prove the contrary? [apparently there IS a lone dog food with no grain, but I don’t have info on that at this time].

I didn’t ask about how they felt about people feeding a raw diet. I didn’t have the nerve to go there after seeing a slide earlier in the day that talked about what people feed their pets and raw feeding was considered “unconventional.”

No one else brought it up, either, but I knew a few others felt the same as I did that it was actually appropriate and not unconventional to feed a raw diet.

One of their basic diets for adult cats, Science Diet® Adult Indoor Cat Dry has 5 grains and the only animal protein is Chicken by-product meal (according to the AAFCO consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice). Can you tell me how this is better than a raw diet of ground chicken muscle meat, organs and bones from a known, humane farm with some egg yolks, water, low sodium salt, taurine, etc.?

-----------THE TOUR----------------------------------

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My “golden” ticket into the secret world of the Emporia Plant.

 


©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Arriving at the Plant.

Early the next morning we toured the Hill's manufacturing plant in Emporia, Kansas (one of a handful around the country, in addition to two in Europe). It was just as spotlessly clean and run by devoted employees as the Pet Nutrition Center campus. There’s very tight security in the plant so we weren’t allowed to take any photos. The place had an odd aroma. I thought it was something like a baked grain, then Teri suggested it smelled like dry food cat barf. Thanks, Teri!

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Trying to comfort Teri. “You'll get used to the smell. It's not barf, I hope.”

The Emporia manufacturing plant, built in 2010, achieved its LEED – Silver certification last May. The over 500,000 square foot plant is a closed system where each segment of processing is separated by large corridors so that, for instance, the raw stage of processing can’t contaminate the extruding/“kill stage” and so on. Since the process is closed, there’s less chance for the product to be exposed, but the bad part about that is you don’t SEE the ingredients coming together to form their products.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Vats and stuff.

Basically there were a lot of vats, conduit, pipes and odd sounds. It was a perfect setting to shoot a movie if we hadn’t been bogged down by wearing ear protection, hairnets, lab coats, hard hats and steel-toed covers on our shoes.

This plant produces 500,000 pounds of dry food every day. They run three shifts Monday through Friday. The weekend is for cleaning. All the food is x-rayed to make sure there’s no metal in it. They have extremely high quality standards and points at which they test the product. They deal with 140 ingredients so it must be a daunting task.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. More strange equipment.

As our tour entered the warehouse it reminded me of the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones sees the warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant gets stored. I counted 50 aisles stacked 3 palettes high of bagged dry foods. I couldn’t see how far back it went, but I’d say it filled a football field, at least. I asked to take a photo of the stacks of bags and was denied.

The tour was concluded and we were escorted onto a very plush bus that took us to the airport. It was a fast paced, loaded-with-info tour. I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid®, but the interactions I had with the staff from Hill’s and the folks who were on the tour was very pleasant and respectful. I couldn’t have been treated better.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Holistic Veterinarian, super-nice guy and -yes, the same one you've seen on TV - and moi.

There seem to be some very caring, possibly even passionate people who do care about pets at Hill’s, but with all due respect, the way they go about “manufacturing” pet food isn’t something I can get on board with even if “Since 2002, the Hill’s Food, Shelter & Love Program™ has donated more than $240 million worth of Science Diet® brand foods to nearly 1,000 animal shelters nationwide, in every state.” That sounds good until you realize they have a captive audience. The shelter takes the free food and then passes along free samples to adopters, who will, of course, become new Hill's customers.

Hill’s promotional material also states: “It has also helped more than 6 million pets find new homes, and counting.” Though if you ask them to clarify that fact, what is happening is they are taking credit for the adoptions of animals from the shelters they donate food to. Hill’s doesn’t operate any shelters.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

When it’s all said and done Hill’s treated me with respect and provided for my every need. I appreciate their hospitality and their pride in their company and their community.

My wish, if I could have one, would be that they re-think their approach to developing foods for cats and dogs that doesn’t lean so heavily on science and testing, but that focuses on wholesomeness and appropriateness with fewer ingredients and grains.

 

No one ever said a word about cats being OBLIGATE carnivores and how science could ever supersede that simple fact by using chemicals, cooking, over processing technology and less costly grains to make up for what cats truly need. They need MEAT. That’s how they get their energy, unlike humans, who get it from carbohydrates.

I realize that asking Hill’s to take their multi-billions of dollars and DO THE RIGHT THING with their products is a Herculean undertaking. Even adding ONE ingredient to ONE kind of cat food starts a chain reaction that could take months if not years to implement.

I also “get it” that asking Hill’s to use high quality meat in their food, to throw out the zillion bags of dry food and focus on canned and yes, a line of frozen raw food would be a sourcing nightmare. Where would you GET all this meat? What would happen to all the farmers who you buy your corn, wheat, soy and rice from?

How can you move a behemoth of a company into a new direction when they’ve already spent decades on marketing to convince consumers that science IS the answer, not common sense?

 

It’s like me telling you to eat a vitamin soaked breakfast bar and tell you it will cover your nutritional needs because it’s “scientifically proven” (because it was tested for up to six months on about 8 humans) and it will allow you to live a long, healthy life. It will give you calories and some nutrition, but in the long haul what is your quality of life? You’ll be alive, but will you thrive? Will your teeth be ruined and will you have skin allergies and lymphoma?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

 

All I can say is that my hand is held out in friendship to everyone at Hill’s. Take your financial resources, your science, your advertising and DO THE RIGHT THING with it. You know what it is, you just have to turn the rudder a bit. I’ll be waiting for you, ready to shout to the world what wonderful, completely perfect foods you create and that we'll all share the rewards of a longer, healthier, happier life with our pets for all that you do.

