Yes, I do tend to write about my own cats but that’s because I can’t share a lot of details about my clients’ pets. This is Kokopelli and he turned 17 years old on May 5, 2015. I want to tell his story because over the course of 5 years I have diagnosed him with 5 common diseases we see in our aging patient population. So many clients are ready to throw in the towel after one or two of these are diagnosed and mostly because they think their cat will not have good quality of life even with treatment but Kok is living proof that your cat can live with many problems and have a great life. Others fear the expense involved. I will not lie, veterinary diagnostics can be a substantial investment. Some diseases more than others but most wind up with 6 month rechecks once stabilized.
When Kokopelli was 12 years old I noted that his heart beat was irregular when I had my hand resting on his chest watching TV one night. He went to work with me and his heart rate was elevated and indeed he was producing over 30 irregular beats per minute. His heart structure was normal on ultrasound so I started him on Sotalol. Within a few days the irregular beats had lessened and were virtually resolved in no time.
On his 13th birthday I noted a little weight loss. His blood results were all normal. 6 months later there was very small increase in his thyroid hormone but still normal for his age. His weight loss continued and in 3 months his thyroid hormone made a little bigger jump and I had noted his appetite was too good to the point of swiping lettuce from my salad bowl so I started him on methimazole to control his overproduction of thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism). I chose to medicate him because it was a really early diagnosis and I did not want to risk causing hypothyroidism with radioactive iodine treatment. Plus I was already medicating him twice a day.
Just before his 14th birthday I thought he was acting a bit down. Nothing specific that I could put my finger on. I started by checking his blood pressure which was normal just a couple of months before. A cat’s systolic pressure should be 120 like ours. A bit higher in the hospital is acceptable but his was 260 which is most definitely not okay. This is when I added amlodipine (to lower his blood pressure) and enalapril (to protect his kidneys from the high blood pressure) to his medications twice daily.
Old Kok was pretty stable for about another year or so until he I started to notice that he wouldn’t play with his turbo scratcher as often or for as long. He was also more deliberate about the higher jumps that he made and a bit slower to ascend the stairs. Radiographs did not show any definitive evidence of arthritis but there were a few suspicious areas. I started him on a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement. This did not make a visible difference. Next I started him on gabapentin, a spinal pain blocker. Kok was like a kitten again within a week to 10 days. He was attacking his turbo scratcher and playing for 3 to 4 times as long, he was jogging up the stairs again and jumping without hesitating.
At 17 years old he had some very early signs of kidney insufficiency. His urine volume had increased, his urine concentration was mildly diluted and kidney blood values were marginally increased making him stage 1/4. I did not have to intervene at that time but when he needs it I will start him on subcutaneous fluids to compensate for his water losses. Kok has slowed down considerably over the last 5 years but he has good quality of life. He greets me on the way to the shower and waits to drink the soapy water every morning, he beats me to the kitchen and chatters at me if I don’t feed him fast enough, he still plays some, makes his pilgrimage to the litter boxes upstairs several times a day, maintains his ownership of the top cradle of the cat tree and regularly request pats and chin rubs. I wouldn’t trade the last 5 years with this gentle soul.
Update: At about 17 years and 9 months of age we added subcutaneous fluid therapy to Kokopelli’s treatments. At this point he had been living at the hospital for several months because he needed more frequent meals and was doted on like a nursing home resident. He had a really miserable couple of days right before Christmas 2015 and I thought I was going to have to let him go but something told me he just wasn’t ready. I went on to visit my family for Christmas and waited anxiously for a report from my staff. On Christmas day he rallied, ate and started acting like himself. Though he was thin and weak he was still active and involved with all of us throughout the work day for 3 more months. Then the day came when he just curled up in his bed at the end of the hall where he spent his days with us and stopped interacting. We all said a tearful goodbye to our little buddy just 6 weeks shy of his 18th birthday. I’ll see you on the other side some day sweet boy. Meanwhile keep Ansley, Eliot, Clare, Maddie and all the others that left before you in line.