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Masters Harold, Claude, & Spiderman Presiding
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Piñata Full of Tumors

Posted in Medical on November 18, 2013 by CelestiHel

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On October 8th, 2013, we dropped Harold off for his right rear limb amputation. Dr. Howard would decide how much to cut once he took his pre-op x-rays and saw whether there was involvement of the femur, or whether the damage was isolated to his tibia . We got a report at the end of the day that Harold went through surgery with flying colors and was resting comfortably. They said he was lying in the crate with his paws crossed. At home that means he’s relaxed.

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International Cat of Leisure

Dr. Howard said that visible damage to the bone stopped at the joint, so he made the cut about mid-femur, leaving Harold with a couple inches of stump and most of his thigh. When we picked him up the following morning, we went over his x-rays with the doctor. In the few weeks between the first onset of lameness and moments before surgery, the tibia had cracked almost all the way through. We were lucky he didn’t snap is leg right in half! Every jump, hop, bump, and step slowly contributed to the increasing fracture, which was much clearer with the Vermont Veterinary Surgical Center‘s fancier, newer radiography equipment. We could also clearly see the cloudy lumps that were the tumors in the muscle and other soft tissues.

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Dr. Howard also showed us the “gross surgical pics” that he had taken for his records (I won’t post those here out of respect for the squeamish, but I have copies and am happy to share if you are curious, just let me know). When I looked as his dissected leg, it was just full to bursting with tumors. Tumors everywhere. I said off-handedly that it looked like a piñata full of tumors, which got a chuckle out of all of our vets (we all have weird humors that match, what can I say). He had sent the leg off to find out exactly what kind of cancer we were dealing with.

Meanwhile, Harold was already up and hopping around and so done with the vet. I was surprised to find that the stitches had no covering, so there would be no bandages to change. We were instructed to inspect the incision site a couple times a day until the stitches came out. Some swelling and bruising is normal the first couple days and may get a little worst before it gets better. Things to worry about are limited to oozing and excessive redness. Otherwise, just let it heal.

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First Moments Back Home

Harold was also given a soft cloth Cone of Shame to wear. We were instructed that he should wear it constantly for the 2 weeks he had the stitches in because he should not lick the incision site. We complied for a few days, but found he was making himself crazy trying to groom other parts of himself, and he was very lethargic. We worried that he was a little depressed, grooming is a really important part of a cat’s psychological well-being. So we talked to Dr. Moore, his regular vet at Cats Vermont, who said it would be okay to give him as many periods of well supervised hat-free time as we could manage. She thought it would be better for his general psyche and comfort, which could only help his healing. We started with taking it off for periods when we could watch him like a hawk, like when he was eating.

Naturally, the first time I ran out of the room for 2 seconds where I couldn’t watch him, I came back and he was licking his incision. No way we were going to have one of those critters that has no interest in it. He managed to lick a little scab off and I was worried, but we kept an eye on it over the next couple of days and the spot scabbed back over fine. So, a couple of exploratory licks, even a little picked scab, the body can handle just fine. Good to know.

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First Try at Hat-Free Time

The dopey look in his eyes is the Buprenorphine, which he got for another 5 days to get him through the most painful post-op days. In our experience, the .3 ml we were initially given when he injured himself was too much. He got crazy confused. He couldn’t figure out how to walk forward, which freaked him out so badly I was afraid he’d hurt himself. Under instructions from the vet, we were allowed to decrease to .25 ml, which was quite a bit better. We made him a dark, soft, quiet place under my dresser where he could ride out the worst of the opiate haze, which usually hit about a half an hour after dosing and lasted a couple hours. The dresser area was where we saw him naturally isolate himself, we just made it more comfortable for him to hang out there. Post-op Harold had .25 for three days and .2 for two days and then done.

While he was on the heavy pain meds, he mostly just slept and decompressed. It was hard to watch him have so little interest in doing anything other than hang out on our bed. While we did notice that he was able to go up and down the stairs, get up and down off the bed & couch (with some steps that we made out of two short & tall rubbermaid storage container with carpet grip pads on the lid to prevent slipping), and even started figuring out how to wash his face, he was not really into it. My understanding is that bupe is a really powerful opiate, so it would be unrealistic to expect an animal on it to do anything but act stoned. Which he did.

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Figuring Out How To Balance To Wash His Face


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All Roads Lead to Amputation

Posted in Medical on November 18, 2013 by CelestiHel

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We’ve been lucky to have only had a handful of real medical scares with our cats. Spiderman has never been sick in twelve and a half years (knock on wood!). Claude, while plagued with constant eye and ear infections (normal to his breed, unfortunately), has only scared us once. Nothing medically conclusive could be found to explain sudden weight loss, tummy gurgling, and coughing fits, even after having a specialist scope his upper GI tract. Two months into this mystery I caught him eating the leaves on our Peace Lily plant that he had never bothered before, that we knew of. Of course, we knew that lilies are toxic to cats, it’s why we’ve never had cut ones in the house, but Peace Lilies are such common household plants we just didn’t think of it. Though his symptoms didn’t fit lily poisoning, he recovered once I removed it to a cat inaccessible place. In the year following, Harold suddenly started hiding and vomiting and terrifying us generally. The vet could find nothing wrong with him specifically. The only clue we had was that all of the cats had gone off their food. We exchanged that case for a new one, even though there were no recalls. All of the cats began eating happily again and Harold recovered. In both cases, we really can’t be sure that what we did was the fix or whether it was the natural course of things. Cats, man…

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Harold is skittish. Any little noise will have him jumping straight up in the air like a cartoon and it’s hilarious. On September 16th, 2013, he took one of his comic leaps at the sound of my partner’s guitar case unlatching. When he landed, he hopped again, bewildered, and immediately limped into hiding. It was eleven o’clock at night on a Sunday, so I called the emergency vet to see if they thought we should bring him in. They advised that if he could lay down, meaning he could achieve reasonable comfort, then we should be okay to wait until morning to take him into his regular vet, Dr. Linda Moore at Cats Vermont. We set him up with food, water, and a litter box and tossed & turned through a sleepless night.