 

Until then, I'm going to respectfully disagree and hope that one day the answer to the question of “What should I feed my cat?” will no longer be so divisive.


©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. A last look at Kansas and touchdown in NYC.

Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center-The Tour, Part Two

[if you missed part one, you can read it HERE]

The agenda for the rest of the day included presentations about Hill’s Philosophy of Precisely Balanced Nutrition and about their Promise of Quality & Safety.

Hill’s has 170 different products for dogs and cats that are divided into two distinct lines: “Science Diet®” and “Prescription Diet®” (which is only available through a Vet). Does that blow your mind, too? Does it seem like a bit much? Sure there are different nutritional requirements for a kitten than for a senior cat and for a dog who’s a couch potato versus a dog who does agility training, but do consumers really need to choose from 170 different products?

I had to take a deep breath. Does it make sense that there needed to be such clearly defined types of food? There’s food for cats who have kidney problems, cats with thyroid problems, cats who are fat, cats who have skin allergies. There’s wet, there’s dry, there’s more versions of the same for dogs.

But why not take a step back? Treat the underlying cause for these issues. What CAUSED these problems instead of treating them using the same mindset as a pharmaceutical company—don't cure the problem, manage the symptoms and keep the patient comfortable.

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©2012 Hill's. Black cat in group home. (used with permission)

From my standpoint, there really only needs to be one wholesome food that branches out to a variety of single, unique proteins with slight tweaks of additional ingredients you can rotate feeding. That way the cat or dog doesn’t get bored and it ensures the animal gets a balanced diet since some proteins are higher in fat or other vitamins and minerals and some are lower in differing ratios. Rotating the proteins, again, just common sense (and yes there are Vets who support this notion as well).

My father, who was a microbiologist and in charge of Quality Assurance for a major corporation in the dairy industry always said this to me about proper nutrition; “Everything in moderation.”

If I was going to get on board with the need for a growing number of different foods, then I would be very impressed with how Hill’s goes about creating them. They do palatability tests. They have humans learn to sniff out different flavors, then do testing on those flavor combinations to see what goes over well with a cat versus a dog. They have the ability to “map” out flavor combinations and create charts that show what cats prefer versus dogs. Turns out cats love grassy scent, but not earthy. They like fish, but not if it’s too fishy. They have teams of people who just work on the science of taste. That was quite impressive, but is it really necessary?

They’re also very serious about food safety and have extremely strict protocols for each and every ingredient they purchase, strict guidelines their vendors must attain and everything is tested before it even ENTERS their manufacturing plants in the US and eastern Europe.

What we didn’t get to learn about was Hill’s nutrigenomics because their lead person had left the company recently. We saw a chart while walking in the hallway and a tech from that department told us how they take the DNA from a cat or dog and have ways of seeing how it reacts when specific nutrients are applied to it. From their web site it states: “For Hill's, nutrigenomics is promoting lifelong health through targeted nutrition. We strategically formulate our pet foods to address the genetic processes that help keep our pets healthy and promote longevity. Nutrigenomics is not to be confused with just making food targeted to a pet's breed…

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©2012 Hill's. Christina Scott with Mauer and Jane Victoria(on shelf). (used with permission)

… One of our therapeutic weight control pet foods, Hill's® Prescription Diet® r/d® Canine, is another example of our use of nutrigenomics technology. The nutrition in Prescription Diet® r/d® Canine features targeted nutrients that support healthy metabolism, thereby helping dogs burn fat more efficiently.”

This is where my head started to spin. Wouldn't a wholesome diet help an animal burn fat appropriately? My concern here is that by affecting the metabolism so that it “burns fat more efficiently,” what does that do long-term to the animal? Is it as simple as helping dogs burn off fat? What if this changes the dog's metabolism permanently, even after this Prescription Diet® r/d® food is no longer fed? There may be a tipping point in the life of that dog where fat burning becomes a problem, not a solution.

I asked about the length of clinical food testing trials they do on the animals in their care. The trials last no more than 6 months and are done on a handful of animals, with one exception where they followed a group of dogs that lived as the single pet with a family for 5 years.

I can’t agree that six months is a long enough time to see the effects a specific diet will have on an animal especially when you realize that consumers will potentially feed their pets this food for years.

How can you know what a food will do to a cat’s teeth when they do dental cleanings on ALL animals EVERY year? No pet guardian does that in “real life.” How can you know your dry food doesn’t cause dental problems or cause obesity if they only get it for 6 months or, if they get so many other foods to test, how can you say what causes that animal to gain weight? Which food gave the cat diabetes if they’d been tested on 10 or more over the past number of years?

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©2012 Hill's. Dr. Stone and HotBot with exercise pen in background. (used with permission)

We had a very interesting presentation by Dr. Bill Schoenherr, the Principal Nutritionist at Hill’s, who has a long background in the cattle feed industry and more recently in the pet food industry. He talked about how to read a pet food label and the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) guidelines for food ingredients that AAFCO approved manufacturers must follow. Each and every ingredient is listed as to what it can be and cannot be, what form it should take, from what part of the animal or plant and so on. You have to be a member of the Federation of Animal Science Societies to purchase a copy of the AAFCO guidelines that were last updated in 2008.

How to read a pet food label could easily be book in and of itself, but some of the big things you should know are that ingredients are listed by weight-heaviest weight is listed first. If the food lists “chicken” first, it’s no different than the AAFCO definition of “chicken meal” (which certainly sounds worse than just Chicken to consumers). “Meal” is the dry form of chicken. It’s nutritionally similar, it weighs less and is cheaper and easier to ship, but consumers see the word “chicken” and assume it’s the same as what they would eat. WRONG!

