Mama Kitty’s Story

By Teresa Garden, DVM

Mama Kitty is one of those cats that lives her life on her own terms. I can best describe her as feisty, fractious, frustrating, funny, and now I’ll add frail to the list. I may diagnose Mama with certain diseases but she decides what she will accept for treatment and what she won’t.

I first met Mama in 2009 when her family moved from Texas to St. Louis. She was already 12 years old. Her family had adopted Mama from a shelter in 1997 wherein she had given birth to a litter of kittens. Mama shares her home with two male cats who are younger and bigger than her. She is the undisputed and unrivaled boss… all 6 1/2 pounds of her.

When Mama first came to see me in 2009 she was losing weight and having diarrhea. Test results revealed hyperthyroidism and we began treatment with methimazole transdermal gel applied to Mama’s ear. Mama had made it clear she would not allow herself to be pilled. It was beneath her and dangerous to the rest of us. Over the years she has rarely allowed me a glimpse into the deep dark hole that is her oral cavity. What I have seen has been relatively healthy. The methimazole gel has worked well over the years to stabilize Mama’s thyroid function.

In May 2012 when Mama was 15 years old she was diagnosed with early kidney disease. We started her on some supplements to help improve her kidney function. She agreed to take them hidden in a little Fancy Feast canned food. Canned natural foods comprised the majority of Mama’s diet. Six months later Mama decided she was through with the kidney supplements. She had dropped to 5 pounds but she was still active and strong.
Her thyroid level and kidney enzymes were steady so I became concerned about underlying cancer or a painful mouth as a source of her weight loss. We radiographed her thorax and abdomen and found nothing out of the ordinary. We gave Mama some light sedation so we could examine her oral cavity carefully and found things to be in good shape. I didn’t know why Mama lost the weight and she wasn’t about to tell me. She held steady at a fighting weight of 5 pounds for many months.

By 2013 when Mama was 16 years old she became increasingly upset during her visits to our clinic. We decided to monitor her blood profiles periodically and limit her exams and blood pressure checks. It is not unusual for our geriatric patients to resist handling and basic grooming as they age. Mama’s health status was stable and would wobble back sometimes if her family was out of town. This, too, is very common among senior and geriatric pets. They may not eat well or take their medications or supplements on a regular basis unless their owners are present.

Time marched on and Mama was now 4 1/2 pounds but stable, enjoying her life, and bossing the entire household. Then on August 23, 2015 Mama earned herself a trip to the Animal Emergency Clinic (AEC). During the previous week her family had taken a short vacation prior to school starting. They left Mama in the care of a very capable pet sitter but I suspect Mama did not eat well or take her meds like a good girl. Upon her family’s return, they found Mama walking around in a daze, pacing, head pressing, and getting stuck in familiar places around the house. The doctors at the AEC determined Mama to be extremely hypertensive, her kidney and thyroid disease had worsened, and her weight had dropped to 3 1/2 pounds. At her age (18) there was also the possibility of senility or a brain mass as the cause of her neurological symptoms. I was truly afraid we might lose Mama. Mama was treated with fluids to rehydrate her and help lower her kidney enzymes. The staff at the AEC started her back on methimazole gel for hyperthyroidism and gave her two new medications to lower her blood pressure. By the very next day Mama started eating and her blood pressure and kidney function were improving. Mama got to go home!

I rechecked Mama on August 26, 2015. It was obvious Mama had decided she was not ready to leave this world for the next! Her neurological status had greatly improved. She was alert and walking well. Mama was still frail but eating and gaining weight, strength, and balance. I was pleasantly surprised Mama allowed me to do a full exam, check her blood pressure and draw blood to recheck her thyroid and kidney function. Her medications were keeping her blood pressure normal. Mama’s thyroid level was already close to normal and her kidney enzymes were continuing to improve.

As of this writing, Mama is alive and kicking and still bossing everyone at home. I am now adding two more F-words to describe Mama: fantastic fighter. Mama has earned my respect and admiration over the years. I am in awe of her spirit and tenacity for living life on her terms. In human years Mama is 90. I hope and pray I can follow her example if I am blessed enough to be given the chance.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area. Phone: 314-781-1738. www.AnimalHealthandHealing.com.