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Our assumption was that, at best, he’d sprained something and at worst, he’d dislocated his hip. We left him with Dr. Moore to take x-rays and went to breakfast. When we got back, we were shocked to hear that she suspected a fungal infection or cancer, based on the moth-eaten look of his rear right tibia on the x-rays. He had a small fracture where the bone was the weakest. While she had him under anesthesia, she had attempted to get a needle aspirate bone tissue sample, but was not hopeful that she had gotten enough material to be diagnostic. This was the very first time the word “amputation” was uttered, which sounded much less scary as a hypothetical than it would come to sound in the not so distant future. She sent us home with a few days worth of Buprenorphine to help ease him through the acute pain. And we waited.

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The tests were inconclusive. The next stop was September 24th with Dr. Ellen Foster at the Animal Hospital of Hinesburg to get a cardiac ultrasound, which had already been scheduled because of a suspected heart murmur found at his annual check-up. This was even more necessary now in determining his fitness for a serious surgery. Dr. Foster would also be able to do a better aspirate and a full fungal panel, if that was the course she chose. Luckily, the murmur was considered to be minor and not medically relevant, his heart was basically normal. She did the fungal panels but thought it best not to stress him out with the aspirate till we had the results. And we waited.

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The fungals came back negative and we were referred to Dr. Paul Howard at the Vermont Veterinary Surgical Center, the same vet who had seen Claude during his mysterious illness. I trusted and liked him already, which helped since he was about to have a very hard conversation with me. On October 3rd, Dr. Howard examined the x-rays and his leg, which was terribly swollen. It was his opinion that our best option was amputation, even without further testing. With the weakness in the bone, Harold was at a better than 50% risk of breaking it right in half doing normal cat things. If he did break it, there wasn’t enough bone density to secure a plate to the bone for repair, so the outcome would be amputation anyway.

All roads led to amputation. I felt terrible, I didn’t know whether it was the right thing to do. I wondered at turns, was choosing to save my cat or mutilating him? Was I selfishly doing it for me because I couldn’t face the grief of losing him, or was I doing it for him because it wasn’t his time to go? Harold is old, 13-15, was this a cruel thing to do to him at this age, especially if the prognosis turned out to be very poor? The vet said two helpful things: “old age is not a disease” and “if it’s worth it to you, then it’s worth it.” I was devastated, I started to cry, so he took me in the back and showed me another one of his patients.

It was a young cat who had a double amputation of her rear limbs, which had been unusable since she was a kitten. He took her out and set her on the floor. Less than twelve hours after surgery, she was scooting around lightning fast, meowing and happy, like nothing had happened. It was just the thing I needed to see to give me the courage to move forward. We scheduled him for limb amputation On October 8th,  the first available opening.

Who We Are

Posted in History on November 17, 2013 by CelestiHel

My partner and I met in the summer of 2001 in Burlington, Vermont, two months before Spiderman was born. Everyone rushed to the scene when Smokey went into labor, but by the time we got there, three were already out. We waited an hour and nothing else happened, so we went to dinner. On our return, Spidey had arrived fashionably late — the only long-haired, non-tabby of the bunch.

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Spiderman and His Littermates

Spidey had been claimed by a roommate and my fella regretted letting him slip through his fingers. Luckily, the roommate decided three was too many cats, and there was no hesitation the second time around. For three years they lived in apartments full of human boys with Spidey’s mom, Smokey, his brother, Spooky, and for a time, his half-brother, Venom, from Smokey’s second litter. Only Smokey and Spiderman are still around from the early days, and they’re both happy and healthy.

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Spidey & brother Spooky at the Man Cave

Meanwhile, in October of 2003, the city animal control officer had a neighbor who came home to two cats crammed in a carrier together on her porch with a note: you look like a responsible person, please make sure these cats get a good home. With a little prodding, she convinced me to foster them. I knew they were mine the minute I saw them. A brown-tabby Persian and a flame-point Himalayan, sweet as could be and looking an absolute wreck. The Persian was completely matted, the worst being a softball-sized mat under his chin that forced his head to a tilt. The Himmie was suffering from entropian and his red, weepy, gummed up eyes made him look like Tammy Faye Bakker. I named them Harold & Maude, for my favorite movie. Once they were both shaved, we learned that Maude was actually a Claude. I never did get pictures of them before their transformation back to proper house cats, it was a little too heartbreaking.

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Harold and Claude Begging for All the Things

In the fall of 2004, we decided to move in together. The first tiny apartment was not without its problems. Introducing cats to a new environment is tricky enough, but introducing them to new cats at the same time is fraught with peril. With a little bit of patience, Nature’s Miracle, and a water gun, they didn’t take long to become friends.

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Three Little Piggies in their First Year

And that brings us to now. Twelve years, six human jobs, five house moves, four cat emergencies, two and a half human higher ed degrees, and countless other milestones have our clan happy and healthy, even through the hard times.

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Winter is Coming

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