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©2012 Hill's. Dr. Burris with Hug Me Jeff and Fraizer. (used with permission)

The chicken our pets get is not very appetizing. It’s no feathers, heads or feet (feet are in by-products), but it’s not organs or much muscle meat. It’s a lot of bones and the ash content can differ by supplier.

He spoke a lot about food descriptors like, “gravy, dinner, platter, entrée, formula.” What he didn’t talk about was what sort of goal Hill’s had regarding these ingredients or descriptors. It was said over and over again their only goal was “complete and balanced diet,” but they didn’t say how they made that happen for obligate carnivores using ingredients like corn, wheat, soy or cellulose in foods that were often over-cooked to the point of a breakdown in nutrients.

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I was disappointed by the presentation by Dr. Julie Churchill who is a Vet Nutritionist at the University of Minnesota. Her presentation was about nutritional assessment of dogs. She started by saying to the effect that she was not being paid by Hill’s to say what was on her mind about nutrition, and that she hoped they would invite her back again, suggesting she was about to say something mind-blowing about animal nutrition. Silently, I was rooting her on, hoping she’d say the “R” (raw) word.

In fact, all she did was talk about scoring a cat or dog’s physical condition and that optimal nutrition was the cornerstone of good health—DUH. Her presentation featured images from the AAHA’s (The American Animal Hospital Association) web site regarding a study that was paid for by Hill’s. I kept waiting for her to say something about what makes up optimal nutrition, not just that an animal needs it, but what IS it?

I didn’t have the nerve to say something in public but as we began the tour of the facility, I asked her what makes up optimal nutrition and she wouldn’t answer me directly, only saying it was a good question.

Animal Testing

Our tour included seeing the housing for Hill’s “Pet Partners” (research animals)—420 dogs and 500 cats. Their facility is 40,000 square feet. We saw about one half of it. They mostly house beagles from known breeders and domestic short-haired cats, again from breeders or they breed them in-house. They also take animals from other labs when their tests are completed. They’re too concerned about bringing illness into their facility by rescuing shelter cats or dogs to get animals from those places.

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©2012 Hill's. One of the many group homes. (used with permission)

The animals are in group homes with spotless platforms to lie on, big windows and plenty of space to move around. We were not allowed to take photos of these areas, but were provided a few by Hill's.

The dogs have outdoor access and they have 2-hour breaks outside, then are rotated inside so another group can go outside.

There are 65 people caring for over 900 animals.

Anyone who works at Hill’s can take a dog for a walk or work on their computer and hang out with certain cats. The cats get new toys weekly and have a few rather scant cat trees and soft places to rest.

As we walked near the glass walled enclosures for the cats, some of them ran over to rub up against the glass. Everyone cooed over their actions, but I felt sad. The cats and the dogs are supposed to get enrichment, which includes time with humans, but how can they ever give them enough? I saw a staff member enter a room and all the cats got up and ran over to her, desperate for attention. The cats would live there for lifetime, with an exceptional few who can be adopted into a home when they’re too old to be tested. I wanted to scoop them up and get them out of there. It’s hard to see animals who clearly need love, not be able to get enough of it. I understand that the people at Hill’s do their very best to provide for these animals, but in the end, it’s difficult to imagine how 65 people give 900 animals enough love and attention.

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©2012 Hill's. Daphne. (used with permission)

I asked about what happens when a cat gets too old to be tested or develops health problems where they can no longer provide good test results...

…find out in my final post tomorrow.

Tags Click a link below to find more articles on that topic.

Update on Leo

I'm thrilled to let you know that on Thursday Leo had the surgery he's needed for a few months. Until recently, he wasn't well enough for the procedure to repair his inverted eyelashes. This happened due to the most hideous, horrible upper respiratory infection I have ever seen. It sealed his eyes closed, then MOSS grew over his closed eyes. We don't know how long he suffered like that, but are ever so glad this friendly stray was rescued and given proper Vet care.

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©2012 Hilary Harris. Used with permission. Leo after his surgery.

Leo is positive for Feline Leukemia which also makes every procedure a bit more risky. Now that Leo is on the mend we couldn't be happier.

Leo wouldn't have had a chance if not for the loving care he receives at Aslan's Sanctuary in upstate New York. Aslan's is one of the few sanctuaries that takes on Feline Leukemia positive cats. They are in short supply of just about everything you can think of so if you'd like to thank them for what they do for Leo and others, you can donate HERE.

I had the privilege of transporting Leo to Aslan's and he certainly left a paw print on my heart. If you want to know Leo's backstory and see him before he got any treatment, read my post HERE and follow up, HERE.

Way to go, Hilary and HURRAY FOR LEO!

Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center-The Tour, Part One

I was invited by Hill’s to tour their Pet Nutrition Center in Topeka, Kansas and to listen to a number of presentations by Vets, Vet-Nutritionists, Scientists and staff. They also opened the doors to their state-of-the-art, very high-security manufacturing plant in Emporia, Kansas for an additional tour. They paid for my trip and accommodations, but not for my review, concerns or approval of their products or processing methods. This blog post series is based on my personal experience and opinion, only. Your experiences and opinions may differ.

Arrival

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Welcome Bloggers

I had a lot of apprehension about going on this trip. As many of you know, I’m a diehard believer in “species appropriate” diets for cats. Translation: I feed a raw diet to my cats with no grain, no preservatives, no chemicals; just meat, egg yolks and a few other things like extra taurine and salmon oil. There are Vets, Vet Associations and pet food companies who would tell you that you risk sickening your cats and yourself with Salmonella and other food borne illnesses and that you should never feed a raw meat diet to your cat, while there are other organizations and Vets who believe differently.

Without getting into an argument about what IS the perfect diet for cats, my other apprehension was simple; I’m just a lone blogger. My net worth equals the change you might find in Hill’s lobby sofa cushions. Does this “David” dare to speak up about a “Goliath” of the pet food industry? Do I have the nerve to write about something where I can be subject to scrutiny, blacklisting or worse; accusations of libel or lawsuits?

I will tread respectfully and as thoughtfully as possible.

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Hill’s is a multi-billion dollar company whose parent company is Colgate-Palmolive. Being their guest was frankly a bit intimidating. I knew they knew my position on appropriate diet for cats so I couldn’t understand why they’d want me to see their operations. I decided to be as open-minded as I could and just listen to what they had to say.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. I am definitely not in New York any more.

Arriving at Kansas City International airport, I expected to be tossed onto a shuttle bus and driven the hour-long ride to the Hyatt Topeka. I was surprised to be met by a cheerful driver and my friend, Angie Bailey (of the infamous CatladyLand), who’d just arrived from Minneapolis and who was also going on the tour.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Angie and me livin' large by our private car.

The driver carried my bag and escorted us to a waiting black, shiny livery car with cushy back seats and bottled water waiting to refresh us. I admit to feeling pampered and possibly a bit more nervous about what this tour was going to mean to my future. Clearly Hill’s was going to take good care of us on this trip.

The schedule was tightly paced. We had about 90 minutes after we arrived at the Hyatt to get ready for welcome dinner at the Kansas Museum of History. I entered my room and took a deep breath as I scanned the large, modern furnished space. Before me was a sitting room, wet bar, huge flat screen tv, along with a segregated space containing two freshly made double beds. Again, I expected less and got more. I was told when I got my room key that whatever I needed I should just put on the Hill’s tab. Yikes. Is this what life is like for a rock star? I could get used to this.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. One end of my palatial room.

I got unpacked then met with Angie and an acquaintance, Teri Thorsteinson, a Vet Tech who writes Curlz and Swirlz. Teri had two little bottles of champagne in her room and was determined we start the trip off right. The three of us shared a toast and a few laughs before we left for the museum. Even though I didn’t know Teri very well, I had a feeling she was going to become a good friend with a start like this.

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I enjoyed having dinner at a Museum after hours when all the tours for the day had left. The group of media people and bloggers was fairly small, only about 14 people plus a few folks from Hill’s, so it felt much more informal. I kept waiting for the pitch about Hill’s products to start, but it didn’t come. We just chatted and got to know each other then finally, barely 25 minutes before we were scheduled to leave, we got to run around the museum and look at some of the exhibits.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Angie, me and Teri (left to right). Why we're leaning over I have no idea.

Of course Angie, Teri and I ran for the gift shop. There wasn’t one in the hotel and we had hoped to find some trinkets with the Wizard of Oz theme to bring home to our loved ones. This was my first visit to Kansas after all.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Real train inside the museum surrounded by other artifacts.

Though the museum was quite enjoyable to explore, the gift shop left us wanting. This was a business trip, darn it! We’re not really there to have fun, but somehow we managed to squeeze in a few laughs and take delight in hearing that one specific seat on the REAL Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe locomotive inside the building was haunted!

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Angie afraid she'll be vaporized while sitting on the haunted seat.

The next day’s schedule was jam-packed and we had to get up around 6AM, which was NOT my idea of a good time. We had to be ready to board the bus for the Pet Nutrition Center (PNC) at 7:15AM. I never sleep well in a hotel, but luckily for me, for the first time in my life, after I had a quick shower, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I passed out cold.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Wonderful vintage McDonald's neon sign.

I had weird dreams about the garage doors at my Mother’s house collapsing, falling and crushing my car. The next morning I realized it was the 6th anniversary of her passing. As I got ready to leave my room, I thought about her and my throat tightened as I remembered finding her passed away. I wondered what she would have thought about me going on this trip. I guessed she would have given me grief that I care what I feed my cats. She fed my cat Bob Dole (he was her cat before he lived with me) Friskies® dry and wet. His teeth were so bad that 6 had to go the day after my Mom died and I took Bob to my Vet before bringing him into my home. In time, Bob ended up loving raw food and regained back some of the vitality he’d lost, but sadly not his teeth.

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Tour. Day One.

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©2012 Hill's. Used with permission. Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center, Aerial View

Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center is set up like a college campus with a central grassy courtyard, surrounded by two storey buildings. Wearing security badges, we were escorted into an underground lecture room that could also be used as a tornado shelter (which I found amusing and a bit scary at the same time). Internet access was iffy and there was no cell service. We were asked to not take photos, which made me itchy. I couldn’t imagine what we could see in this room that we couldn’t show anyone in the world.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Tour badge.

We had assigned seats and at each place there was a name placard and some promotional goodies from Hill’s. Angie and I were separated by a few other visitors. I thought they may have done it on purpose since we seem to go into high-powered joke mode if we get too close to each other. It was for the best. Time to concentrate, stay strong, but open-minded and make sure I didn’t drink any Kool-Aid®.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Kostas Kontopanos (okay I snuck ONE photo).

First up was President of Hill’s USA, Kostas Kontopanos. Clearly we were not going to get a pitch from a junior executive. Mr. Kontopanos wasn’t going to say hello and rush off to a meeting, either. He was there for the day to share his vision and to listen to our questions. It was hard not to be impressed by how seriously Hill’s takes the paradigm shift of the past few years—people inherently do not trust marketing or advertising. With the advent of knowledgeable bloggers who have nothing to gain by speaking their mind about product quality or appropriateness, big companies are discovering that these bloggers strongly influence the purchasing power of their desired demographic. In fact, as with my own blog, my demographic of readers is their target audience—much moreso than they can reach through an ad agency. They knew what I said DID matter and my readers trust me. The itchy feeling returned as I listened to the presentation.

Hill’s is guided by its Mission:

“To help enrich and lengthen the special relationships between people and their pets.”

How they achieve or fail to achieve that goal is rather impressive. That they opened their doors and invited “transparency” was a smart move. Their fear is misinformation—that bloggers will declare their products are garbage or contain metal shavings or whatever you can dream up—and that the folks who read those blogs will believe what they say.

I’d like to think that anyone who writes a blog that includes information about pet nutrition would do some research before making such a declaration. Perhaps I read between the lines of Mr. Kontopanos presentation, that what Hill’s may fear most is that people will become more educated and realize that they might want to reconsider what food they purchase for their cat or dog once they understand a few basic tenets about nutrition.

But who controls the flow of that information?

Hill’s stable of Vets (they employ the second largest number of Vets in the world) is responsible for creating and updating their “Small Animal Guide to Clinical Nutrition.” The Guide can be found on the website of the Mark Morris Institute (MMI)—which was named after Hill’s founder Mark L. Morris, Sr., DVM.

The 5th Edition was released in 2010 at a cost of $130.00. (but I see it’s on Amazon for $14.75). This is THE guide Vets use to reference nutrition questions.

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I find the link between MMI and Hill’s to be somewhat distressing. This may be completely innocent, but when you control the information about what makes up balanced nutrition, you affect the entire industry. It makes it easy to point a finger at any of the 175 other pet food companies in the US and say they don’t follow your guide, they don’t do clinical testing and therefore the food may not be balanced, which could make consumers fearful of making the wrong choice. We all want to do right by our pets, but understanding what “right” may be an ever-changing answer or perhaps it's been right under our noses all along?

On MMI’s website it states: “MMI provides pet nutrition education for veterinarians and students of veterinary medicine around the world.”
How better to color a Vet’s perception of what makes up an appropriate diet if the company controlled the flow of information about nutrition to Vets while getting their training?

Perhaps, this multi-million dollar research is guided purely by the passion of a company to ensure that all small animals get the best nutrition possible? But again, I’d ask, what is a “for profit” company’s ultimate goal? Maybe it’s both to make a profit and to educate? Maybe not.

To be fair, I’ve ordered a copy of the Guide to review and to compare with the other books on pet nutrition I’ve read already, but I can already sense what I’m going to be reading.

I spoke with my own Vet about this and he agreed that Hill’s makes it very easy for young Vets to get free products and education, but is that education completely balanced?

My Vet is constantly “courted” by Hill’s, Purina and Royal Canin. The representatives from those companies frequently ask him out to dinner and cajole him to only carry their product line. (he carries a few lines of each brand and says there are too many choices and it’s too confusing to try to carry any more than that).

Pet food industry sales are well into the billions of dollars. People WILL spend MORE for what they perceive is a better product. There's a lot at stake. How is Hill's going to stay competitive?

…part two next up…animal testing at Hill's.

Meet Milo!

Boogie has two brothers, Otis and Milo. They all lived in a kennel at my Vet's Office. Dr. Mixon of the Newtown Veterinary Center decided to take them in since they were surrendered by a good samaritan a few months ago. I couldn't help him with them right away, but a few weeks ago I started by trying to work with Boogie, which I detailed HERE. He was very fractious AND sick and things didn't go very well. Boogie was so sick that I had to bring him back to the Vet until he could recover.

The good news is that Boogie had a fan in Mandy, one of the Vet Techs at Dr. Mixon's practice. Mandy adopted Boogie and reports that although he is still hissing, she is able to handle him and is in no rush to get him socialized. She can take it at his pace and hopefully, in time, he'll be used to human contact and actually enjoy it.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Unhappy Boy.

Otis was able to find his forever home and has been with them for a few days. That left Milo, a lovely orange tabby mix with medium length fur. I'd heard that Milo's personality was somewhere between Boogie's fearfulness and his brother Otis's friendliness. I was somewhat concerned what that might mean, but since it was just one kitten I decided to take him on. I brought him home today.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Milo photo bombed by his cat dancer toy.

Milo is very pretty. He's three months old, but looks like he may grow to be a big kitty one day. Milo cried furiously from inside his cat carrier, scratching at the walls of it to get out as I drove us home. Nothing I said would soothe him. I hoped he would quiet down so I could sneak into Panera Bread and buy a few treats since I hadn't had anything to eat since last night. I knew bringing a cat into a restaurant would be frowned upon, but it was too hot to leave him in the car and I thought I'd be in and out before anyone was the wiser.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Hello Milo!

The second I walked in the door, Milo began CRYING. I walked up to the counter mentally tracking how much time was passing. I acted like nothing was going on. The women in line ahead of me were looking around. One started to rub her watering eyes. I started to panic. Could an allergic reaction happen this quickly?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. You can almost see Milo's tail. It's VERY long and fluffy.

Milo was bouncing around inside the carrier that was slung over my arm like a big purse. He meowed frantically. I said something to the ladies about how I'd only be in the store for a minute and they agreed he should not be in the car and thankfully did not point at me and scream that their runny eyes were from the cat being there!

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson.

The young woman at the counter was in a daze. She had NO idea I had a cat with me and took forever to fulfill my order. I beat cheeks out of there while Milo continued to protest.

I got Milo settled into his new home. He was out of a cage at the Vet's office and in my bathroom. He'd have sunlight and fresh air and lots of toys and a cat tree. Sadly, he would be on his own for awhile. I want to make certain he's not sick, then I'll start to introduce him to the girls, Beauty, Belly Holiday and Hello Dahlia. Once that is done, he can live in the room with them as long as he's friendly and doesn't need me to work with him.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Milo liked his Spot's Stew cat food (thank you Halo and Freekibble.com)

I let Milo out of the carrier. He stopped crying. He sniffed around with his tail down, but not tucked between his legs. I didn't know if I could touch him so I simply observed him. After a few minutes I spoke to him and he meowed back at me. He sniffed at the food I gave him and had a few bites. When he came over towards me I reached out to pet him. He reacted by raising his back to meet my hand! Once he did that he relaxed and so did I.

Milo got a few more pets, then I took out a toy for him to play with. He was engaged right away, the stopped playing and ate more food. I'm not worried that he'll need work. He's in good shape already.

Dr. Mixon provided all of Milo's Vet care for no cost so there's nothing for me to do but find Milo a great home. If all rescues could be this easy…:::KNOCK WOOD:::

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If you live in Connecticut or the surrounding states and you're interested in adopting Milo, visit my rescue's web site HERE for more information.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back. Saving Tater.

We all had a very bad scare a month ago when Tater fell ill. The Vet felt it was the “wet” form of FIP, a fatal disease. We were all heartbroken and scared, but determined that if there was ANY chance Tater could survive, we would make that happen no matter what we had to do.

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©2012 Maria S. Still got that belly, but we're not concerned that it's FIP.

Miraculously, through a twist of fate and our foster mom, Maria's careful observation, we were led down a path to a possible answer. It was NOT FIP, but a double-whammy parasitic infection along with a very nasty upper respiratory infection. We began treatment right away and sure enough, Tater's condition began to improve.

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©2012 Maria S. Mugging for Maria.

Tater began to EAT again, then began to play; two big signs he might survive. The Vet finally took the FIP diagnosis off the table and we all breathed a sigh of relief for the remainder of July. Sadly, a few days ago Tater relapsed or is battling something new.

Tater was carefully examined. His lung sounds were not good. The Vet wanted to take x-rays and do blood work. We had that done and the Vet decided to put Tater on strong antibiotics for the next THREE weeks. This poor kitten can't catch a break. I asked if we had to consider the FIP diagnosis once again-terrified of the answer.

 

The Vet feels it's not FIP, but it IS a very serious upper respiratory infection which could turn into pneumonia.

 


©2012 Maria S. and Robin A.F. Olson. Check in with Tater, ChiChi and Latte, too.

Due to the costs for care and to also provide care for Willow, who is still struggling with a URI,

we're going to ask a tiny favor—for EVERYONE to consider donating the price of a cup of coffee to help us top off the Tater Tot Fund.

 

The ChipIn for the fund is below and is also in the RIGHT sidebar on my blog. PLEASE do not feel badly if you can't donate at this time. That's why we're only asking that everyone chip in a small amount. That way it will add up to a great donation if everyone takes part!

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©2012 Maria S. Tater getting some comfort from his new buddy, Sammy.

Your donation is TAX-DEDUCTIBLE as my rescue, Kitten Associates is a 501©3 Non-Profit Cat Rescue.

If you'd prefer to send a check, please make it out to: Kitten Associates and please note on the check the funds should go to "Tater Tot" mail it to:

Kitten Associates
P.O. Box 354
Newtown, CT 06470-0354

Any funds not used for the care of this family will go into our General Fund.

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©2012 Maria S. Love that little curl in Tater's tail.

 

Thank you for helping us, help Tater. We couldn't do it without your support!

 

The Silver Lining and the Black Clouds part four

Day six has drawn to a close. I can't sleep. My heart is broken. It's not that I even feel the need for it ever to be “repaired-” if such a thing is possible. While I was working on the story of my cats falling ill, another story began to form. Stories that follow along with a real person's life don't transpire in tidy little packages, so here I stop to inject something else before I get back to the mystery ailment.

Two nights ago I found a small, odd looking black growth on the edge of Spencer's right ear. In my foggy memory, I believe I saw it long ago, thought about running Spencer to the Vet, got sidetracked and forgot. There it was, this rubbery, creepy mass, well hidden by the dark fur along the cap of Spencer's head.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Back at the Vet for a second time.

At first I thought it was a tick, then realized there were two masses, one “tick sized” and the other much smaller. I knew this was something that Dr. Larry needed to take a look at so yesterday morning I took Spencer back to the Vet for the second time in less than a week.

Super Deb entered the exam room first. After working with Spencer the other day, she realized that he was calmer if we didn't cover him during procedures. She got to work taking his temperature and he was basically calm. He had no fever.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. The growth was easily overlooked. Follow the left edge of Spencer's ear. Where the fur gets dark you'll see a tiny black area where there is no fur. That's the growth. It's just right of center of the photo.

She weighed him and he'd lost 4 ounces in five days. Not surprising, but a reminder to keep him eating as much as he wanted while he recovers from his illness. His fluffy rear end, which had become soiled yellow from having diarrhea, was looking cleaner. Perhaps he was feeling better?

Dr. Larry entered the room and I was relieved to see him now that he's back from his vacation. He's been my Vet for more years than I can remember. Though we may not always agree on things, he's open minded and in return I'm very respectful of him. We've had some difficult discussions about my choice to feed a raw diet to my cats. It's unfortunate that even now I have to be on the “down low” about it, but there is so much fear mongering going on about it that it's just easier not to talk about it.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. She didn't even buy him dinner first! Spencer gets his temperature taken.

On this day we HAD to talk about it. He approached the topic carefully. I felt myself taking a step back, crossing my arms over my chest as he spoke. What is sickening my cats could have been caused by the raw food. Though rare, salmonella could be a culprit, yet we did NOT see any indications in the blood work to show us it was a possibility. It could be e.coli or other bacterial culprits. To really know for certain, Dr. Larry asked if we could get a stool sample on Spencer and run a PCR test on it. Though expensive, running over $200.00, the test would show us what was causing the diarrhea. If we could manage, he wanted a sample from Nicky, as well. Using that information we could get a better picture of what happened and how to NOT let it happen again-IF it's something we can control.

I said yes to the test and I told Dr. Larry that we stopped feeding raw the day the cats got sick. We've discussed how we prep the food and saw some minor things we can and will correct. We're going to throw out the litter pans and start anew. We've been feeding raw for many years and the cats have NEVER gotten sick, but in case we did something to cause this, we will find a way to do right by them.

Before we went too much further down this path we agreed it might still be something else and NOT the food.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. At least he's starting to eat again.

Then Dr. Larry examined Spencer's ear. He measured it and said it measured out larger then he expected. He didn't “like the look of it” and said we should remove it. He looked at Spencer's teeth and mentioned Spencer really needed a dental cleaning. I asked him to look into Spencer's ears because I noticed they appeared a bit dirty.

Spencer fussed and hissed angrily as Dr Larry looked into his ears. The right was dirty and irritated. Dr. Larry told me that some times cats can have an over production of a greasy residue in their ears. The ear gets dirty and very itchy. Certainly Spencer would need drops to get him feeling more comfortable.

Next, Dr. Larry looked at Spencer's left ear. As Spencer fussed, Dr. Larry adjusted the angle of the scope. He stopped for a second and removed the scope.

“There's another mass in Spencer's ear. It's very small, but I think we need to get in there and remove it.”

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Measuring the growth.

I felt a lump form in my throat. I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself. I brought my cat to the Vet to look at this weird thing on his ear. Hopefully it was just a funky benign mole or something, but with the discovery of a second growth I knew what that could mean and I didn't know if I could get the words out to ask the question.

“Is this cancer? Does Spencer have CANCER?”

Dr. Larry has this serious expression I've seen too many times before. He had it when he examined Bob's belly and said it didn't feel right. It turned out Bob had a cancerous tumor engulfing half his liver. Dr. Larry never makes light of a diagnosis like this. Being conservative and I'm sure not wanting to upset me, he would only answer; “I don't like the look of this. It could be benign, but…”

He said if it was cancer that the rule of thumb would be to excise enough tissue to get a clean margin. It would mean removing Spencer's ear or ears. It was too much to imagine. I had to keep it together. I said if it was malignant, what was the point of cutting his ears off? His lovely little elfin ears…how could I do that to him? We didn't talk much beyond that. It was too soon to go down that road.

First Spencer had to get well and recover from whatever was causing his gastric issues. We'd schedule a dental and surgery for sometime near the end of the month. He wished me well and left to attend to the next patient. I put Spencer back into his cat carrier and went to the lobby to pay the bill, not sure I could get out of the clinic without bursting into tears.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My little pouff-waiting, wondering and scared.

Although I have no idea how I'm going to pay for this surgery, I will find a way. The overriding thought in my mind as I waited to hand over my credit card was; this can't be cancer. I just lost a cat to cancer 11 months ago. I just watched my dear Bob slowly die over the course of a horrible year. I can't go through that again.

I can't go through that with SPENCER. He's only 11 years old. He's the mascot of Covered in Cat Hair. He's my love, my dear friend.

I thought about what my lawyer said to me on the phone when we were talking about a car accident I was in two years ago. The case is either going to be settled or go to trial. He asked me my age, then told me the insurance company figures that based on my current age I have 29 more years to live which is how they will base my settlement offer. At first it really bothered me that there's a computer program that bets on how long I'll live. After we ended our conversation, I started to think maybe that was too many more years; more years of witnessing the pain and suffering of my dear cats.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. After the exam, Spencer sat in the window, trying to regain his composure after being poked and prodded.

Last night Spencer came over to me as I laid in bed. He did his little routine of laying on my arm, with his fluffy ruff in my face, purring loudly next to my ear. I tried to hold back, but I began to sob. I wondered how many more nights we would have together like this-where he is himself, not broken or wasting away. He is my beloved cat and together we have a simple joy that is deeply profound.

Spencer got up and walked to the end of the bed. I gave up trying to sleep, got up and went downstairs to my office and began to write. Between writing and tears I heard a sound. I turned to look and Spencer was there in his cat bed next to me. He was purring away like nothing was wrong.

I hope he's right.

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The PCR test results are due in a day or two. I won't know about Spencer until we biopsy the mass towards the end of the month. The sliver lining has to do with a surprise adoption. Find out who it was and about their forever family in the next installment (unless something ELSE happens first).

The Silver Lining and the Black Clouds part two

German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said; “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”After enduring the past four days I would add; “That which does not kill us, makes us eat a bag of Lays Wavy Potato Chips and a container of French Onion dip—and feel no guilt in doing so.”

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. You can tell from Nicky's posture that he doesn't feel well.

Nicky was the camel and white colored canary in the coal mine. It started on Friday. Nicky wasn't “right.” He wouldn't eat and he vomited. As I was about to brush my teeth, I heard the sound of water running. I turned to see Nicky urinating on the floor a few feet away from me. A few hours later, he walked over to the base of a cat tree and began to urinate on it-not even stopping as I started to scream, unable to reach him through the jungle of furniture blocking my way. I was jumping up and down like a two year old having a tantrum. I had no effect on his eliminating. He just kept peeing. There was no way to get to him from where I was standing so all I could was watch him ruin something else.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. With Dr. C and Super-Deb.

Nicky has Chronic Renal Failure and has been known to get urinary tract infections (as I wrote about HERE). Clearly something was WRONG. Dr. Larry was out of town until Monday so I made an appointment to bring him in then. I HATE it when Dr. Larry goes away because we often seem to have an emergency when he's not available. As the day wore on, Nicky grew weaker. I took his temperature. It was 103.2°F. He had a fever. We couldn't wait until Monday.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Fun at the Emergency Vet…and this was the cost to basically have them hook up the IV to Nicky's catheter (which was in place already) and giving him a place to lay in over night.

Dr. C examined Nicky and took his temperature again. It was over 104°F. They took some blood and did an in-house test. The good news was that basically the values did not indicate something terrible was going on-like kidney failure or high white blood count, which would show he had an infection. The bad news was that we didn't know what was going on but with a fever on the rise we agreed he should be on an IV. The Vet closed in two hours so they could get him started, but we'd have to move him to the Emergency Vet to continue treatment overnight.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Portait of a sick kitty.

Sam and I cringed. Hearing “Emergency Vet” means huge expense. How were we going to pay for all of this? How could we not? We HAD to find a way. Both of us were panicking. We had to wait and see how Nicky would respond to treatment first before we'd even know if he needed to be moved.

Nicky's temperature when to 105.1°F. After two hours it went down to about 103°F so there was a chance a few more hours of treatment would benefit him.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Another Vet, another examination with Sam reaching out to comfort his cat.

It would have been somehow manageable if we only had to help Nicky, but after getting him settled at the Emergency Vet and putting another charge on my AmEx, we discovered he wasn't the only cat who was not feeling well.

With all the commotion going on with Nicky, I didn't get to pay as much attention to the others cats as I would have liked. Even with that, I did notice something out of the ordinary. When we got home around 7pm, I realized I hadn't seen Spencer ALL DAY. I knew he hadn't eaten his breakfast. He's not always a fan of turkey, but this cat always shows up for a meal.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky with Sam.

Sam and I tore through the house, calling out to Spencer. The longer it took, the more I started to panic. Had he gotten outside? Was he stuck in a closet? Spencer has no real meow, so he couldn't cry to us for help. Where the heck was he? Why wasn't he showing up for dinner? Now that I thought about it, where were the rest of the cats? None of them were hungry and waiting by their food dishes. Something was wrong. Something bad.

Sam found Spencer in the basement, which is very tough area for the cats to get into. For Spencer to not be near me or near any of us was a bad sign. Spencer wouldn't eat his dinner. In fact most of the cats were off their food. I told myself there was no need to panic. No one would die without eating for a day.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky at the Emergency Vet hooked up to his Heska VetIV 2.2

The next morning we got the news that Nicky's fever broke and he'd eaten a small amount of food. He was ready to come home. The news should have been cause for celebration, but Spencer had vanished again and I knew he had to go to the Vet, too. It wasn't a big, obvious sign of sickness but it's so out of the ordinary I had to make sure he wasn't sick, too.

Again I started to panic. We'd just spent so much money on Nicky, would anything be left for Spencer? I was angry and resentful, all stemming from the fear that I wouldn't be able to do for Spencer what we just did for Nicky. If Spencer was ailing, I HAD to do something for him, but my own Vet refused to just give me antibiotics without seeing the cat firstI realized they were right, but I was truly hurting. There's dust in my bank account. I thought about home remedies and trying to avoid a Vet visit, but Spencer was due for blood work and a checkup anyway. If I could avoid hospitalizing him, I'd be able to have the exam and tests for done, but I couldn't do much more.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Saying good night to Nicky.

I took Spencer's temperature. It was 102.3°F which put him in the range to be percolating a fever. I was really missing Dr. Larry and wishing I didn't have to see Dr. C, but he'd seen Nicky so he could compare the cat's symptoms.

The exam went fairly well. The Vet retained use of his fingers. Spencer's not the easiest cat to mess with and he gets crabby if he's at the Vet. I warned the staff and fussed over Dr. C, worried he'd get bitten. Spencer was pretty good-for Spencer. They managed to get some blood and sent it out for testing. Since we didn't know what was going on the Vet suggested putting him on antibiotics “just in case,” but I won't do that without having a darn good reason. It could make whatever is going on even worse. I'd do the best I could for Spencer until we had the test results.

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Nicky being a good boy, as usual.

I started making charts and lists of each cat-if they ate, if so, what they ate. I was looking for a pattern. I began to have suspicions that Gracie, Petunia and Jackson were also getting sick based on my notes about them not eating and their behavior. I knew I'd just had Boogie in the house. He was separated from my cats and I washed my hands and showered after I was with him, even though I didn't touch the kitten until the last day he was here. Boogie was VERY sick, but he had an upper respiratory infection, not something potentially gastrointestinal. What was going on?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. Hiding under the bed between two storage containers-not a good sign.

Feeding time was bizarre, maybe one or two cats showed up for their food. The others weren't even in the vicinity. I'm so accustomed to the energy of feeding time, the cats circling, meowing, the sound of them lapping at their food. It was too quiet. My babies weren't eating. My fear factor increased tenfold.

Did I bring something into the house to sicken them? How was I going to be able to provide more and more Vet care for ALL my cats at the SAME TIME? How was I going to keep each one alive? Some of them are very tough to handle. How could I help them survive whatever was going on?

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©2012 Robin A.F. Olson. My poor, sweet baby, Spencer-the mascot of Covered in Cat Hair.

Saturday night the mood in the house was downright miserable. Nicky stopped eating again. of course, the benefits of the IV wore off. Whatever he had, whatever Spencer and the others may have was not going to just go away. We had to buckle down and figure something out. The clock was ticking. The spector of Hepatic Lipidosis was hanging over our heads. If the cats didn't start eating soon, they could all sicken and die. This is why you can't put a cat on a diet. This is why if you don't get some food into the cat after four days, your cat could enter a whole new world of pain.

We were approaching day three. Time was running out and we had more questions than we had answers….

Stay tuned for part three next..and YES, there IS a silver lining coming…

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